Before Beth Barden opened a restaurant, she taught sex education, so she's a straight-talking woman. She knows that some people had issues with her first Succotash, the sassy little bruncheonette operating in the City Market for eight years. She admits that she had problems with the small, awkwardly designed space and its ridiculously tiny kitchen. Barden will even agree that there were a few servers who rubbed some customers the wrong way.
"There was this perception that they were all these young hipsters who didn't care about giving attentive service," Barden says. "And in a couple of cases, that was true! That's why very few of the old staff came over with us when we moved the restaurant to the new location. We have a terrific new staff now."
I'll raise a cup of coffee to that. I've eaten at the new Succotash at 26th Street and Holmes five times now, and the new servers — Ben, Niles and Angie — along with Venus Van Horn, the theatrically named new general manager, are as personable and professional as they come.
The food is better, too. I don't know whether that's because Barden and her staff finally have a well-appointed kitchen or because Barden finally gave herself permission to make some serious edits to the old menu. "The breakfast menu is pretty much the same," she says, "but the lunch menu is drastically different. In the old location, we had customers that were so attached to certain dishes that they'd tell me they would never come back if I took it off the menu. Well, when we moved, I took everything off the lunch menu except the BLT and the Cobb salad."
Tomato soup is still on the menu, too, but Barden changed the recipe when she revamped the lunch menu for the new location, which opened in November in a two-story brick building that housed a Meiners grocery store for the first half of the 20th century and the Dutch Hill Bar and Grill for the second half. Barden and her boyfriend, Marco Pascolini, have done an amazing job of renovating the formerly dark, smoky saloon. They installed new storefront windows and a glass entry door, uncovered a long-concealed side door under layers of plaster, decorated the original bar with strips of shiny plumbing copper, tiled the 100-year-old support columns with glass, and repaired the walls ("You wouldn't believe how many places that had been kicked in," Barden says) and the original pressed-tin ceiling and the creaky wooden floors.
Unlike the City Market location, which I always found to be uncomfortable and cold — winter or summer — the new Succotash is as cozy as someone's living room, right down to the soft, white leather sofas that Barden bought on sale to use as banquette seating for the tables on the perimeter of the dining room. My friend Truman prefers Barden's joint to the other clubby neighborhood spot, You Say Tomato, a couple of blocks to the south. Succotash, he insists, "is bolder, brighter and more fun, and you don't have to order at a counter."
To each his own, I suppose. Barden has bigger ambitions for her restaurant, anyway. She's waiting on a liquor license and plans to start serving dinners in late February. Her real dream is to be open 24 hours a day, like the Detroit restaurant that her grandparents operated in the 1920s. "It was called the Delmont and was open seven days a week, 24 hours a day," she says, "serving everything from breakfast to Delmonico steak."
The new place is already open seven days a week, serving pancakes, omelettes, and biscuits and gravy in the morning and sandwiches and salads in the afternoon. Pascolini hasn't finished building new stools for bar seating, so the staff uses the bar surface to display pastries, including plates of croissants from City Bakery.