by Victoria Bourne
The “big-ass” return
Call it a vision. Call it a dream. But ever since he was a boy, chef Sydney Meers has had a recurring image of himself as a 125-year-old man.
Isn’t that crazy? he says.
It could happen. The now 67-year-old does possess a seemingly boundless, other- worldly energy.
“That would be cool – to be the only man in the world at 125 still sautéing,” he says.
Even in his dreams, Meers can’t seem to retire. So it really should come as no surprise that a little more than a year after announcing he was stepping out of the kitchen and closing Stove, the Restaurant, he is back to his old tricks, molding a raw, street-front space at one end of Selden Arcade in downtown Norfolk into Syd’s Fish Pig Café.
That so-called retirement? The kitschy creative genius behind restaurants like The Dumbwaiter in Norfolk and Cowboy Syd’s in Newport News says it was a trial run.
“Oh God, I don’t really know how people retire,” he says. “It’s boring as hell. And I know how to do things to keep myself entertained.”
He enjoyed the break, but it felt like an eternity, he says, and now it’s time to get back to work.
In early September, Meers said he was shooting for a mid- to late November opening of his newest endeavor – surely before the end of the year, he says. And while his inbox and voicemail are full of fans’ questions about when he’ll open, he’s not feeling pressured to rush things.
“That doesn’t do (anything) for you. It just makes you stress out and you can’t sleep and all that crap. No, you go in, you hammer nails and eventually you go, ‘Look, we don’t need any more nails.’ ”
Meers, a self-taught artist who is infamously color blind, described the new restaurant’s decor as “inky” and “voluptuous” with swaths of velvet curtains, deep-blue upholstered chairs and polished concrete floors.
A Victorian-era chandelier from Smithfield will hang over an eight-top table he’s dubbed Beyond the Algonquin. A hostess will greet customers from a preacher’s lectern tossed curbside by a Baptist church in Port Norfolk. Wall space is at a premium, but Meers’ artwork will be displayed in all its irreverent glory.
“It’s going to be sexy and beautiful, but yet very bohemian,” Meers says. “Everything I like.”
Meers is conspiring with “one crazy mixologist,” Cat Keller, to create a menu of craft cocktails and classic quaffs. “And I’m a whiskey drinker, so you know we’re going to have a lot of whiskey.”
But what Meers doesn’t do is trendy, so don’t expect to find macaroni and cheese with truffle oil or avocado toast on the menu. “I just cook real food, baby.”
He does seasonal. He does fresh. There will be fish and wild game. Beef and his home-cured country hams. Now that he’s got a few years behind him, he says, he knows what people liked and what they ate, so he’s going to go back to doing that.
“Listen, you can make a restaurant be exactly the way you want it to look. Everything. You can design the menu and all this stuff, but once you start getting customers, they will decide what it will become. And that always happens. So (he pauses and laughs) we’ll see.”