Plains eatery adds culinary competitor

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First Posted: 7/15/2013

It hasn’t taken long for 279 Bar and Grill (279 S. River St., Plains) to make a splash.

Opened just two months ago, Executive Chef and General Manager Jim Guasto, 35, of Dupont, has had the good fortune to build a unique menu and host of number of special tasting events featuring area chefs and contestants from Season 11 of “Hell’s Kitchen.”

Next month, Guasto brings a past reality television guest back to full-time status as his co-executive chef. Barret Beyer, 36, of Central Islip, N.Y., will be the co-executive chef of the eatery that’s offering upscale dining in a relaxed atmosphere in mid-August.

Guasto has quickly taken the kitchen from a freezer-to-fryer operation to one using fresh ingredients. There are plans to complete a transition to a fully functional kitchen with a new walk-in cooler later this month, he said.

279 Bar and Grill already has a unique offering of “upscale bar food” for lunch and delivery with different spins on salads, “big, kickass burgers with steak knives through the top,” house-cut fries, and more.

Guasto plans to build and expand the American-Italian fusion menu with steak and seafood features and a new Sunday brunch planned to launch in August along with a more fixed dinner menu with weekly specials.

Like family

“He’s the same age. He’s pretty much like a long lost brother,” Guasto said of his new hire.

Beyer was the second current “Hell’s Kitchen” contestant to have a special tasting menu in Plains. Hanover Township resident Michael Langdon, executive chef at the Huntsville Golf Club in Dallas, was the first.

When tickets for Beyer’s special event sold out in less than a day, the culinary competitor knew he was on to something big. When he stayed with Guasto before the dinner, the two connected immediately.

“I feel like I’ve known this guy for 10 years, and I’ve only met him for five minutes,” Beyer said in a recent phone interview.

During his first visit to NEPA, Beyer quickly pitched Guasto on the idea of a special barbecue using 279’s smoker, and he made a quick return to the area. On that second trip, the offer to join the small local staff was put on the table.

“I couldn’t turn it down,” Beyer said. “Something just felt right. I go with my gut, and something just felt right about moving up there.”

Beyer and Guasto are two of the select members of the Brotherhood of Chefs that’s gaining steam and attention in northeastern Pennsylvania. Hash tags of #BOC and #OGY – which stands for “Oh God, yes,” – on social media sites like Instagram and Twitter have helped build momentum behind the group and their collaborative efforts.

“A lot of chefs have egos, but we don’t have egos. It’s all about enjoying the passion that we have for food. There’s no secrets among us,” Beyer said.

The BOC breaks down the walls many of the visiting chefs have become accustomed to in their own areas, Guasto said.

“Coming from competitive markets like New Orleans with Anthony (Rodriguez), Boston with Ray (Alongi, another ‘Hell’s Kitchen’ contestant), New York with Barret, everyone goes after each other. There’s not a lot of camaraderie,” he said.

“These guys can’t believe when they come down here that there will be me, (Executive Chef) John Tabone from Glenmaura, Mike from Huntsville, (Executive Chef) Chris Mullen from Blakeslee (Inn), and we’re all working together and helping each other,” he continued. “We share products, we share recipes, we hang out after work.”

‘Culinary hot spot’

Guasto said the combined talents at 279 will help build the area’s reputation as a “culinary hot spot.”

“I’m looking to expand, to put our two styles together to make a fantastic fusion. We already have quite the buzz for being open two months. With Barret coming, it’s only going to add to it,” he said.

Beyer said he hasn’t stopped writing down new ideas to bring with him to Pennsylvania.

“We work well together in the kitchen. He likes my ideas,” Beyer said of Guasto. “Me and him collaborating on different dishes is going to bring something to the area that they have been dreaming of.

“I’m just happy,” he added. “Amazing things are happening for me. It’s all due to the hard work I put into it… We make it look easy, but it’s hard.”

279 Bar and Grill will continue to host special events every other Monday. Confirmed tasting events will feature “Hell’s Kitchen” Season 11 contestants Jessica Lewis on July 29 and Rodriguez on Aug. 12. Rodriguez recently accepted a position as sous chef at Huntsville alongside Langdon.