When Brad and Lesa Wood opened Eighth and Roast in Melrose, they knew that they wanted to offer lunch to complement their outstanding varieties of in-house roasted coffee beans. As much as patrons appreciate their brews, coffee houses without food see a drop in business after the morning rush and before the second round of java lovers arrive for their afternoon caffeine pick-me-up.
Unfortunately, the Woods’ kitchen space was miniscule, and half of it was occupied by bags of coffee beans both roasted and green. Fortunately, the Woods found a chef who could operate in the cramped space yet concentrate on inventive fare that reflects their commitment to quality ingredients. Chef Mike Arnold is an alumnus of several local kitchens, including the Viking Cooking School and Cafe Fundamental, and he was up to the challenge.
When Arnold started his new gig, he encountered an assortment of cooking equipment that looked like a recent college graduate’s first apartment kitchen: an oven, a double-sided cooler, a sandwich prep station and a microwave. “We didn’t even have a toaster oven,” Arnold recalls. “I saw a staff member pull a Caprese sandwich out of the microwave and a little piece of me died inside.”
Arnold added two convection burners to his arsenal and then considered his culinary options. “I saw an opportunity to get creative with soups, so we waited for colder weather,” Arnold says. Sharing his tiny kitchen with pastry chef Natalie Shepherd, who produces all the baked goods served at Eighth and Roast, Arnold knew that he didn’t have the floor space for a lot of active cooking.
But he remained undeterred. “That’s how I like to cook anyway, slow and taking my time to build up layers of flavors. His popular Pork and Greens Soup is a wonderful example of the results of this philosophy. He slow-braises pork butt (usually in a hearty stout borrowed from neighbor Craft Brewed) in the convection oven and then uses the meat to create a potlikker in a stewpot on one of the induction burners. Traditional aromatics like onions and garlic flavor the rich broth, and vinegar and red pepper flakes add zing. Finally, Arnold simmers locally-sourced collard greens in the soup until tender. The result is a bracing soup that is the perfect bowl to warm your soul on a brisk spring day.
While other chefs might be challenged to work every day in a rudimentary kitchen like the one at Eighth and Roast, Arnold revels in the challenge: Give me two burners and I can cook in a rowboat!
Follow Eighth and Roast on twitter for their rotating soup specials @eighthandroast