Chef Erik Van Kley is getting ready to do what he knows best: wing it, with confidence and big flavors. After all, he spent years as chief collaborator to Portland’s premier culinary riffer, Le Pigeon’s Gabriel Rucker. Now, roughly nine weeks after quietly slipping into Accanto, Belmont’s stalwart neighborhood restaurant, Van Kley is about to unroll his new brunch menu, beginning this Saturday, January 6.
“The pastrami is on the brine right now,” says the former Little Bird chef. He’s not sure where this dish is going, but he has the mental outline nailed: steam it, crust it, then roll it out as a pastrami hash, crowned with sunny side ups and … Russian hollandaise? Van Kley calls it “Thousand Island meets the spicy side of Mexico.” I’m not sure what that means, but I’m in.
Experiments don’t always work, of course. Van Kley’s Taylor Railworks, a Southern-American-Asian mashup, never quite found its food groove before closing in October after two years. Now at Accanto as chef and co-owner, Van Kley returns to his playful-rustic roots, while bringing more rigor and creative juice to a place that has hummed along for years as a solid spot for pasta and fritto misto under changing chefs.
The dinner menu is now nominally Italian, mingled with Spanish ingredients, seafood twists, and, as you would expect from a Le Pigeon alum, a love of meat, with most dishes around $14–23. My faves so far: handsome cured trout carpaccio; an escarole Caesar that subs chunks of smoked mackerel for anchovy; and a lusty gnocchi bobbing in a roasted goat-leg tomato sauce.
Brunch will include four savory dishes—pastrami hash to spicy chile relleno—plus some sweet things, fancy yogurt, two kinds of homemade bacon, and Ken’s Artisan Bakery bread toasted with Calabrian chili butter. I’m curious about the amaro-laced French toast, the kitchen’s homage to skinny Jimmy Dean sausages, and the crispy parmesan potatoes, crushed and fried, then doused with jalapeno pesto (“I love love this pesto,” wails Van Kley).
Going forward, Van Kley’s longtime business partner, Gabriela Ramos, will turn her attention to a more personal wine and cocktail list. The goal is to keep Accanto comfy and accessible, but a little more stepped up and edgy.
The biggest change, according to Van Kley? “I’m leaning more on luxury ingredients, used minimally. The kitchen here has focused on keeping costs down. I understand that from a business point of view. But the devil is in the details, and there’s not enough sinning going on here. I’m going to be a sinner. I’m going to be a bad man.” Bring it on.