Four Reasons to Visit Wheelhouse
During their seven-year tenure at The Harp, bartenders Abby O’Donnell and Jon Chase would often spend their downtime confiding in each other about their respective dreams to open a small business. Finally, wearied by the late night hours and desperate to have some semblance of a family life, Chase approached his confidant about a joint venture that would expedite their independence. After discovering that her co-worker harbored some serious skills in the kitchen, O’Donnell suggested a breakfast and lunch hub that would feature the type of gourmet burgers and hedonistic hangover fare Chase often prepared for his languid colleagues.
“I’ve always enjoyed the food side of the restaurant industry, but the money just wasn’t there, so I never made that jump to being a cook,” Chase says. “I just taught myself how to do it at home and kept bartending to pay the bills.”
Taking advantage of their knowledge of all the different pockets of downtown Boston, the two honed in on the Financial District and its particular habit of catering to the extremes: those looking for a quick, early morning pick-me-up or a pint to unwind after work. The duo lucked upon a cozy storefront on Broad Street and jumped at the opportunity to sate the commuting masses.
“The first time I was in a professional kitchen was here at Wheelhouse,” Chase admits. “I was really confident in the food, but it was a little nerve-racking since I’d never done this full-time. Any time someone opens a restaurant it’s a huge risk, but usually they have some prior experience behind the line.”
Wheelhouse opened its doors in June and they’ve have already earned a loyal following, partly because of their eclectic range of burgers and breakfast creations, but mostly because of the warm, neighborly ambience Chase and O’Donnell have instilled in the space.
“We’re here all the time just prepping for the next day,” Chase says. “So, we’ll leave the door open just in case somebody is hungry and they want to drop in for something. It doesn’t happen that often, but we’re here if anybody decides to wander in.”
Here are just some of the reasons to visit Abby O’Donnell and Jon Chase’s exciting new restaurant, Wheelhouse.
1. Breakfast Fried Rice
Inspired by the late night snack he was most inclined to make after a long night of bartending, Chase created a breakfast version of the Chinese takeout favorite. Al dente rice is injected with soy sauce, Sambal, garlic, and a house-made maple breakfast sausage, all of which is crowned with a glistening fried egg. If that oyster pail of stomach-settling goodness wasn’t fulfilling enough, Chase has a secret weapon. “When you order the fried rice, I include a side of my maple cream sauce,” Chase says. “It’s meant to emulate the experience of dragging sausage or bacon through the maple syrup leftover from a plate of French toast.”
2. House-Made Everything
Outside of the andouille on their Creole Burger (they can’t fit a smoker in their kitchen), everything at Wheelhouse is made in-house. That includes peppery chorizo, a meaty chili served over fried eggs, the equally fiery garlic jalapeno and mango habanero hot sauces, and the sharp pimento cheese that cradles a slab of peach glazed ham on the Southern Belle breakfast sandwich.
“We make all the sausages and sauces, everything,” Chase says. “Most of these recipes I’ve had in my back pocket for years, just waiting to share them in the right context. I always knew this was the kind of menu I wanted to trot out and I actually have a big binder of other things.
Also, for the burger purists that have been upset about the lack of its natural, starchy companion on the Wheelhouse menu, Chase has recently introduced an umami alternative. “We’ve been open for six months now and the bane of my existence has been not having French fries on the menu. We don’t have a Fryolater, so I created the Smash Fry, a hybrid tater tot-hash brown-French fry that we throw on the flat top.”
3. Slop Slop Sloppy Joes
Savory mashups are everywhere on Jon Chase’s menu. There’s the aforementioned breakfast fried rice and a burger treatment of a chicken Caeser salad—ground chicken, anchovy, and parmesan shaped into a patty and topped with a parmesan crisp and Caeser dressing. But perhaps the most enticing, or at least the most nostalgic, is Wheelhouse’s version of that ubiquitous school lunch classic: the sloppy Joe. That ketchup-laden star of Adam Sandler’s “Lunch Lady Land” is melded with Frank’s Red Hot, blue cheese, and a carrot and celery slaw, to give it an adult spin that’s becoming one of the biggest draws on the Wheelhouse lunch menu. “I make a special sauce with brown sugar, tomatoes, Buffalo sauce, and a blend of secret spice—I can’t give away all my secrets—so, you get a little bit of the sweetness and tang you would normally get from a sloppy joe, balanced out with the creamy blue cheese and the vinegar bite from the Frank’s Red Hot.”
4. Kickass Burgers
You hate to pigeonhole Chase and O’Donnell into Bob Belcher’s culinary turf, but with so many noteworthy burgers on their menu, it’s hard not to. To put it bluntly, Wheelhouse is a burger lover’s utopia. There’s the gluttonous Man Cave stacked with chopped Kinnealey bacon, a creamy jalapeno beer cheese spread, and griddled onions doused in bourbon. The signature “Wheelhouse”— a take Danny Meyers’ famous Shackburger—comes with Chase’s juicy, house-made bread and butter pickles, gooey American cheese, and a ketchup/mustard amalgam. The chef even introduced a coffee-crusted breakfast burger for his buddies who still burn the candle at both ends.
“I still have a number of friends who work down here and Thursday night is there big night to go out,” Chase says. “I figured, there has to be a number of people partying like them, and what they like is a big burger on a tough Friday morning, something topped with bacon, cheese, and a nice runny fried egg.”
63 Broad St., Boston; 617-422-0082 or wheelhouseboston.com.