Tom Bell sits at the long bar of his restaurant-to-be, the Belmont Eatery. Poring over a catalogue of tables and chairs as appliances hum in the background, he studies a desk calendar filled with hand-written appointments and fields calls from restaurant owner friends and contractors on his cell phone.
A Maplewood resident and first-time restaurant owner, Bell worked in Chicago kitchens and played in local bands before relocating to New York to write and produce for TV. His repertoire included many cooking shows [disclosure: Bell and I worked together in television in the aughts].
He decided to take the plunge when he saw the space that used to house Village Burger. Its historic relevance spoke to him. “I grew up in Chicago, and spent time on Belmont Avenue there. In fact, I met my wife in a burger joint on Belmont.” The name etched into the cement above the block of stores on Maplewood Avenue that Belmont Eatery will soon call home? The “Belmont Building, est. 1932”.
The space, says Bell, will soft-launch in January and is undergoing a big cosmetic renovation, from lighting, to paint, to furniture. The biggest overhaul, of course, will be the food. “We want to offer fresh, simple food, and we’ll make as much as we can in-house. “The meat will be ground on premises and hot dogs and brats will be made here as well, with no nitrates,” says Bell. “We’re looking to make our own buns, cut our own fries, even make our own ketchup and mustard – anything we can make ourselves to keep the ingredients simple and the flavor fresh.”
Low-key fare will keep the Belmont Eatery accessible, comfortable and friendly, and initially Bell will open for lunch and brunch, with dinner to follow some time after. Citing potpies as his specialty, Bell also promises homemade varieties of the latter, cooked on the premises in a basement convection oven. He’s been working on his crust and fillings at home, testing out recipes on his wife Dee and young daughter. From classic chicken potpie to beef, duck, fish and Moroccan pastilla, Bell continues to choose the best recipes as he puts his menu together.
A long, narrow space, the Belmont Eatery real estate provides some seating challenges – but these are welcome problems to have, Bell believes. He hopes by opening the main room up, creating warmer lighting and adding more generous tables, future patrons will feel relaxed and, of course, hungry.
Bell is quick to point out that while the temporary sign on the door states “Yes, there will be burgers!” the Belmont Eatery will also offer vegetarian options. “I am working on a great bean and beet burger,” he says. “And nothing will ever be frozen.”
As for fitting in with Maplewood’s existing restaurant options, Bell is humble. “I enjoy restaurants in this town a lot, so the bar is set pretty high,” he smiles.