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by Richard C. Ross

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Almost like waiting for Godot, I have watched the southwest corner of State Street for the last several years, wondering what would become of the property.  Difficult it has been "to hold the terrible silence at bay" (mostly since the restaurant 302 West closed) in the interim.  Has it actually been more than four years that the historic old building that once housed the State Bank of Geneva has sat vacant? 

Having grown up in Geneva -- and still living close by -- I have seen many changes to my boyhood home.  The past few years have brought a few changes -- like the loss of some old and wonderful businesses -- that have been very difficult for me to watch  (grant me the strength to accept the things I cannot change...).  And although for a long time it may have seemed like the better alternative, it never does help much to dwell on the past.

The time has come to move on, the "stranger" has finally arrived, and from the looks of the new digs (and from recent conversations), I believe things are moving along quite nicely.  Importantly, the building at 302 West State Street officially has a new occupant, one that seems prepared to take things to a whole new level -- literally. 

Actually, three levels would be more accurate.  The new kid on the block goes by the name of Even Flow Music & Spirits, and he's using all three existing levels in the building to create some pretty significant buzz, if you'll pardon the unintended pun, as the focus will be on the type of live entertainment  -- jazz, blues and rock -- found in cities like Chicago, New Orleans and Nashville.

In the event you have been to the previous two venues that occupied the location, be prepared for something completely different when you walk through the doors.  Even Flow features a full-size stage in the northeast corner of the building, a full bar that runs the length of the main floor, a loft area on the upper level and a lower-level lounge as well which, as of this writing, is not quite finished.  Even so, the new owners (Michael Knuth and Nick Mercadante) have executed some pretty extensive renovation that, frankly, is impressive.

The idea for an entertainment venue had been rolling around Knuth's head for about six years when the possibilities for the building at 302 West State Street presented themselves; it was something that he and Mercadante couldn't pass up.  So, in February, renovation began and the interior started to take on a whole new look and feel as the upstairs bar went away, the main level received a redesigned kitchen along with a bar that extends the length of the floor, and the lower level is getting a complete make-over (it should have the finishing touches by the end of July), offering a relaxed atmosphere where one can imbibe beverages at a full bar or enjoy conversation at one of the many tables or near a fireplace... all while watching the musical acts on closed-circuit television. 

Naturally interested in food and dining, I was curious to know how the venue would combine a swanky new music scene with its dining options...  To answer that question -- and a few more -- I recently had the opportunity to steal some time away from a very busy Daniel Emerson, executive chef for Even Flow.  Judging from the items I drooled over on the site's menu, there seem to be plenty of  plates from which to choose -- be they the "big" or "small" version.  More on specifics in a moment.

Chef Daniel may be a relative newcomer to the restaurant scene -- while taking on the Executive Chef duties at Even Flow, he is also finishing up on a degree in Hospitality Administration/Management at DeVry University -- but don't be fooled by his young age and almost-boyish looks.  Behind an ever-present smile is a significant verve that accompanies his talents in the kitchen: he knows what he is doing and he likes it.  Friend and mentor Executive Chef Todd Davies from Tap House Grill (six locations in the suburbs, including St. Charles), collaborated with Daniel on a menu that beckons you to try all of the items. 

Guests can enjoy American contemporary cuisine "big plates" for dinner with choices that include Seared Diver Scallops with watermelon salsa, cucumber, micro greens and a balsamic glaze, Grilled Veggie Lasagna with red and yellow peppers, zucchini, yellow squash, egg plant, goat cheese, ricotta, tomato and Parmesan, all resting atop a smooth tomato-goat cheese sauce or Cured Pork Chops with a blue cheese crust and brioche apple stuffing.  Too much?  Try some of the "small plates" like Open-Faced Stout-Braised Short Rib Minis with jicama, cabbage slaw and local brioche, or Spicy Fried Chicken and Waffles with honey or even some Rosemary Lamb Meatballs with Michigan berries compote and a French baguette!

Spicy Fried Chicken and WafflesI watched as the chef deftly prepared some examples so I could take some pictures: scallops, lasagna, chicken waffle and a Watermelon Bruschetta Salad of mixed greens, goat cheese and extra-virgin olive oil dressing... and then asked if I'd like to try them.  I obviously said yes, and my taste buds responded with a hearty round of applause!  I now have the excuse I (barely) needed to return to Even Flow for more of the chef's menu items.  But I'll share a little secret:  everything I tasted was delicious... but the scallops were awesome and I can definitely recommend them.  By the way, all the items are fresh and are made from scratch... the way they should be.

Soooo, I am now left to wonder, is Even Flow Music & Spirits:

A)  an entertainment venue that just happens to serve great food and spirits?

B)  a cocktails-type venue that just happens to provide top-notch entertainment and food?

C)  a great dining venue that includes a really nice area to enjoy cocktails and entertainment?

Watermelon Bruschetta Salad If this were a real test, the best answer choice would be "D" -- all of the above.  I am encouraged by what I have seen and heard -- and tasted -- thus far.  Interestingly, owner Nick Mercadante happened by as I was talking with Chef Daniel.  I mentioned that the renovations and changes looked really nice.  He smiled and responded that "We're trying to do everything the right way."  I like that part, a lot.  There were several employees who were in the restaurant that day as well; they all seemed to exude a great feeling of energy  and confidence.  I like that, too. 

Note: Although the approximate 200-seat capacity restaurant has already undertaken a "soft" opening (which helps to determine where the areas of strength are... and also some of the kinks that need attention), a grand opening is scheduled for August 4th at 4:30 p.m.  So get ready for a significant bash with lots of great music, locally-brewed beers or hand-crafted cocktails and certainly some excellent fare prepared especially for the occasion by Chef Daniel -- hope to see you there!  






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