Blended Words, Corporate Intimacy & Guy Fieri in Herndon
By Stefanie Gans / Photos by Katie Bohler
Warm red walls set a homey mood. Dropped lighting, with every few bulbs sporting different fixtures, bring camaraderie to the crowded bar.
The bar—a large oval overtaking the entire room—represents almost all of the seating in the rectangular space. Sitting at the front of a shopping complex on Centerville Road in Herndon, Stone’s Cove Kitbar® is a restaurant. No wait, a kitchen. No, a bar.
Servers/chefs/busboys, dubbed Chef-Tenders, mingle in the middle of the oval, with seats dotting the perimeter. The bar jets out in some spots, creating half-circles as mock tables for parties of four or five.
Owner B.J. Stone thought of the idea many years ago, back when he ran numerous chain restaurants. Stone wanted to turn the common host anecdote—the party always ends up in the kitchen—into a restaurant concept. Let people gather, drink and eat in the restaurant kitchen.
Just like Stone’s background, the place feels corporate. It’s as if Guy Fieri, the Food Network star with bleach-blond spiky hair and faux bad boy attitude, became the essence of this restaurant.
The menu combines bold flavor combinations, but in a suburban-friendly way. Where Fieri would use something like exotic ponzu (a Japanese sauce) and douse it over beloved chicken wings, Stone’s Cove slathers a flatbread with the party classic spinach and artichoke dip and tops it with, among other items, chipotle lime cream for a more-is-more snack.
Just as Fieri invents words, a Food Network signature for sure, Stone’s Cove spent years trademarking the blending of nouns. While the restaurant is interesting enough to lure customers away from The Cheesecake Factory, it stays familiar enough to appeal to safe eaters.
This all unfolds, of course, in the Kitbar, a smushed word conveying the show that is Stone’s Cove: the kitchen is the bar is the kitchen.
As amalgamated words dominate the menu, Chef-Tenders merge dual responsibilities as well, their attire working double-time. Virginia law requires food handlers to restrain their hair from contacting food or equipment; therefore, Chef-Tenders wear hats. But at Kitbar®, it’s a hat fashion show inspired by Don Draper, as the staff neglects ball caps for fedoras.
The one-sheet menu, printed landscape style, starts with Appetapas®. Another word unlisted by the Merriam Webster dictionary. Context clues suggest appetizer and tapas fasten together for this hybrid.
While this name may sound focus group-tested, it stemmed from a slip up. “I tried to pronounce appetizers and tapas independent of one another and combined the words by accident,” says Stone. “It came out appatapas. It wasn’t some think tank deal.”
Fieri enjoys doctoring first-course terminology too. His 2011 cookbook, “Guy Fieri Food,” starts with appe-tapas, a word first gleaned from appe-teasers. Fortunately, Stone started the trademark process four years earlier, preferring his new word dash-less.
A Chef-Tender explains each dish on the fairly priced menu (the majority of items ranging from $8 to $12) can either be shared or eaten individually as a meal.
A flatbread thrown into the wood stone fire-breathing oven, flames on view from either side of the bar, bring a char to the heavily decorated Mackinac. Large bacon crumbles top guacamole, cheese, lettuce and (winter mealy) tomatoes for a crowded bite.
Straight from 1960s television, pre-rationed dishes of cheesy spinach dip enter a vault-like machine. A Chef-Tender whizzes over a multitude of buttons, pre-programmed for this exact dish (the dip warms in less than two minutes).
Steak also cooks in what’s called “SOTA,” for State of the Art, the proper name of this convection oven. While the oven allows for precise temperature and time, the steak (four minutes for medium-rare) lacks a proper sear, leaving the meat rather ordinary in texture and flavor: a “house seasoning” that tastes of salt and soy sauce. But damn if it isn’t cooked to the pinkness of perfection.
My dining companion, who has worked in the industry and whose fiance is a chef, wondered about the multi-skill levels demanded on one human. “Chefs don’t want to talk to people,” she whispered to me. We couldn’t have imagined a once-gruff, 20-something Anthony Bourdain, the one represented in his Les Halles dairy, “Kitchen Confidential,” both sautéing garlic and taking orders from the public.
Stone Cove’s workers aren’t hired for experience mixing a cocktail or filleting a fish. “We figured that we can teach nice people to tend bar, to prepare your food,” says Stone. “Our criterion is we want to hire nice people.”
And that makes sense. The cooking taking place is actually not cooking at all. It’s composing. It’s plating. It’s pushing buttons on a machine. It’s Chipotle. (Like Chipotle, expect more Kitbars in the next few years.)
Sitting in refrigerated storage bins, pre-dressed crab salad is scooped onto a paw print-shaped plate. The largest circle holds flattened lettuce leaves and a mound of crab, specked with almonds, avocado, mango and red onion. Mini-saucers, arranged like baby toes, hold the accompaniments: shreds of cilantro, citrus salt and a creamy dressing.
The dish arrives too cold, but as it warms with flavor, makes a fun, hands-on project. Many items arrive similarly cold, such as the lobster salad: Scooped into black sesame-seeded mini-cones, propped upright in a metal holder, it is quite darling save the taste, which resembles coleslaw instead of the diamond of all sea creatures.
Diced shrimp, nestled in a flat, wide spoon and bathed in a sauce of lime, horseradish, Old Bay and a bucket of vodka become the Bloody Mary Shrimp Edibation®. Another Stove Cone original, this blended word connotes an “edible” matched with a “libation.” Unfortunately, the liquor overtakes the subtle shellfish.
Aggressively creamy and cheesy grits is a standout indulgence. And when one of the four flatbreads is left in for the right amount of time, it offers a pleasant fire-induced crunch. The meal’s final act ends sweetly as well. A set of four tangy key lime and chocolatey espresso dessert cones are both fun to eat and easy to share.
You’re leaving me already?” a Chef-Tender replies when we ask for the check. “You’re breaking my heart.”
As we depart, we wonder if we just finished dinner or an episode of “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives.”
Hours: Open for lunch and dinner daily.
Average entree: under $12 ($)