Customers write the menu at The Busy Bee
Chef Andrew Barnes described his Reuben sandwich the way an artist would a painting.
His recipes all have what he calls a "Drewish twist," the spin he puts on classics. He tops pastrami and Swiss cheese with a layer of cole slaw, made with red cabbage instead of green. The almost-fuchsia hue pops between two slices of rye bread.
"It looks really pretty," said Barnes, owner of The Busy Bee at Central Market in York.
Barnes, 40, got his start in cooking at The Yorktowne Hotel in 1998, after returning from a holistic healing center in New York.
He said it was pure happenstance that he got hired and that he learned a lot on the job. The chef would ask him for menu ideas, but Barnes didn't know how to make them.
"I had to do it quick, and I had to do it right," Barnes said.
Today, he considers himself part artist and part culinary engineer because he knows the mechanics of preparing food while taking his recipes to a higher level of creativity.
A co-worker and I dined at The Busy Bee recently for lunch. I had eaten there before and was always impressed with the interesting combinations on the ever-changing menu. Crab cakes mixed with corn caught my eye, and I asked if the dish was a sandwich. Barnes said he could prepare it as a sandwich or a salad and recommended pairing it with Caesar if I chose the latter.
The crab cakes were mostly lump meat, a little panko, corn, with hints of mayo and Dijon mustard. Barnes grilled them for a few minutes on a sandwich press and sprinkled parmesan flakes on top of romaine lettuce. The crab cakes were flavorful, and the produce was fresh.
My co-worker ordered the chicken almondine salad, which was chicken salad with grapes, nuts and onions over field greens with a raspberry vinaigrette. She said the flavors had good contrast and that the chicken tasted like it was pulled off the bone.
I mainly go to Central Market for the experience; I like being able to watch vendors prepare my meals. Barnes has a subtle interactive style to his cooking, making the customer almost as involved in the process as he is.
When he opened last November, he said he changed his menu every market day for three months to find out what his customers like.
"I let them write the menu," Barnes said.
He keeps some items consistent because he learned that some people like predictability, but he offers new specials every day.
Barnes makes all his recipes - sauces to salad dressings - from scratch because he prides himself on using high-quality ingredients from local vendors while keeping prices as low as possible.
He said he has a lot of regulars and that newcomers aren't quite sure what to think of his menu at first.
"People (who) are there for the first time are a little bewildered," Barnes said.
Regardless, he said it's important for his style to shine through his food and business.
"It's eclectic," Barnes said. "I would honestly call myself eccentric, but I'm not rich enough for that yet."
If you go
LOCATION: The Busy Bee, Central Market, 34 W. Philadelphia St. in York
CUISINE: Comfort food to "pan-terran haute cuisine"
LEIGH'S PICK: Caesar salad with crab cakes ($7), Diet Pepsi ($1)
HOURS: 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tuesday and Thursday; 9 a.m. to
2 p.m. Saturday
PRICE RANGE: $1 to $9
KID'S MENU: No
DETAILS: Call 683-8880 or email firstname.lastname@example.org