Chef Spotlight - Tony Brown
by Erin Peterson
featured in Spokane Coeur d'Alene Living Magazine
Working at places like Twigs, Luna, and Mizuna, Tony Brown built his career with a refined approach that contributed to his approach in opening Stella's, followed by Ruins. These two spots were decidedly casual in ambiance, but the food utilizes fine-dining techniques in an affordable approach. After closing Stella’s for a few years and focusing on the ever-rotating regionally and globally-inspired menu at Ruins, he brought it back in the Saranac Commons much to the city’s delight. At Ruins, don’t expect to get a reservation, no matter who you are; seating is a first-come, first-served basis.
Recently he opened two more restaurants in the same location that was the most highly anticipated of the year - Hunt and Eyvind, solidifying his place as a Spokane restaurant institution. After you walk down the hundred-year-old stairs (that miraculously don’t creak) and see the dynamically lit animal skull against the pale green wall, the stage is set for the “elevated campfire food” at Hunt. The space is rustic and cozy with furniture built with salvaged wood from the restaurant’s renovation. A private dining room is shrouded with what appears to be a canvas tent, adding to the intended effect. With items on the menu like braised rabbit stroganoff, smoked trout with mustard creme fraiche, this spot will especially appeal to the dedicated carnivore but has several options for vegan and vegetarian diners as well. Dishes like root vegetable stew with seed pesto and warm chickpeas with smoked tomato are hearty and satisfying.
Upstairs, Eyvind is a completely different feel. With the ambiance and decor inspired by Eyvind Earle, known for majestic and ethereal background painting for early animated films for Walt Disney, it is a great spot for date night or a business meeting. There are four distinct dining areas - one by the window, another at the bar, one tucked away in an alcove under a stunning chandelier with a little more privacy, and my favorite, the chef’s counter. This open kitchen gives you a full view of the impeccably focused crew working to serve both the upstairs and downstairs diners.
One of Tony’s greatest strengths is seeking out exceptional talent. Chefs Chong Vang, formerly of Inland Pacific Kitchen, and Jonathan Seaman Cwik, a rising star who recently completed an internship at Noma, were selected by Tony to take on the loosely vegetable-focused menu with unique proteins upstairs, and their talent shines through in every plate and bowl. Elegant dishes like duck with perfectly crispy skin (and still somehow medium-rare - kudos to the chefs) atop a bed of parsnip puree with a hint of vanilla and topped with a pistachio crumble show the complexity of the abilities and imagination of the culinary team.
Tony can be seen anywhere around the restaurant at any given moment. Like a proud father awaiting a child being born, he smiles through his nerves as the new establishment finds its rhythm and formulates systems to make every element of the service efficient and refined. He lends a hand wherever it is needed, with no pretense. Smiling and laughing with his crew as he manages the flow of the evening, it is clear that he continues to earn their respect, and in the end, that is the most notable ingredient we found in this restaurant.