New gourmet Kitchen Market restaurant raises the bar for take-out
Chris Orosz's three-week-old restaurant doesn't even have a permanent sign out front yet, but a passionate following is already building fast, based on word of mouth alone.
"It's been steady, and we're seeing great reviews online," Orosz notes, wearing a chef's jacket and shrimp-company baseball cap as a constant trickle of mid-afternoon customers files in last Thursday.
"People come in saying, 'Somebody I know came in here and told me: You gotta try this new place.'"
And why not?
Orosz's Kitchen Market restaurant goes far beyond your run-of-the-mill take-out/dine-in counter-service place just off Interstate 94.
In fact, there might not be anything quite like it anywhere in town.
"I wanted something where the average person could come in and get a quick homemade, chef-prepared meal at an affordable price," Orosz explains.
"When I moved to Hudson nine years ago, I saw a need for this. There aren't a lot of options like this here unless you're going downtown. Really, I can't think of another place like the Kitchen Market here, at least in the drive-in/take-out category."
He adds a few minutes later: "I wanted to give back to the community with this -- I'm here for our customers. My success is determined by my customers, so we treat everybody who comes in like gold."
Casual passers-by probably won't notice the Kitchen Market's gourmet heart and soul from the outside: The exterior fits in seamlessly at 608 Brakke Drive between a Freedom Valu Center and Knotty Vines Liquor in the shadow of the nearby TA Truck Stop.
New visitors catch on fast, though, as soon as they walk in and see the bright, spacious dining area, the unique art on the walls -- and especially the daily-special menu, which is hand-written in colored chalk on a long line of small blackboards above the serving counter.
Here are just five recent gems from the constantly changing lineup:
--The tempura-battered cod sandwich with Cajun slaw and pico de gallo, served on a pretzel bun with homemade fries for $8.
--The "Prime Rib Philly" sandwich: smoked sliced prime rib with melted cheese, onions and peppers, served on fresh bread for $10.
--Homemade crab cakes with wasabi mayo and Asian slaw, also for $10.
--The "Lobster Mac 'N Cheese Melt," with seared lobster meat and homemade macaroni and cheese, served on toasted fresh bread for $12.
--Two $8 burrito choices, all served with a small salad: the "Cuban," roast pork or Cuban chicken with rice, black beans, fried plantains and pico de gallo; and the spicy "Korean," with barbecue beef, kimchi and Asian slaw.
"Everything is made from scratch," notes Orosz.
"It's all fresh ingredients; we buy locally; and nothing is frozen. We do have a freezer, but we don't use it, which is something I take a lot of pride in."
For more information, stop in -- Kitchen Market is open from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays -- or check out the company Facebook page, where new specials and other information are posted regularly.
A landline for phone orders will be available soon. So will a Kitchen Market website.
The restaurant also has pages on Twitter and Instagram.
Orosz deliberately chose a no-frills soft start-up focusing on the menu, the restaurant's serving and dining areas, and the customer service before adding other details.
"We're biting off what we can chew right away," Orosz explains.
"I'd rather make sure that every single one of our customers is happy, rather than start right out with a lot of extras and services that we might not need at first."
Orosz is a New Jersey native, but when he was 13, his family moved to England, where he later went to culinary school and became an executive chef.
Soon after, he spent four years serving high-end passengers for a private yacht line that sailed regularly from Florida to Canada, with stops in South Carolina, New York City and other coastal destinations along the way.
"What I loved about that was being able to work with very high-end ingredients and being challenged as a chef," he recalls.
"I had to do my shopping locally wherever we stopped and then come up with extremely high-end meals for people with very high-end tastes. That gave me a lot of diversity as a chef."
He discovered Hudson when he took a yacht from Ft. Lauderdale all the way to Stillwater in 2006.
"I loved the area so much that I decided to live here," says Orosz, an avid Harley-Davidson motorcyclist who often rides along the St. Croix Trail and other scenic local spots.
"I love Hudson. I love the people and the culture. I love the fact that we're on the outskirts of the Twin Cities, so if we want to go there on the spur of the moment, we can. I also like the fact that Hudson is growing, and I see it growing in the future at a tremendous rate."
His first local job was as an executive chef at Stillwater's marquee Water Street Inn, where he wowed the customers but also felt an entrepreneurial itch.
"I've always wanted my own place, mainly because of the energy I put into everything I make," Orosz says.
So he started a food truck in downtown Minneapolis -- Lulu's Street Food.
"We had a huge following. It was a great success," he notes.
The Lulu's Street Food truck is still parked along Highway 12/County Road UU at Kitchen Market site, and it's still part of Orosz's business, especially for weddings, business events and other catering jobs.
"This is kind of a secret," he winks, "but if we cater your wedding, we'll give you the food truck absolutely free for late-night snacks."
"One of my passions is wedding catering, so I go above and beyond for them, and we customize the menu to the bride and groom's specifications. We really want to love our customers, especially on their wedding day."
The Kitchen Market currently has a five-person staff, led by manager Magia Horaitis, who recently moved to Hudson from La Crosse.
"We've got great employees, and I like interacting with customers and all of the people here," says Horaitis, who has been working in restaurants since she was 13.
"I'm putting in long hours, but I absolutely love it. Everything is going great."
There's an element of community service in Orosz's staff hiring as well. Several employees, for example, are in recovery from addiction.
"I'm in AA myself, so part of what we do is giving back to people who may have had some hard luck and can't get a job," he explains.
"The whole idea there is to help the community. We want to help people out here."
Orosz's short- and long-term plans for the Kitchen Market include a breakfast menu, grab-and-go box meals, soul food and perhaps a downtown food truck along the St. Croix River during the spring, summer and fall.
Meanwhile, for the time being, Job One for Orosz and his staff is serving best food possible and making new special connections.
"To me, it's about having fun, loving what we do and loving our customers," Orosz says. "Really, when you think about it, isn't that about all you can hope for?"