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Chef John Cochran, whose brief stint at Shaw’s Tavern was overshadowed by the eatery’s liquor license debacle, has resurfaced in the kitchen of Big Bear Cafe in Bloomingdale. In his new gig, Cochran is helping to turn the coffeehouse into a full-service bistro with a veggie-centric menu in the evenings.
A little background: Cochran, whose resume includes the Inn at Little Washington and the now-defunct Red Sage Restaurant downtown, owned the old Rupperts restaurant from 1994 to 2002. During his time there, Food & Wine named him Best New Chef. But Cochran eventually burned out and spent nearly a decade as a private chef in New York, doing occasional pop-up dinners. Shaw’s Tavern was supposed to be his triumphant full-time return to a professional kitchen. But because the the ownership at the time never acquired a liquor license and was forced to close the restaurant, Cochran was operating chef only 30 days.
At Big Bear, Cochran hopes to do a lot of the things he never had the chance to at Shaw’s Tavern. He’ll be baking bread and making pickles, ketchup, creme fraiche, and everything else from scratch. The menu will change frequently, using produce from a local Amish coop and the Bloomingdale farmers market out front.
Right now, the menu has starters like green tomato soup with small tomato salad and roasted quail with beets and beet tops. Entrees, which range from $13-$19, include a meat loaf with snow peas, rice, beans, grilled onion, and roasted tomato sauce and rockfish with fennel, carrots, pea shoots, grits, and preserved lemons. (Check out the full menu below.)
Cochran says he likes to think of the vegetable as the most important part of the plate with meat as the accompaniment.
For dessert, you’ll find a chocolate vegan cake with sour cherries and creme fraiche, a flour-less goosberry rhubarb crumble with oatmeal and walnuts, and a buttermilk cake with raspberries.
“Basically, we’re a new restaurant,” says Cochran of Big Bear, which previously only had one dinner option that you ordered at the counter.
And now Cochran won’t have to worry about if he’ll have beer, wine, or cocktails to pair with his food—only which one.
Roasted Almonds with Rosemary $3
Assorted Olives $3
Green Tomato Soup with Small Tomato Salad $6
Crimini, Shiitake & Oyster Mushrooms with Black Walnut Salad on Bull’s Blood Beet Greens $7
Pee Wee Egg over Favas, Pea Shoots & Garlic Tops $8
Roasted Quail with Beets & Beet Tops $9
Rockfish with Fennel, Carrot, Pea Shoots & Grits, Preserved Lemons $19
Asparagus, Cauliflower & Squash Salad with Baby Leeks, Barley & Sorrel $13
Roasted Chicken Leg with Basil Mashed Potatoes, Kohlrabi, Spring Onion & Toscano Kale $16
Meat Loaf with Snow Peas, Rice Beans, Grilled Onions & Roasted Tomato Sauce $16
Basil Mash Potatoes $5
Kohlrabi & Toscano Kale $5
Grits with Fennel, Carrot & Pea Shoots $5
Winnimere on Alex’s Mom’s Crackers $6
Photo by Darrow Montgomery