What to Expect at Sable, According to Chef Heather Terhune

Heather Terhune is ready to make your butterscotch pot de creme.
Heather Terhune is ready to make your butterscotch pot de creme. Photo: courtesy Atwood Cafe

Heather Terhune celebrated ten years at the helm of Atwood Cafe this past October, and so of course she’s picking up and leaving: she’ll be taking on the kitchen at Sable Kitchen and Bar, a large, bar-oriented, self-described “gastro-lounge” anchoring the soon-to-open Hotel Palomar in River North. (It’s owned by Kimpton, the same group behind Atwood.) With Sable’s opening looming on the horizon — the retro-tinged place with a focus on brown liquor and old-school glamour is scheduled for a mid-March opening — we called Terhune to find out what she’s got in store for her first major shakeup in a decade.

You’ve been with Atwood Cafe for over ten years — How did this whole new project come about?
It was really all about timing. [Hospitality company Kimpton and I] started talking about it about a year ago, and really it all just kind of fit together perfectly. I wasn’t unhappy at Atwood, I really love it. I grew up here, being a first-time executive chef and having a small starter restaurant has been great, but I was looking to have a bigger place and a bigger restaurant.

How big is Sable?
It will have 158 seats, and the bar is over half the size of the space. Having an open display kitchen is also something I haven’t had the luxury of doing at Atwood, and I’m really social, so being out and interacting with the guests is something I’m looking forward to. So this was really the best of both worlds here for me - to branch out, to make new decisions, and to get someone else in here at Atwood.

Who’s that going to be?
We haven’t made that announcement yet, that probably won’t come until after Sable opens. We don’t want the new chef to be overshadowed by a big opening. We’re looking at a few people.

For the time being are you still at Atwood, or have you turned your attention to the new place?
I’m still overseeing day-to-day at Atwood. It’s kind of play-it-by-ear, but until we can physically get into the new space, I’ll be here. People can still find me! And of course we have a kitchen here so I can test out recipes.

Sable has been touted as taking a lot of design influence from the 1940s. Are you incorporating that into the menu?
The look of the restaurant isn’t really dictating what the menus are going to look like. Though with the space, we want to keep it casual, but really keep a sense of of style, and I think that’s how I approach the food as well — looking at the menu as a whole, bringing my touches to it, really adding my flair and what my vision is. You’ll see aspects of the type of food I’ve been cooking at Atwood Cafe, but really tailored to the gastro-lounge concept.

What sorts of things does a gastro-lounge serve? There’s that butterscotch pot de creme that you twittered about, for example.
With that I was thinking about butterscotch pudding and making it more me, making it more high end. I’m definitely making homemade soft pretzels with a smoked cheddar cheese dippings sauce - kind of sticking to my roots, since I was born in Vermont but raised in the Midwest. There’s a separate bar menu that’s a lot of snacks. I’m thinking possibly baby back ribs, definitely some charcuterie and artisan cheese.

Will you be making your own charcuterie?
We’ll be making some stuff, but you really need a dedicated space for all the charcuterie so I don’t think we’ll be doing it all. But definitely we’re going to make our own chicken liver mousse and our own sausage. As much as we can do we are absolutely doing in house.

Much like you did at Atwood, but with a bigger kitchen?
Yes, just like that. We’re keeping the menu seasonal, obviously, and luckily we’re opening in the spring, which is great for the produce. Really I’m having a great time conceptually looking at all these kinds of fun foods and making them my own. We’ll have a brick oven, so we’ll be doing American flatbreads, and I’m thinking maybe we’ll do local Paulina Meat Market pepperoni and fresh mozzarella and do just a great pepperoni pizza.

We’ll also be doing some takes on Kansas City barbecue. Not that we’ll be a barbecue restaurant, but we’re working on dry rubs and our own barbecue sauces. For one of my tastings we did a braised bison short rib with a root beer glaze.

That sounds great.
It is delicious, I won’t lie.

Sable is scheduled to open in mid-March in the not-yet-open Hotel Palomar, at 505 North State Street. For the time being, you can visit Heather at her current restaurant, Atwood Cafe.

What to Expect at Sable, According to Chef Heather Terhune