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A&E >  Food

Welcome back, Steam Plant: Restaurant reopens with new look and menu

UPDATED: Tue., Jan. 23, 2018

The restaurant at one of Spokane’s most iconic properties is returning to the downtown dining scene following an almost seven-month closure and $4 million renovation.

The Steam Plant Kitchen and Brewery reopens Monday – with a new name, new menu, new executive chef and overall new experience.

The effect is decidedly dramatic.

The Steam Plant’s new look – modern but vintage-inspired, industrial yet elegant – brings the restaurant and bar into the 21st century while honoring its past.

Built in 1916, the highly recognizable building – with its twin stacks rising 225 feet above downtown – hadn’t been significantly changed since the restaurant and bar opened in the former steam plant in 1999.

“It was showing signs and concerns of equipment failing and different systems that weren’t working efficiently,” said property manager Spencer Sowl, noting the restaurant used to be called Stacks at the Steam Plant and, before that, simply Steam Plant Grill.

Not only did it look tired, “the menu was all over the board,” said new executive chef Steve Leonard, who took over the culinary team in mid July.

He was recruited from the Chicago area, where he worked as executive chef at a number of places, including Wrigley Field and McHenry Country Club. Leonard is classically trained, having completed culinary school in Paris at Le Cordon Bleu.

His streamlined Steam Plant menu features specialties from the establishment’s new wood-fired oven and rotisserie. They’re part of the new, open-concept exhibition kitchen, which lets diners watch chefs at work.

Other updates include new lighting fixtures and furniture throughout restaurant and bar, new dishware, new artwork, new HVAC system, new paint and new flooring.

“Basically, every surface in the restaurant and bar got some attention,” said assistant general manager Ryan Biesen, noting they “needed to be renewed.”

Oversized penny tile is one of the first things guests will notice about the updated Steam Plant, owned by a subsidiary of Avista. It lends a simultaneously contemporary yet vintage vibe while brightening up the entire establishment. The goal was to evoke the era when the plant was built.

“We stayed true to the history as much as we could,” Sowl said.

Designed by renowned Spokane architect Kirtland Cutter, the Steam Plant supplied heat to more than 300 downtown businesses at its peak and operated for nearly 70 years before ceasing operation in late 1986. It reopened 13 years later – and had looked the same ever since.

“It was time” for a renovation, Sowl said. Now, “We want people to come back to the Steam Plant.”

A grand opening celebration is slated for later this spring.

A new rooftop event space can be rented for weddings, private parties and business meetings. It holds up to 150 people and features a full bar, new restrooms and bride’s room.

Ten weddings are already booked this year, Sowl said.

The event space is bookended by two private patios outfitted with heat lamps and adorned with strings of lights. But one of its most striking attributes is the urban view. Don’t forget to look up if you rent the room; a large skylight offers a dramatic – and closer – look of the property’s iconic steam stacks.

New, also, are 40 employees, who’ve been undergoing training during the past two weeks. They also double the number of former workers, bringing the total to 80.

The old forest green color scheme is gone from the restaurant and bar. The new palette is more sophisticated and subdued, in shades of gray, black, white and dark wood. Subway tile lines some of the walls. Others were sandblasted and seal-coated to show off the concrete underneath and, Sowl said, “bring back that original, natural look.”

Design work was done by Helveticka and HDG Architecture, both of Spokane. Construction was done by Associated Construction, Bouton Construction and Vandervert Construction, all of Spokane.

Patrons will recognize the bones of the restaurant, which has a capacity for 386 people. The two boiler rooms that used to house private dining parties – and feature old, exposed steam pipes – still do. But they have new wood flooring, too. And the hollowed-out burner of one has been filled with apple wood, which doubles as decoration as well as fuel for the new wood-fired oven.

Walls of a third boiler were cut through – and the floor raised – to create a dining area with booth seating overlooking the open kitchen.

And an expansion off of the prep kitchen in back offers additional space – more than 500 square feet – for food storage.

The staircase leading to the downstairs bar area has been replaced. And the dark and dated carpet that used to line the bar floor has been ripped out, although it – as well as the late 1990s tile – is still visible in some of the property’s common areas. The plan is to eventually update those surfaces, too, Sowl said.

The two pool tables that used to anchor the back of the bar room are gone, replaced with low-slung couches as well as two extra-long tables for communal seating and a series of booths, each with its own wall-mounted television.

A single unisex restroom has been added to the bar-room level. (Upstairs, both men’s and women’s upstairs restrooms have also been redone.)

And, on the food menu, “There is nothing from before,” Biesen said. “This environment sets us apart. The food should follow the environment.”

The concept is approachable yet elevated modern American fare.

There are fewer offerings on the new menu than the old one, but they are more carefully curated, he said. They include a selection of starters and share-ables, eight mains, four hand-helds, four pizzas and three desserts.

“We’ll start small and expand based on guest feedback and trends,” said Biesen, noting, “the idea has been floated to – at a later date – create a whiskey bar in one of the spaces” on the bar level.

Meantime, the fire-roasted corn bread, he said, is “done from scratch and meant to serve two to four people. And it’s amazing.”

The porchetta sandwich features arugula, cilantro pesto and pickled red onion – along with rotisserie porchetta – on a toasted ciabatta roll with fries. It’s a staff favorite, Biesen said.

Look, also, for a Reuben sandwich, blackened rockfish sandwich and burger with crispy onions, house-cured bacon, Tillamook cheddar, barbecue sauce and garlic aioli.

Pizzas are a classic Margherita, Granny Smith Apple and Fig, Powerhouse Pepperoni and South of the Border.

Share-ables include grilled broccolini, jalapeno slaw, fire-roasted carrots, fire-roasted potatoes and garlic mashed potatoes. Starters include chicken wings, mac and cheese, Penn Cove mussels and a salmon-dill-and-guacamole dip duo with tortilla chips.

One of the signature salads – the Emerald Kale Salad – features kale, Napa cabbage, avocado, wood-roasted beets, charred carrots, grapes, chopped egg, crushed hazelnuts and goat cheese dressed with a charred lemon vinaigrette.

Mains include rotisserie chicken, wood-grilled salmon, fish and chips, a bone-in pork chop, Coca-Cola-braised beef ribs, 12-ounce tri-tip and smoked salmon carbonara with lardons, asparagus, egg yolk and capers.

“My philosophy is food should be treated as a form of entertainment,” Leonard, the executive chef, said. At a restaurant, he said, guests “should have something they aren’t going to cook at home, and they should be entertained. I want people to walk out feeling satisfied and talking about what they are going to order next time.”

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