Chef Ray "Pete" Peterman has never chosen traditional names for his restaurants. His first venue, north of the river, was called the Sour Octopus, and he sort of riffed on that name with his second bistro, S.O. Redux, in Columbus Park. For his latest restaurant, Peterman chose a family nickname: "My mother loved peaches, but she called them peanches," he says. It's unusual enough that it's already caused a buzz on Facebook and in the restaurant community. "Is it called Pinches?" a local restaurant manager asked me. "Does it mean a pinch of this and pinch of that?"
Uh, no. The name, like the one-week-old restaurant at 900 West 39th Street, is an homage to Peterman's late mother, Barbara Gustin, who passed away in January.
My friend Martha insisted on dining at Peanches last Friday. "I keep hearing about this chef," she told me. "I want to meet the man behind the stories." Peterman is sort of an iconic figure in the restaurant community: talented, volatile, hilarious, engaging, and definitely not shy about sharing his opinions on other restaurants and other chefs. You either love or fear Peterman; there's no in between. And that's the way he likes it.
Because few people seem to know that the restaurant is open, there was a small crowd dining in the dark, intimate dining room on Friday night. I peeked into the kitchen and saw that the chef had put three of his brood - Peterman and his wife, Heatherrose, are raising four children together - to work, with teenager Lourdes overseeing that night's featured desserts, including the moist olive-oil corn cake topped with a scoop of house-made lemon-thyme ice cream and a spoonful of pecan praline dust. Martha isn't eating desserts these days, so I happily ate the delicacy all by myself after dinner, but it kept me from sampling the other two current choices on the dolce menu: an apple-raisin pie with a scoop of freshly made bay leaf ice cream or the chocolate-pistachio-apricot terrine with cherry marshmallow ice cream.
I was craving desserts before I even sat down, but a plate of house-made focaccia slices put me in a more savory state of mind. A salad of butter-fried chicken gizzards with arugula and fresh peaches caught my eye immediately, but I was wary of ordering it because many local restaurants serve gizzards that are so rubbery and chewy, you would need steel dentures to successfully chew them. But Peterman's gizzards - cooked in white wine in a pressure cooker - are fork-tender under a delicately crispy crust and make a wonderful combination with the spicy greens and sweet Missouri peaches. A jumble of purple-red house-made Mason jar beets - cooked in port wine - are combined into a sassy salad with clove-spiced onions, bits of blue cheese and fat walnuts.
There's a Sunday-supper sensibility to all of the six entrees on the current menu: pot roast with stew vegetables, roasted chicken, and a pork cassoulet under a cornmeal crust.
Peanches, which has only 11 tables, is open from 5 to 10 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday and from 5 to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday. There is an outdoor patio, but Peterman is reserving those seats for patrons who want to enjoy cocktails and cigarettes. For the dining room, Peterman prefers reservations, which may be made by calling 816-709-1032 or at the restaurant's website.