No matter how much you prepare for a party, your guests will always congregate in the kitchen. Some hosts get annoyed, but restaurateur B.J. Stone embraced the custom when he developed Stone’s Cove KitBar. Stone’s Cove, located in the Village Center at Dulles, has been a popular gathering place in Herndon for five years. Stone and his team have worked tirelessly to perfect the restaurant, and success has allowed them to expand into two new locations in Baltimore.
Understanding that friends naturally gravitate to the hearth of your home, B.J. Stone conceived his new restaurant around the kitchen rather than separating his guests from the cooks and fireplace. He coined the phrase KitBar (kitchen and bar), and the more you consider the concept, the more you realize just how ingenious it is.
Walking into Stone’s Cove KitBar, you’ll notice that the whole restaurant is built around a giant bar. Encircling the open kitchen and brick oven is a sparkly black granite top with multiple seating clusters. The arrangement allows Cheftenders, as they are called here, to directly cater to both groups and individuals. After finding a stool, customers order, and then watch as their food and drinks are prepared right in front of them. Everything is out in the open.
General Manager Richard Bogusz points to the setup inside the bar, “This is the heart of house. The brick oven is here. We are able to provide a great experience each and every time, because we’re right here. There’s no food sitting in the back.” Bogusz believes that Stone’s Cove’s seating arrangements have sparked deeper interactions with their customers. “We do a lot of communicating. As soon as the food comes up, it comes right to the table. We do most of our prep right here. This creates an engaging atmosphere. That’s one of the things we pride ourselves on—we offer engaged service, engaged hospitality.”
Along with this unique setup, the team is extremely fussy about their food. They taste-test the menu items over and over again. Experimentation may take months; like the development of their chicken wing recipe. Stone’s Cove insists on serving fresh wings, and they don’t have a fryer. So before those charred, zesty wings are served, they’ve already been through a multi-day preparation process, then right before serving, they’re flash broiled in a high-tech convection oven.
“Ninety-five percent of our menu we make from scratch,” says Bogusz. “We make our sauces and salad dressings; roast and marinate our meats.” An enormous amount of discussion goes into choosing the ingredients for each dish, and Bogusz laughingly declares he’d be skinny if he didn’t have to check for freshness so often. “I worked in fine dining and high volume restaurants, and this is some of the best food I’ve ever had. We do quality tests twice a day, making sure everything is perfectly fresh.”
Stone’s Cove’s menu changes seasonally, although fortunately, they keep their most popular items—the signature shrimp & grits and fish tacos—all year long. They’ve fine-tuned the shareable flatbreads, dips and appetizers so can easily satisfy a hungry crowd. Bogusz says Stone’s Cove recently hosted a delegation of 40 international visitors who asked for 40 individualized bills; “We are serving the customers directly, so separate checks is no problem.”
The team takes a lot of pride in their ties to the community. Stone’s Cove rotates its list of local craft beers and foods monthly. On Local Mondays, Stone’s Cove hosts nearby breweries, distilleries, musicians and artists, and introduces guests to their products. The place is hopping on Wine Wednesdays, when wine bottles are half price. The Cheftenders offer regular cooking classes. In addition to lunch and dinner daily, Stone’s Cove features a weekend brunch. Every Sunday, they donate 10% of sales to charity. The Stone’s Cove Foundation invites community organizations to submit requests for funding of specific projects. They’ve contributed to a Herndon girls’ soccer team and a local school to purchase a scoreboard. They call it: “Do Good Things” Sundays.
While it’s hard to choose a favorite dish on this menu, there’s a good reason shrimp & grits and fish tacos are always on it—because they’re glorious. The grits are cheesy and creamy with chunks of roasted red peppers accompanied by seared, blackened shrimp. Peppery fish tacos include a nectarous jicama and apple slaw with velvety chipotle lime cream. The Mackinac Flatbread is layered with toppings, like bacon, guacamole, jalapeno mayo and tomato, then charred in the oven. Ashton Hildreth, culinary director, says he strives to balance flavors, so each bite renders a pleasing combination of sweet, salty and sour. “And you eat with your eyes first,” says Bogusz, so the dishes are as attractive as they are distinctive.
The Ahi Tuna Sashimi, an AppeTapas as they are called here, is a showstopper—silky pink fish leaning on delicately dressed seaweed salad. Hot & Cold Dips features warm, gooey spinach dip, and four bright Middle Eastern-style dips served with crisp homemade crackers. The Cheftenders also enjoy mixing drinks, and are known for their Dirty Deed, a cross between a Bloody Mary and a Martini, poured with vodka, vermouth and horseradish, paired with gorgonzola stuffed olives.
Stone’s Cove is a family-owned business, and they work to treat customers like family. “We find out what their agenda is, and their agenda becomes our agenda,” says Bogusz. “Our graciousness is part of who we are. We’re very grateful for all the guests coming into the KitBar, and we try to do good things.”