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Old Meets New: Newton's Biltmore Bar and Grille Brings Fresh Twists to Comfort Food

Breanne Showalter, General Manager of Upper Falls' Biltmore Bar and Grille, talks about how she found her way to the restaurant/bar and why her team does a great job of mixing old and new.

Often in Newton Patch's "Newton in the Kitchen" column, we introduce you to local chefs, foodies and restaurateurs who found their way into the world of food via unusual paths. They left jobs in finance or business, or didn’t put their college degrees to their intended uses, to follow their passion for food and run a restaurant or helm a kitchen.

This is not the case with Breanne Showalter, General Manager at The Biltmore Bar and Grille, though she is very passionate about her current place of employment.

“It’s funny, but it was like, ‘What’s going to be the fastest way for me to get a job? Well, go back into the restaurant business,’” she laughs. “I started bar tending here, got into managing about six months later, got promoted to AGM (Assistant General Manager) and then got promoted to General Manager about October of 2011.”

Showalter moved to the Boston area from her native Vermont five years ago after her now-husband (she is a newlywed) landed a local job. A friend, who had been the bar manager at the Biltmore and had worked with Showalter at another restaurant, told her about an opening at the Newton pub. And the rest, as they say, is history.

History, in fact, is a big part of the Biltmore. The Upper Falls establishment has been in business since 1921 when it started as a speakeasy.

“There was even a bowling alley downstairs,” Showalter says. “It’s been covered up for the most part, but in spots you can still see the lanes in the wooden floors below.”

The décor at the Biltmore celebrates its Prohibition era origins, as well as the 90-plus years of history the restaurant has seen. From the walls adorned with nostalgic posters to the old-fashioned gas pumps that decorate the bar and main dining room, everywhere patrons are reminded that this restaurant is old.

So it is somewhat a study in contrasts that the food is anything but traditional.

Showalter explains that there is an emphasis on comfort, on foods that are familiar. But most of the dishes have a twist and demonstrate the creative vision of Culinary Director Leah Dubois (who is also the chef at the Biltmore’s sister restaurant, Local 149, in South Boston) and the entire culinary team.

“We always have the ‘catch of the moment,’” Showalter explains, talking about one of the specials--seasonal fish--that often gives the kitchen staff a chance to strut their stuff. “But we also have certain standard dishes that don’t change.”

According to Showalter, the most popular menu item at the Biltmore is the chicken and waffles. She laughingly reports that some customers respond to the dish with “’Chicken and waffles? Oh that’s so strange!’” She admonishes them that it’s just because they “haven’t tried it yet. Once they do, they change their minds.”

In fact, educating their customers is a big part of what Showalter, Dubois and the entire Biltmore team wants to do. Yes, they want everyone to be able to grab their favorite stand-by brew or bite into that great burger they keep coming back for. But they also want to help their customers learn to embrace new beers and unfamiliar flavors and expand their dining and drinking repertoire.

This was the motivation behind the wildly popular monthly beer and food pairing events that started in the spring of 2010, one of Showalter’s pet projects during her tenure at the Biltmore. But the process of setting up these events, the last three of which have sold out, is far from a one-woman show.

“We get samples from the breweries, and we sit down--the bar manager, Leah, myself--and we try the beers and it all kind of comes together,” Showalter explains. “We meet for about an hour and talk about what is it about the brewery that appeals to us, what beers do we want to do because no one is ever going to get to try it any place else. We usually have the menu decided within a day or so.”

It is just this sort of collaborative decision--the feeling of being a part of a team--that will keep Showalter at the Biltmore for a long time to come.

“This is different from any place I’ve ever worked,” Showalter says. “It’s the kind of place where I want to be part of what’s making it awesome and doing what I can to make it better. It’s always been the kind of place where your opinion matters. Everybody matters. It’s corny but it’s true!”

The next Beer and Food Pairing Event will be on Monday October 29 at 7:30PM and will feature beers from Ommegang and Duvel. See The Biltmore's website for more information. 

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