Into the South Baltimore space that housed Liv2Eat comes In Bloom. The budding restaurant grows from good rootstock: Cyrus Keefer, an admired, albeit elusory local chef, is teaming up with Kevin Perry, who ran the kitchen at Liv2Eat after he and his wife, Cecilia Banalcazar opened the Light Street restaurant in 2012. Cecilia will continue to run the front of the house at the new restaurant, while Cyrus’s wife, Angela Keefer, will toss her administrative and aesthetic talents into the mix. At opening, the two couples were like honeymooners, starry-eyed about the new partnership, their interlocking talents and even the chemistry of their two little boys — aged 4 and 6, who “fight like brothers,” but nevertheless, played quietly while their parents were interviewed.
Cyrus has shown up in more restaurants in the last five years than roasted Brussels sprouts. His dizzying resume includes helming fine dining kitchens and gastropubs, launching a Vietnamese street food pop-up at a Hampden wine bar and running a training program for City Seeds, the Humanim-funded food program. He also plays in a rock band, Airwave Spectacular (his father, he says, toured with Chicago and Santana). “When we all got together to talk about it, my wife was playing devil’s advocate,” says Cyrus of the early forays into the proposed partnership. “She said, ‘Why do you want to partner with a guy who’s had 20 million jobs in the last year or so?’” Cecilia told them that Kevin was the same way.
Creative people, Cyrus says, often have attention deficit disorders. But being in the right job is an antidote to ADHD, Kevin chimes in: “When you don’t want to be in a class or in a meeting, you drift. But when I’m really into what I’m doing, I can be completely focused.” The two chefs met more than a decade ago, working in the kitchen of Sotto Sopra, and Cyrus liked what he saw. “I saw someone very methodical,” he says. “I could tell working side by side that we shared the same mechanics, that we come from a school of thought.” He also learned that Kevin had worked for Todd Gray at D.C.’s acclaimed Equinox. And more recently, when he walked in to Liv2Eat, Cyrus says, “I could smell a proper professional kitchen.” The aroma of roasting bones, he says “is a sign that the demi-glace isn’t coming out of a jar.”
Inspired by the limited offerings at restaurants like Rose’s Luxury in D.C. (which only offers one meal option a night), the chefs are keeping the menu simple, with a handful of appetizers (Thai-seasoned calamari salad, mussels with chorizo and potatoes, eggplant caponata to name a few) and a few entrée options. The mains, such as a tender beef short rib with roasted bone marrow or trout stuffed with crab, all come with identical sides, Cyrus says.
At some point, Cecilia would like to “go the somm route,” to study wines in more depth. For now, she’s exercising her zeal for grapes by populating the In Bloom beverage list with “interesting varietals.” For example, there’s an arneis, the challenging Piemonte grape often called “the little rascal,” and a pinot grigio from Michigan. In some ways, Cecilia says, the wine selection “is a shout-out to quirky wines from different states in the U.S. — like the Texas Rhone-style blend, chardonnay from Idaho and pineapple wine from Maui. The six taps all have local beer and several bottled options are also available.
Design and Such.
Along with her skills as a butt-kicker and bookkeeper, Angela “has a green thumb,” her husband says. She is taking care of the back garden patio, truly a Federal Hill gem, and will plant a rooftop garden for herbs and tomatoes come spring. Cyrus reached out to a friend in the graphic design biz for the In Bloom menu design and branding. “We wanted something masculine,” he says. “We didn’t want it to look like a garden party.” Indeed, Scott Hieatt’s line drawing of a rose looks more tattoo parlor than grandmother’s chintz.
Cyrus was on Facebook when a post with Nirvana songs came through his feed. “There it was,” he says. “In Bloom.” Google the phrase, Kevin points out, and you find “it means ‘to mature to one’s potential.’” Opening a restaurant on a shoestring had prevented that in the past, Kevin continues. “We never got to realize our full potential because we had to be painters, carpenters and plumbers. Instead of cooking, I’m up on the roof fixing the hood fan.”
The partnership between two talented couples was sown with high hopes. Let’s hope In Bloom flourishes into a hardy perennial.
1444 Light St.