Just do what you love.
It’s a mantra we’ve all heard and told ourselves 5,000 times when trying to figure out what to do with our lives. Sometimes, it can seem like pie-in-the-sky wishful thinking, but following your passion can also bring incredible meaning.
The new Bidwell restaurant on Allen Street in Allentown exists because of the passion of co-owners Matt and Courtney Gunther. Born and raised in Buffalo, the couple moved downstate a few years back and while living in Brooklyn, started throwing nine-course tasting menu parties in their apartment. Through word of mouth, their dinner parties started getting more and more popular.
“It was that really cool, semi-underground kind where we started off serving our friends,” Courtney Gunther told us. “People started telling each other, and eventually, we were serving friends of friends, and people we’d never ever met before. It was one of those cool things that people wanted to spread the word on. We saw the appeal and thought it would be cool to transition to a brick-and-mortar location back in Buffalo.”
Matt Gunther went to New York to get culinary experience. While living there, he spent two years working at Tom Colicchio’s Craftbar and then two years working at Gramercy Tavern. A quick scan of his Instagram also reveals that time appears well spent.
As the head chef, Matt said his menu at Bidwell will be seasonal and focus as much as possible on local ingredients. There is one reservation-only seating per night for a nine-course tasting menu ($90). The menu is served in sequence and each course can be eaten in a few bites. Guests make reservations without knowing the menu and learn what they’ll be eating when they arrive. The beverage menu includes beer, wine, cider and non-alcoholic options. Service for the entire menu takes about two hours. Proof of COVID-19 vaccination is required.
Matt told us he develops his menu based on his locally-focused options. From there, he designs a sequential menu that vacillates between the familiar and the unfamiliar. For instance, one recent menu featured an unusual appetizer – a chicken liver mousse tart – followed by a familiar bread course.
“For me, (the tart was) sort of a play on liver and onions, which I absolutely did not like as a kid!” he laughed. “The tart was something that maybe people haven’t had before, but then the next course swung back to something that’s more familiar; our warm sourdough bread with butter.
“It’s gotta swing back and forth from familiar to unfamiliar,” he added. “I think serving a lot of unfamiliar food in a service style like ours would be a big ask.”
While this restaurant concept might be common in New York, it just isn’t here. The novelty of it will undoubtedly appeal to some, and turn off others. During our conversation, the Gunthers emphasized that they know their concept is new to the area. They said a lot of choices they made are meant to lower the bar for those who might feel a bit leery about trying something new.
A big choice was to make the decor at Bidwell feel homey. The residential furniture and fixtures are supposed to make guests feel at ease, but they’re also a nod to Bidwell’s roots as a low-supper club in a Brooklyn apartment.
“We want the space to feel like the dining room at someone’s house; somewhere where you’d be going over to have dinner,” Courtney said. “I think a lot of people might hear about the concept and think it sounds like a fine dining experience that they aren’t comfortable with. We really want to make sure that people are getting a special experience, but also a comfortable one.”
Based on the early reactions, it sounds like Bidwell is delivering those experiences. Courtney told us she’s been repeatedly thanked by guests for providing something new, but also something special. In speaking with her, it’s clear this gratitude has profound meaning. It’s evidence that following your passion, that thing you do purely for the love of doing it, can be incredibly rewarding.
“Opening a business like this is like running a marathon,” she said, her voice cracking a bit, “and we’ve been working on this space for more than a year. So to finally be open, have people come in and be so supportive, so kind and so excited – it really invigorates you.”
Hours at the time of publishing (Subject to change, currently by reservation only): Thursday – Saturday 6:30 p.m.- CLOSED
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