The bar inside artist collective 400 West Rich in Franklinton, Strongwater Food & Spirits, will soon live up to its full name. Until this month, it’s been drinks only inside this retro-hipster hangout. All that will change in mid-January, says chef Will Johnston, as he unveils Strongwater’s first menu.
When the kitchen opens, the focus will be on American small plates with a Southern flare (think Memphis barbecue and Deep South flavors). Born in Memphis, Tennessee, Johnston has a passion for barbecue. But raise in the Midwest, he’s also got a soft spot for the region’s strong influence of German and Eastern European food. “One of the things I’m trying to do here is bring these touches for German influence meets Midwest meet barbecue,” he explains, adding that’s why you’ll see dishes like pulled pork with a white horseradish barbecue sauce topped with pickle relish.
He’ll also make good use of the smoker for meat and meatless fare alike. He’s excited about the Black Wings—chicken wings smoked for hours with skin turned black and juicy meat underneath. For vegetarians, he cites a duo of smoked quinoa sliders—a flavor that’s typically reserved for carnivores in smoked meats, but adds something extra to this vegetarian dish.
On the menu of roughly two dozen offerings (if you have to flip a menu over, it’s too big, he says) there will be soups, salads, sandwiches and small plates, plus desserts. “It will be elegant and easy to share food,” Johnston says.
Johnston, the previous chef at Black Creek Bistro, moved to the west side neighborhood two years ago, buying a house there five months ago. “To get to be a part of my neighborhood has been amazing. I’m not cooking for strangers, I’m cooking for friends and neighbors.”
Strongwater will be open for dinner only, Tuesdays through Saturdays, at first, with plans to expand to lunch and weekend brunch.