Executive Chef Matthew Kassman is planning to add sustainable elements for the Second Story Restaurant and Liquor Bar in Scottsdale, Ariz. The Glendale native and classically trained chef is in his first year at the venue above The Gelato Spot, 4166 North Scottsdale Road, at Third Avenue.
Serving Modern American bistro fare with a French influence, crafted cocktails and a range of Bourbons, Scotches, whiskeys and other spirits, locally owned Second Story is open for dinner, Tuesday through Sunday, 4 p.m. to close. Chef Kassman is assisted by General Manager Corey Morris, a Tempe resident, and Bar Manager Johnny Coy of North Phoenix and 10 other part- and full-time employees.
“I am very committed to creating an even more sustainable environment here,” says Kassman, who grew up in northeast Glendale and graduated from St. Mary’s High School in Phoenix. He commutes to Scottsdale every day from the West Valley city.
“We source now as much as we can locally,” he explains. For example, he buys from Chula Seafood, based in San Diego, and he sources his Crockett Honey Co. in Tempe. “Moving on, I intend to source more from local farms for produce.”
He buys and prepares only enough of an item that he believes he can sell that day, such as with his spectacular Focaccia & Ricotta from the Small Plates offerings. “This way, there’s no spoil, no waste,” he explains. In the same way, he cross-utilizes products. For example, beef trim becomes tar-tar, and the fat is used to sear vegetables or to brush the beef.
Kassman’s coming to Second Story follows nearly a decade of food and beverage experience on both coasts.
After high school, he studied hospitality and restaurant management in Flagstaff at Coconino County Community College. “But I wanted a career change to be a chef,” he says, adding that he applied to and graduated from the Culinary Institute of America in Napa.
He spent the next nine years working in various roles in California wine country and in New York City. Those restaurants included the One Michelin-starred Bouchon; The Aviary NYC; Three Michelin-starred The French Laundry, led by Chef Thomas Keller; Three Michelin-starred Per Se, “the French Laundry of New York City,” and WS New York.
Kassman and some colleagues from Per Se began WS. “We were successful for about nine months, then COVID just shut us down, hard stop,” he recalls.
They shut down, and Kassman and his girlfriend moved to the Valley for about six months, while keeping his apartment in New York City. “We took the first flight out to Arizona,” he said. “We didn’t want to get stuck there with all of the uncertainty.”
They returned to New York City and reopened WS, but it had to shut down again, as COVID-19 devastated the city’s restaurant industry. “It wasn’t going to work, so we said, ‘That’s it,’ and let our lease for the apartment lapse.” So in October 2020, he and his girlfriend returned to the Valley because of this and other restaurant closures.
The timing was excellent, even with the pandemic. He had heard about Second Story, which has received excellent reviews since opening in 2014. “The culinary world is a small one, and over the years, I’ve heard so many great things about The Second Story Restaurant and Liquor Bar and especially the food. It’s a quaint place and the kind of place where I will really be able to develop something special,” he says.
His father, who lives in Glendale, told him that Second Story was looking for a chef. He met with Tommy Plato, who also owns Kazimierz Wine & Whiskey Bar on Stetson Drive a few blocks away. And the chef now has a new culinary gig.
He plans to change menus seasonally, combining classic dishes with new plates. At any time, guests can expect to see about 15 dishes on the menu including Small Plates, Salads and Chefs Signature dishes.
Among his favorite dishes is Second Story’s Caesar Salad with gem lettuce and Parmesan tempura-fried anchovies. For his steak, he uses Binchotan Charcoal; hand-cut steak fries accompany the dish with freshly grated horseradish and house-made steak sauce.
Chef’s pan-seared Halibut with a white bean ragu and chorizo vinaigrette is already a favorite among guests, as is the house made Focaccia bread, with garlic oil and a fresh whipped ricotta. The Chitarra Pasta is also excellent, with pistachio pesto, Calabrian chili and pecorino.
For fall and winter, Kassman’s menu of American bistro fare will include items such as squash, winter citrus and vegetables. “I let freshness and availability dictate what’s good for the menu and what’s not,” he said. This includes his selection of fish, which may alternate between trout, salmon, swordfish and scallops.
The restaurant is doing well, he says, drawing a wide demographic, millennials to baby boomers. One of the reasons for the young crowds is the widening selection of Bourbons, ryes, Scotches, and whiskeys selected by Coy, who says the whiskey niche is “skyrocketing.”
These include premium brands such as William Larue Weller, Rip Van Winkle, Johnny Walker Blue and Oban 21 year. Whiskey flights include “Only the Finest 121”: Macallan 18 year, Glenfiddich 19 year and the topper, a 21-year Balvenie.
For more about Second Story, the food, spirits and menus, see secondstoryliquorbar.com.
David Brown is a Valley-based writer. Learn more at azwriter.com.