When diners order onion rings or French fries, the first thing most do is reach for the salt shaker. That would be a mistake at the West Side Bistro in Manchester. Chef Brandon Schofield seasons his dishes so perfectly, no additions are required. He brings flavors into balance so no one ingredient dominates the dish.
“It’s an insult to a French chef if you pick up the shakers,” Schofield noted.
Schofield, a Londonderry native, returns to this area after three years in Boston, where he worked at Eastern Standard in Kenmore Square and Clink at the Liberty Hotel, and as executive sous chef at Game On!
Once he got back to New Hampshire, he did a stint at C.R. Sparks before opening the bistro.
Many chefs credit a mother or father who was a skilled home cook as the influence for a food career. It’s the same for Schofield, but for the opposite reason.
“I do the opposite of what my parents did. My dad is probably the worst cook I’ve ever met. My parents made food that was plain and simple. It inspired me to go to the pantry to check out the herbs and blend flavors together,” Schofield said.
Schofield’s career began when he was 16 and worked as a dishwasher at Luisa’s in Londonderry. He held that position for one week, and then was moved up to cook.
“As I’ve done with many jobs, I would go in early to watch people do their jobs. Then when someone would call in sick, I would say, ‘I’ve been watching. I can do this,’” he said.
The opening of West Side Bistro is Schofield’s attempt to bring the tastes of Boston to New Hampshire. His inspiration is Salts in Cambridge — a little place out of the way from the hectic city with a tranquil atmosphere and small enough size that the chef can come out to the tables and ask how diners enjoyed their meals. He sees his customers as “someone in a suit who comes in after work to meet his girlfriend. But if you’ve just gotten back from the beach, you can be comfortable here, too,” he said.
Schofield makes the trip to Boston area food markets for fresh ingredients while he establishes relationships with local farmers and vendors. (He plans to be a big supporter of the proposed Manchester Food Co-op.) The menu features simple dishes, but care is taken with each ingredient. The French fries are hand-cut and served with a spicy ketchup. The onion rings are hand-cut and battered. And the hamburgers are cooked to be flavorful and juicy, and served on a toasted rustic bun with lettuce and tomato — no ketchup required.
Some of the menu’s other stand-out dishes include the linguine with a Parmesan cream sauce enhanced with brown butter, tomato and spinach; and mac and cheese made with a Parmesan and cheddar sauce and topped with a Parmesan crisp. The menu will change every few days depending on the available ingredients, but Schofield said one dish that will be on every menu is his signature house salad, made with mixed greens, dried cherries, julienned apples and a white balsamic vinaigrette.
Though Schofield’s dishes are steps above ordinary, he keeps them at neighborhood-friendly prices. Soon he will have a liquor license and will be making his own fresh pasta, ham and desserts (he was once a head pastry chef). “It doesn’t cost me anything more except for time, but you can taste the extra effort in the dish,” he said. “If you take the extra time to make fresh foods and use fresh ingredients, you can bring out big flavors that are simple and traditional.”
West Side Bistro
157 Amory St., Manchester, 935-9557, www.westsidebistro.com
Hours: Monday through Wednesday, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.; and Thursday through Saturday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.