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The “finer diner” on the corner of East Fifth and Wayne Avenue has been lovingly tended to by co-owners Jack and Natalie Skilliter, who act as executive chef and general manager respectively.
The Skilliters were nice enough to answer some questions about what they’ve been up to lately. Here’s what they had to say:
Q: How would you describe the food you do at Corner Kitchen and has it changed any since you’ve opened?
A: We start with rustic, traditional, homestyle cuisine, then tweak it to make it unique to us. We maintain a commitment to quality products — we only work with ingredients coming from the best local sources.
Our food has changed and it continues to change frequently; we’re always growing, and learning, and challenging ourselves and our guests.
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I think our guests have also changed over the last few years in that they are ordering more and more seafood. Chef Jack is a master at cooking seafood — something that’s not always easy — so I think our guests have learned to trust Jack’s preparation of seafood. We buy all of our seafood from Foremost Seafood, so it’s as fresh as possible and we take deliveries from them at least three times per week (I’ll remind you we’re only open 5 days). Whether it’s mussels, bronzino, scallops, or their incredible organic Scottish Salmon, our guests are loving our offerings.
Q: How would you describe your approach in the kitchen?
A: First, the kitchen makes most everything from scratch. Chef Jack is a very hands-on chef. In many restaurants, the executive chef tends to be more of an administrator. Jack is all in. He butchers whole local goat, lamb, and pork; fillets all of our seafood; grinds beef fresh every day for our renowned burgers and meatloaf; makes every single stock and sauce; and, on top of that, he is working the saute station every night.
We make 99 percent of our offerings from scratch, which is not very common in most restaurants. We source locally as much as possible, and we do not serve any frozen foods, other than our ice cream and French fries.
Q: Why do you think it is important for a chef to find ways to innovate both with menus and the dining experiences they offer customers? How do you do this in your work?
A (JS): Cooking is rooted in tradition, whether it's gourmet cuisine or the comforting food we grew up with. I think innovation is good and being flexible and willing to change is important; however, much of cooking as a craft and as a skill is tied to culture and history — it tells you a lot about where we come from and much less about where we're going.
So for me, it’s important to constantly be learning and reading cookbooks. In reading, I’ve learned much about the cuisines, histories, and cultures around the world. In traveling, I can’t go anywhere without experiencing the food that makes that place unique. I like to bring those dishes or flavors to the restaurant.
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It’s less about innovation and more about being rooted in tradition. Ultimately innovation in cooking is very much like innovation in fashion or a field like that: a trend takes root, and then a few innovators move it forward in small steps or radical leaps, with varying degrees of success. Eventually, others mimic that innovation, and it will become a part of the tradition.
Humanity has such a rich history of food, that at Corner Kitchen, we try to stick with the classics. Our credo is: we’re only as good as the last dish we serve. Simplicity, elegance, no pretense.
Q: What is the most popular dish on your menu?
A: This is a tough question because we change our menu four times a year and the most popular dish varies from season to season and even from week to week. Far and away the most popular dish right now is Dede's Pasta. My mom, Dona Vella, has been hand-making cavatelli for us every Friday, and Chef Jack chooses a different sauce or preparation each week. Whether it's house-made sausage with broccoli rabe, short rib ragu, pan seared sea scallops with spinach and roasted tomato, or vodka sauce, Dede's cavatelli always sells out, so you should try to get in early on Friday.
The duck carbonara is a favorite of our guests and we put it on our menu every winter. Grist Provisions is making a tajarin pasta for us which is very similar to spaghetti — it’s an amazing fresh egg yolk pasta. Chef serves this dish with duck confit, sliced duck breast, peas, mushrooms, pork belly, and a touch of egg and cream. It’s $12 for a half portion and $24 for the entree portion.
Our mussels sell well, too. We always have the mussels available, but rotate the preparation with each menu. Right now, we are serving the mussels in a classic French style with shallots, a white wine Pernod broth, and herbed butter. My personal favorite variation is with a red Thai curry sauce, pineapple, basil, and mint which Chef often puts on the menu during the summer. It’s $15 and comes with a heaping bowl of crispy, herbed fries.
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Our fried chicken is a big hit, too. Our chicken comes to us from the one and only Ed Hill in Xenia, Ohio. The dinner comes with a chicken breast, thigh, and leg, mashed potatoes, vegetable of the moment, our rich and delicious mac & cheese, and country gravy — all for $21.
My favorite dish on our menu is the pan seared sea bass. This is a Mediterranean sea bass called branzino, which is served with Hill Family Farms coarse polenta (Ed Hill is also growing and milling his own polenta and it’s available for sale at Dorothy Lane Market), Parmiggiano Reggiano, and a pine nut, brown butter sauce for $26.
Q: What do you think makes the food at Corner Kitchen unique from a food and dining perspective?
A (NS): I think our attention to detail and our passion for excellence in all things makes us unique — from the menu that is conceived and executed by our chef and our diligent line-cooks, completely from scratch, to a carefully curated musical playlist created daily by our server Taylor Kordic, to our obsession with cleanliness, to our well-rounded and interesting wine list, to our inventive, affordable and satisfying cocktail program run by Callie Young, to our sincere desire to provide attentive yet unobtrusive service overseen by Dan Wood and Caroline Amberguy. We have tried to create a carefully curated dining experience that isn't fussy and is entirely satisfying.
Our business exists in an industry where most restaurants don’t make it through their first year. We’ve made it here today because of the hardworking professionals we’ve had the joy to work with since we opened in 2015.
The service industry is a huge part of our economy. The food industry’s annual national sales are projected to be $799 billion this year, and the humble and incredibly hard-working men and women who are serving you, and preparing your food, makeup around 8.86 percent of the local workforce. Restaurants are an integral part of our economy. I think these numbers will continue to grow.
Q: What are your plans for the future?
A: We plan to keep our head down, stay focused, and continue to work hard and improve upon our product. We're only as good as the last plate we serve.
HOW TO GO
What: Corner Kitchen
Where: 613 E. Fifth St., Dayton
Seating: Indoor seating, 64; bar seating, 13; outdoor seating, 32
More info: (937) 719-0999 or www.afinerdiner.com
Seasonal menu: "Our summer menu change will occur the week of June 18 — we'll see lots of tomatoes and zucchini, squash and herbs, and other fresh, seasonal vegetables. Our fall menu change will occur the week of October 15 — look for Brussels sprouts, autumn squashes and pork," said Natalie Skilliter, co-owner and general manager of Corner Kitchen.