SIOUX CITY | With the precision of an artist, Keith Wittrock draped green garnish on a plate of Reuben Spring Rolls.
"This may be bar food," said the Main + Abbey's executive chef inside the dining room of the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino's dining room, "but we want to serve it with a rock and roll edge."
A Le Cordon Bleu - Minneapolis graduate, Wittrock had previously served as the executive chef at Eldon's for more than five years.
Yet he admitted Main + Abbey's edgier fare is also right up his alley.
"Eldon's was all about fine dining," Wittrock explained. "This new job allows me to push the envelope when it comes to creative comfort food."
On the job since December, he has reworked the restaurant's menu by incorporating such unusual items as Reuben Spring Rolls (literally a Reuben served inside a deep-fried wonton wrapper); Rock + Roll Oysters (oysters served with bacon, spinach and a Hollandaise sauce made with an Anise liqueur); and Fried Calamari (topped with green beans, lemon and jalapeno, with a sweet Thai chili sauce on the side).
"These are some of our small plate offerings," Wittrock said of his inventive appetizers. "They can be eaten alone or, preferably, shared by a group of friends."
Sharable plates also represent the chef's desire to turn Main + Abbey into "the ultimate gastropub experience."
Simply put, a "gastropub" is a restaurant or bar that served high-end beer and food.
For the former, Main + Abbey has a large selection of draft, craft and imported beers in addition to specialty drinks like the Moscow Mule (made with Stolichnaya Vodka, lime and Sioux City ginger beer).
Wittrock, however, is more passionate about the meals that incorporate many of Main + Abbey's beers and wines.
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They include his restaurant's Poutine (French fries, duck confit and cheese curds served with a Deschutes Black Butte porter gravy); and the Hefeweizen Hummus (harissa, fresh-cut veggies and garlic infused with a hoppy German beer).
"I've been cooking with wine since my days at Le Cordon Bleu but cooking with beer is a new thing for me," Wittrock said. "While red and white wines allow for certain distinct tastes, beers tend to offer a much wider variety."
In fact, beer is also present in Main + Abbey's dessert menu, which included a Chocolate Porter Baked Alaskan and a New York Cheesecake served with a Pale Ale caramel sauce.
"I'm currently working on a cheesecake recipe that has elements of a Black & Tan (a pale beer blended with a darker Stout) in its sauce," Wittrock said. "I'm really excited about that."
Main + Abbey also has more traditional favorites such as an 18-ounce Ribeye; Tortellini A La Pana (served with ham, truffle oil and arugula in a decadent Parmesan cream sauce); and a Chilean Sea Bass (fresh sea bass that is served with a squash risotto, maple-bacon Brussels sprouts and a mustard Beurre Blanc sauce).
"I've always loved seafood," Wittrock said, "and the Chilean Sea Bass is probably my favorite thing on the menu."
Since coming on board, he said, Main + Abbey's selection of "elevated bar food" has been earning raves from customers. That includes users of the social media website, Trip Advisor, where Main + Abbey is ranked No. 1 out of 187 Sioux City restaurants.
"That ranking was a goal of ours, since we strive to go beyond expectations," Wittrock said. "For instance, you can get Buffalo wings every place, but at Main + Abbey, our Kalbi Chicken Wings are made with a spicy soy and ginger glaze and comes with a creamy garlic dipping sauce."
He said diners appreciate such rock and roll flourishes.
"I want meals that challenges all of our senses," Wittrock said. "After all, visually exciting foods also make it fun to eat."