Let’s Do Brunch
“The idea of the restaurant, in my eyes in the modern day, can’t be just good food. It’s got to be over the top with experience,” Antonio Nunez, one of the two partners who runs the packed brunch house The Stove, tells me in a conversation in which he’ll also reference The Beatles, Justin Timberlake, and the classic sitcom Cheers. You know, typical food stuff.
Spoiler alert: the word “experience” comes up often in this piece.
If you haven’t been to The Stove yet, a few things you should know in advance:
- Expect a wait on weekends. A long wait. While there is a large dining room, a private dining room, a bar, a tea room and a show table, and an expo table, seats are hard to come by at this hot spot in the strangest of places.
- Speaking of which...talk about a rise from nowhere. This was a venue that housed a steakhouse and the popular Firefly tapas restaurant in the past and both had to shutter their doors. Heck, I even wrote about the space for this magazine in its last incarnation, Standard & Pour, from the team behind Carson Kitchen, which met the same fate as those which came before it. But where these other brands couldn’t crack the code – it’s not an easy space being on the second floor in a small commercial complex so deep on Eastern Ave it might actually be in Anthem – Nunez and partner Scott Comings have leveled up and made this a must visit spot for the food and so much more.
- It’s apropos that Nunez would drop so many pop cultural references in conversation, because when you walk into The Stove, you feel like you’ve traveled through a wormhole to Wonderland and are waiting for Alice and company to join you tableside for sausage corn dogs or chilaquiles. The vibe is whimsical, fun, and with a touch of mystery, as if you aren’t exactly sure what you might experience next, both from a food and an environmental standpoint. Also, wormhole is how Alice ended up in Wonderland, right?
- Expect more craziness from this culinary group but not another edition of The Stove. As Nunez tells me, “We’re all about the one-offs. When we do concepts, we look at getting one going and instead of expanding that one, get the next concept going. Get the next great thing going. We have a Latin style concept that we’re looking to do as well as a speakeasy concept that we’re looking to do.”
While those sound exciting, let’s focus on the anomaly that already is, The Stove. Henderson has no shortage of great brunch spots. CraftKitchen is down the block and The Kitchen Table, which Nunez used to be a partner in, has been a hit since day one. Beyond food, though, Nunez was focused on experience. Why would you choose his restaurant over the others?
Nunez states, “You have the full-on site of The Strip. You have the excitement of the kitchen cooking. You’re drawn into that. You have the interior of the dining room and everything that’s going on. It’s very easy on the eyes. There are a lot of conversation pieces. The books, the expo table, things like that. The living wall. There is always something going on.”
The Stove is an open space where guests can see what is being cooked and when. They can sit in different areas for different vibes. The living wall Nunez refers to is full of herbs that he and Comings pluck and put on plates as they leave for guests’ tables. And in 2019, they will open up Biergarten without the beer. The patio will be converted to the first mimosa garden in Las Vegas, which is just the type of trick Nunez utilizes to separate The Stove from the others.
When people think of brunch, they think of Sundays and maybe Saturdays. But not Nunez. Giving the brunch experience every day was essential to making The Stove work. He says, “Vegas is a 24-hour 7-day a week town where people just don’t have weekends off for brunch. You have people that are off throughout the week so they’re able to experience brunch just like anyone else throughout the week. We knew that would work. People appreciate what some people can only do on the weekends seven days a week.”
The other nice thing about focusing on brunch during business hours is that it leaves the nights free to experiment. For Nunez and Comings, that means guest chefs doing pop up dinners and changing the vibe of the space. Nunez explains, “We want to be able to give the chefs everything they need and add excitement to the nightlife on a one-off instead of having the same old stuff all the time. We can break the restaurant into a club so when we throw these parties at night, we’re able to turn one area into a lounge. We’re able to sit the dining room and we can play movies in there. It allows us to give a full experience.”
That full experience includes a selfie room, which has proven a valuable commodity to the restaurant. The trendy area for social media pictures is becoming more common throughout nightlife venues, but at a brunch restaurant it’s ahead of the curve. Your own photo booth to get a little crazy with your friends and remember your adventure is important. Nunez explains, “We’re not just the food. You’re holding a magnum of champagne or your throwing on a tea hat and you have the background layout. For us, to be able to say, ‘Here’s your keepsake,’ it’s great for anybody to say that they were there, and it was more than just food.” Then he adds, “On the back-end business-wise, it just made sense because it’s probably about $80,000 in free advertising a year.”
Of course, none of this would matter if the food didn’t hit the mark, but it does. Nunez has extensive restaurant experience and Comings is just about the least in-your-face celebrity chef in Las Vegas. He won season 12 of Hell’s Kitchen, making it through the Gordon Ramsay gauntlet, but you’ll barely ever hear him mention that. He’s more concerned with making his own mark right now and between The Stove and his food programs at the Downtown Grand, he’s doing just that. If you’ve never dined at his Culinary Road Trip dinners, which showcase his ability to masterfully cook the cuisines of different regions, make that a priority in the coming months.
Nunez, smitten with his partner in a professional way, states of the duo, “We have a yin and a yang towards our relationship. We have a lot of things that are my strong points and a lot of things that are his strong points. There’s no real ego involved. We both play off each other and we don’t have to hold each other’s hands and we don’t have to belittle what’s going on. There’s never a finger-pointing game. We all have our role and it’s been a great relationship since we started it. I don’t do anything without my partner.”
He continues, this time with those pop cultural references, “We never want to be The Beatles or the boy band that broke up because Justin Timberlake wanted to be out on his own. We want to be that boy band forever and continue to grow and become a staple in the culinary community both with setting up concepts and restaurants as well as running our consulting company.”
At least that boy band goal explains Nunez’s sometimes multi-color goatee.
With a rotating menu showcasing items such as short rib empanadas featuring braised short ribs, oaxaca cheese, poblano chile, crema and salsa arbol, merlot, and fig yogurt, and a country benedict which contains a waffle, gravy, country fried steak, greens, fried eggs, and house potatoes, the food at The Stove will always be both tasty and worthy of your Instagram story.
Along with bottomless mimosas for the adults, kids can get in on the IG game with unicorn hot chocolates.
Just as important as the look, is the feel of The Stove. Says Nunez of his team’s philosophy, “We call it the Cheers theory. You know when Norm would walk in and everybody would say, “Norm!”? That’s what we want for all of our guests.”
A selfie with George Wendt just might be The Stove’s ultimate goal.