Mitchell Sweeten named his first business after his general state of being for a caterer and personal chef: Always Cook’n.
On Oct. 25, he opened his second project, Mitchell’s, a cafe in Ruston.
This is a first restaurant for the mortgage broker turned chef.
The restaurant space previously held a casino, then Fuse Cafe Imbibery and Events, but has been empty for three to four years. It’s hard to miss with its light pink exterior.
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The partitioned restaurant comes with a small dining room and a kitchen, with room for an events space, but Sweeten isn’t sure just yet what he’ll be doing with that extra square footage.
Sweeten became a chef out of necessity. He was a former mortgage broker looking for a new career after the housing industry took a dip. Cooking was a familiar way to make a living. He worked as a chef at C.I. Shenanigans before going into business for himself. The next several years he built his client roster and started managing the Comcast employee cafeteria in Fife. The building that housed his catering operation was sold, which led him to the Ruston building. Unlike his former catering headquarters, this one was outfitted to double as a restaurant.
The restaurant comes with a welcome theme in an area where several higher-priced restaurants have opened at nearby Point Ruston. He’s focused on value.
His dinner entrees are all less than $15. Lunch hovers around $10. All burgers are priced $8.99 and come with fries or tots. He also offers breakfasts from $8.99-$12.99.
The menu spans a range of food, from curry chicken to autumnal salads, but he does have one specialty that’s advertised out in front of his building. A smoker produced steady puffs of smoke as I drove into the parking lot. Apple wood, from an Eastern Washington farm, is stacked near the front door.
Smoked meats include a brisket sandwich, pulled pork sandwich and a three- or six-bone rack of St. Louis ribs (all with two sides). His sauce is a sweet molasses version, modeled after a Kansas City-style barbecue sauce. He dry rubs the meat before it goes on the smoker. He learned the method from his father, an avid fan of barbecue.
The beans are a recipe of which he’s especially proud. “We soak a navy bean and it takes a day and a half to do the beans. I add pasilla, Anaheim and jalapeno chiles, yellow onion, molasses, Dijon mustard. Then we carve up some of the burnt ends of the brisket and add it to the mixture,” he said.
Here’s a first-bite report of a single visit. It’s this paper’s policy to avoid criticism of food and service during a restaurant’s first month.
Smoked meats: Three meaty hunks of brisket on a toasted roll with the sweet sauce on top ($12.99). Sweeten says those who prefer smoked meat minus the sauce can certainly order it that way. The pulled pork also came on a toasted bun ($8.99). The three-bone rack of ribs was coated in the same Kansas-city style barbecue sauce ($9.99, or $14.99 for the bigger order). Beans were heavy with end pieces of smoky brisket. A snappy slaw received a nice tweak of fall flavor with apples and blue cheese on my visit, but the sides have changed. Now macaroni and cheese and beans are offered.
Bakery case: Be sure to check out the bakery case. Find carrot cake, coffee cake, cheesecake, marble bars, pecan sticky buns, chocolate mousse and more, priced around $2.95-$4.95.
Dining room: Vibrant green walls in a charming, simple dining room with two- and four-seat tables.
Where: 5037 N. Pearl St., Ruston; 253-302-3661, alwayscookn.com.
Hours: 9 a.m.-8 p.m. Mondays-Saturdays and 9 a.m.-3 p.m. Sundays