The husband and wife duo opened BLVD Tavern (320 Southwest Boulevard) earlier this month in the space that previously housed Nica’s 320, Lagniappe and Shiraz. He’s the executive chef. She’s the general manager.
“I’ve always wanted to use my classical training and use the same quality of ingredients you find in an upscale white tablecloth [restaurant],” Derek Nacey says of the gastropub. “But just take all the fluff and presentation out and drop that same food into a comfortable neighborhood bar.”
Derek Nacey’s first neighborhood was Rochester, New York. His desire to open his own restaurant led him to the Culinary Institute of America in nearby Hyde Park, where he graduated in 1999. After a brief stint at Oceana in New York City, he realized he wanted something different.
“I called up my big sis who was living in Kansas City and said, ‘I don’t think I’m happy here,’” he says. “I packed up all my stuff and drove halfway across the country. I’m still here.”
Nacey’s first job in Kansas City set the course for his future. He was a sous chef at Fedora Café & Bar and Meghan was a server. Shortly after he started they found themselves at an after-shift house party.
“I introduced myself on the first night,” Megan Nacey says. “He started rubbing my feet and I said, “I was going to marry him.’”
Derek Nacey became a fixture in Kansas City kitchens, working at Café Allegro and Zin (where Michael Smith is now), where he rose to the position of executive chef over a five-year period. Megan Nacey worked the front of the house at Morton’s of Chicago, La Bodega, Room 39, and ran the espresso bar for Dean & Deluca.
In 2005, the couple moved to Fayetteville, Arkansas, to help open Theo’s American Kitchen & Cocktail Lounge. Two years later, they returned to KC and Derek Nacey took a position in the corporate offices of Houlihan’s Restaurants, Inc. As the Director of Culinary, he was responsible for menu and recipe development for the three restaurants – Houlihan’s, Bristol Seafood Grill & J. Alexander’s – under the chain’s umbrella.
“I feel like I have a really good grasp of how to write a menu. I know what kind of food works,” Derek Nacey says of his seven years with the company. “With Houlihan’s, it gave me reach to hit customers all over the country that I would have never gotten my food in front of…I got a lot of feedback that way.”
They’ve spent the past several months reworking the space on Southwest Boulevard. The tables and a long bench that runs the length of the dining room are made from reclaimed barn wood. The base of a former service elevator is now wine storage, a back room is in the process of being transformed into an event space for about 50 people, and the patio was rebuilt and opened this past weekend.
“It’s been the goal from day one to be a chef-owner,” Derek Nacey says. “It just took a while to get there.”
The first night they were open, BLVD Tavern sold out of its KFC twice-fried chicken wings in an hour. If you’re looking for a candidate for a signature dish, this is a potential frontrunner.
“It’s Korean-fried chicken, which means it is twice fried,” Derek Nacey says. “We brine the chicken in salt, honey, lemon and herbs before we dip it in half-beer, half-vodka and batter it with flour, baking powder and seasoning. It’s got this super crunchy, crisp crust. It’s a little bit sweet and a little bit spicy.”
The wings are served with gochujang – a fermented Korean chilli paste – and a side of kimchi.
“This is the type of food that we want to eat in Kansas City,” Meghan Nacey says.
Derek Nacey has found inspiration all across the map for BLVD Tavern’s menu. He’s got poutine (fries topped with gravy and cheese curds and served with a short pour of beer) – a dish that well known in Western New York because of its proximity to Ontario, Canada, where poutine is everywhere. Nacey puts his own touch on it with house veal stock punched up with red wine and rosemary for the gravy. He pulls in a bit of Japan with the tempura blistered shishito peppers served with bonito and sesame kewpi mayo (a “funky, fermented, sweet mayo.”).
“I like to try to get a balance of as many flavors in a dish as I can,” Derek Nacey says. “When you’re eating something that hits the salty, sweet, sour, bitter and umami, you’re thinking I can’t understand why it’s so good.”
The cocktail menu springs from the brain of veteran mixologist Valdez Campos. The Picador is named for a steakhouse near Meghan Nacey’s grandparents hotel in Mexico, Missouri. It’s an adult take on a Shirley Temple – vodka, Rotham & Winter Cherry Liqueur, house ginger beer and Topo Chico. The ‘Beer & A Back,’ section should also be noted.
There you’ll find The Birdman (a can of Tecate, shot of tequila ocho plate and sangrita) and The Crossroader (bottle of Boulevard’s KC Pils, shot of J Rieger whiskey and a pickled okra back). Those will be joined shortly by the preshift (Founders porter, shot of Fernet and Oddly Correct’s Hop Toddy) and the postshift (a can of Genessee Cream Ale and a shot of Jameson whiskey).
The BLVD Tavern is currently only open for dinner and the entrees reflect it. Nacey has a meat-centric focus with flat iron steak, beer battered cod, a fresh ground chuck burger, and dry-aged Duroc pork chop. But, he’s also got one spot reserved for his first neighborhood: the grilled Rochester white hot.
“Anywhere you go in Rochester, when you step up to the grill, they’ll ask the question, ‘Red or white?’” Derek Nace says. “It’s a unique thing and something that I’ve been playing around with for a few months.”
BLVD’s white hots are half-pork (Duroc pork shoulder) and half-veal spiced with lemon, white pepper, mace, salt, and ginger. The meat is ground and emulsified with heavy cream and water. It’s then packed into natural pork casing and poached before being grilled to order. It comes with a bread and butter pickle spear, pickled red onion and pickled mustard seed.
“There’s a lot of effort and care that goes into making this hot dog. It takes the skill and commitment that it takes to make really expensive fine dining food and then lighten it up to make something fun out of all that flavor. You don’t have to charge a fortune for it, either. That’s everything I want this place to be,” Nacey says.
In the coming weeks, the Naceys expect to add brunch and neighborhood interest has them considering lunch. Currently, the bar at the BLVD Tavern is open from 4 p.m. to midnight Tuesday through Thursday, 4 p.m. to 1 a.m. Friday and Saturday and 4 p.m. to midnight on Sunday. The dining room is open from 5 to 10 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday, 5 to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 5 to 10 p.m. Sunday. The phone number is 816-421-1023.