WARSAW — Newly opened Roadhouse R-Bar restaurant and lounge is a coupling of laid-back West Coast flavor with Midwestern favorites, created by former Oceanside resident Kevin LaPittus and his companion of five years, Stacey Taylor, originally of Clinton.
LaPittus has been in the food business all his life, attending the Culinary Institute of America in his youth and working under a chef in San Diego.
“That was when I was a teenager, and then I worked several years as a chef and then went into restaurant management,” LaPittus said. “For the last 18 years I was the director of child nutrition for a school district. So I was in charge of breakfast and lunch programs for nine schools and about 7,000 kids.”
A believer in organically grown produce, LaPittus instituted garden programs in the schools while there.
“San Diego typically they tended to be more in tune with promoting local stuff, we always served local organic produce,” he said. “We’re working on those same types of concepts here. We’re promoting some local breweries. There’s one called Piney River (in Bucyrus) that is an hour and half away. They are a very small micro-brewery that brews some incredible, unique beers.”
LaPittus said they are also working with local wineries for the Wine Stroll to be hosted April 26 and with local beef growers.
LaPittus and Taylor saw the vacant restaurant a few years back while in the area visiting Taylor’s family. The building, originally the Westview Cafe opened in 1937 before its name was changed to Roadhouse in 2000, had been sitting vacant for eight years.
“It was covered in vines,” LaPittus said. “There was so much work, because we couldn’t see the building. And then a gentleman came in and bought it about a year and half ago and kind of cleaned up the outside. Then we found it was for sale in late November or early December and I called the guy.”
The couple decided to purchase the building and began to fix up the inside.
“And within a month and half we were here,” he added. “We’d flown out, looked at it and signed papers and packed everything up and moved back.”
“We got here the first of February,” Taylor said. “And we opened March 14.”
“We had 36 straight days that we worked on the inside of this place to get it ready to go,” LaPittus added.
“We had a small little posse helping us,” Taylor said.
“Seven days a week, 14 hour days,” he added. “We wanted to make sure we opened by (spoonbill) snagging season, because we knew how much of a draw that it is.”
This is the seventh restaurant LaPittus has opened in his career.
“They’ve always been for large corporations and Stacey’s background has been as an office manager and logistics but she has also managed bars as well,” LaPittus said. “Five years ago when we started talking about opening a business, we had talked about opening a place that was ours. And that’s where the ‘R’ in R-Bar comes from. And it made sense to keep Roadhouse because of the name recognition.”
Besides fixing the building up, the couple were very aware of what the menu should bring to the area.
“The inspiration behind the menu, was that we wanted to have a menu that people from this area recognized,” he said. “We did a lot of research as to what other types of establishments were serving and we wanted to do our own little twist to it. So for example we have a Fried Chicken Thigh Sandwich on the menu. Which is our version of a pork tenderloin that you see in almost every restaurant within a hundred mile radius.”
The chicken thigh is pounded out like a tenderloin and breaded and fried and served with a homemade dill mayonnaise on the side.
“We do a twist of West Coast stuff with Midwestern stuff,” he added. “We have a fish taco that is really popular, but we make it with catfish. Because people are more familiar and enjoy catfish. It’s amazing.”
When they first introduced the menu people were skeptical, but soon began to like it.
“People didn’t think that these items would fly or go over well, but we’re finding that people are really starving for a little bit of change,” he added. “And if you mix in some familiarity with the new items that’s what inspires people to try new things.”
The fish tacos are their third best seller, the couple said. Also popular are their hand-cut fries, a variety of half-pound hand-formed burgers and the 12-ounce rib-eyes.
“Ninety-five percent of the things that we do here are from scratch,” LaPittus said. “We don’t buy frozen burgers, we make all the burgers individually, and they are a mixture of ground beef and pork. And then we also mix shredded cheese into the burger itself. But the pork kind of injects juice flavor into the burger and it makes it really, really juicy.”
Other signature items are the R-Bar mini-meatloaf appetizer served on a bed of red-skinned mashed potatoes and onion rings, and a two to three pound California burrito filled with steak, french fries and sour cream.
“We have a one page menu,” he added. “And the reason we have a one page menu is because we know that in order to do things exceptionally we have to limit what we do.”
They said they hope to change the menu every six months for variety.
The Roadhouse also has a variety of specialty drinks such as a bold Bloody Mary with thick-cut bacon slices added to it and a 22-ounce Margarita with a seven-ounce bottle of Corona turned upside down in the glass.
“We have some 24-ounce schooner glasses, and we make our Bloody Marys from scratch,” LaPittus said.
“We get some great reviews on our Bloody Marys,” Taylor added.
Taylor also is responsible for finding the weekend live entertainment venues. So far venues have included “Full Moon,” a classic rock band, “Sweet Shot,” a rock band, and “Jason Elmore and the Hoodoo Witch,” a blues group. Playing tonight will be “Branded,” a country band, and on April 26 “Ponch and the Pork and Beans,” a country rock band, will play.
Although Missouri is much different than the Southern California coast, the couple said they’re happy with the beautiful sunset view from the Roadhouse.
“We traded the ocean in for the lake,” Taylor said.
“Which I’m okay with,” LaPittus added. “I’ve been coming down to the Lake of the Ozarks since ‘91, I knew that I was going to retire at the Lake, and so here we are. (In California) we would watch the sunsets every night. When we came here, we discovered the first night here that this faced directly west and you see a beautiful sunset.”
The Roadhouse R-Bar, located at 31311 Warsaw Ave., is open seven days a week from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. for lunch and dinner; the lounge is open from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and until 1:30 a.m. on Friday and Saturday. For more information call 438-7227.