When it comes to dining out, there tends to be a disconnect between cooks and customers. Typically, you go to a restaurant, eat, visit with friends or family, chat a little with your waiter or waitress, and leave without ever really having a connection to the people who made your food.
That isn't the case at Bayside Bistro in the Village of East Davenport if owners LaTisha and Darryl Howlett can help it. The Howletts care about the food they make, the atmosphere they create and their customers' experience.
Since Bayside opened in late August 2018, the restaurant, 1105 Christie St., Davenport, has painstakingly crafted breakfasts and lunches from scratch, with whole ingredients mindful of various dietary needs. Last November, Bayside rolled out a dinner menu that fits the same bill.
One recent afternoon, music streamed through the speakers and the fragrant scent of spices wafted from Bayside’s open kitchen into the dining area as LaTisha Howlett gushed about her food.
In addition to its breakfast and lunch options — bacon, eggs, potatoes and toast and the Bayside Po’ Boy, among others — customers now can choose from dinner options, including gumbo, coconut shrimp, the vegetarian Thanksgiving assortment, curry chicken and an herb-seasoned lamb chop.
“We were always going to do a dinner menu,” Howlett said. “People are like, ‘Yes!’”
Like her mother, Howlett has been a “scratch cook” all her life. “Food — I kind of feel,” she said. “My recipes are my own. I don’t go checking around seeing who’s doing what; I just kind of feel a recipe” and tailor them to fit customers' needs, she said.
When concocting menu additions, Howlett thought about Bayside's customers, what they’ve asked for and “how they see us,” she said. “(We) really wanted to make sure that the foods that are being offered are indicative to the name and the heart of the business.”
At first, the couple was reluctant to add dinner because Bayside does not serve alcohol. But customers "really wanted dinner from us," too, she said.
The new offerings have been popular, especially the coconut shrimp, which is pan-seared and not fried. which customers love, Howlett said; curry chicken; and the lamb chop.
The curry chicken is tender and flavorful, and served over coconut rice with one side. The herb-seasoned lamb chop is covered with a white wine mushroom sauce and served with two sides. Sides include soup, house salad, coconut rice, red beans and rice, and roasted vegetables.
Howlett’s favorite menu addition is the gumbo, which features shrimp and chicken, served over rice with one side.
“When you’re looking for some flavor ... that has depth and layers to it, that’s really how we see Bayside,” she said.
Howlett says Bayside focuses on how it feeds its customers while also cutting back on food waste. At many restaurants, Howlett said you often will find food on your plate that you didn’t necessarily want, such as a pile of slaw that accompanies a burger, or endless helpings of fries.
“Here, part of our food philosophy is no waste," she said. "In that no waste, you get a (good-sized) portion; you get what you order, and it really is satisfying.”
All of the food Bayside serves is "real food," Howlett said, adding that only garbanzo beans and the occasional black olive are canned, and nothing is prepackaged. All of Bayside’s meat — with exception of bacon and sausage — is cooked and seasoned in house.
“When you come here, you can expect different, flavorful. You can expect quality," she said. "You can expect that you’re going to leave not feeling like you just need to go lay down."
Bayside also caters to people with food allergies and a variety of dietary needs, from those who are vegan to those who are gluten-free.
“I want (everyone) to be able to eat something that doesn’t look weird to them and make them feel like they’re not a part of the group,” Howlett said. If someone has a dietary restriction and they are nervous about the menu, Howlett said customers may share their needs and parameters, “and then just let me create something."