2019 Best New Restaurants // No. 3 Bulrush
Creating culinary excellence from humble sources isn’t anything new. The enterprise of reducing waste and finding sustainable ingredients is no longer a radical idea. Bulrush, however, has embarked on a decidedly radical path in this direction.
Chef-owner Rob Connoley, sous chef Justin Bell and the rest of the Bulrush crew have taken a deep dive into Ozark cuisine from the 1820s to 1870s. They sourced original recipes from archives, both official and personal, and scoured them to glean the knowledge of the ancestors. But the dishes coming out of the Bulrush kitchen aren’t static museum pieces – they are vibrant reimaginings of flavors made with bizarrely historically accurate ingredients.
Just as the concept of the restaurant is hyper-specific, the ingredients are hyper-local. Many are foraged from the Bulrush Land Partnership, a loose collective of landowners who allow the Bulrush folks to collect from their acres. Tomatoes in January? No, sir. Everything you taste is in season, often gathered that same day by one of the chefs.
The result is a unique culinary experience each visit, a chance to try a sauce made from wood sorrel, marinated chanterelles, fermented persimmons or perhaps paw paw “caviar” throughout a seven-course tasting menu in the dining room or an a la carte dish from the bar.
But novelty is not the reason Bulrush made this list. Connoley is a James Beard Award semifinalist for a reason. Some courses may look strange, some very rustic, but some bites will completely blow your mind.
What appears to be a charming little falafel slider unfurls on the palate. The bun is actually an airy profiterole pastry worthy of a cream puff, the top crusted with ash. A rutabaga puree is a strange, wonderful reincarnation – a deeper, darker, more soulful pesto. The meat of the fried sweet potato patty is complemented by a spicebush crema.
The whole looks familiar; the ingredients don’t sound exciting; the flavors are unlike anything you’ve ever tasted. You’ll wish the coursed dinner came with seconds.
Nothing about the stylish interior, courtesy of Space Architecture + Design, says “19th century Ozarks.” But the hip, theatrical vibe engendered by watching Connoley and Bell do their thing, cooking and chatting with the seated guests who surround the open kitchen, hearkens back to the core homespun values of community and hospitality. Excellent fine dining service is given a personal touch with a gift of delicious cookies and a copy of that night’s menu to take as a souvenir.
Bulrush stands as a culinary apotheosis of Connoley’s love for a time and place that deserve to be remembered and appreciated.
Matt Sorrell is a staff writer at Sauce Magazine.
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