In December, the Indigo Road Hospitality Group (O Ku, Oak Steakhouse, Colletta) ceased operation of Tiny Lou’s in Hotel Clermont after Oliver Hotels, which operates the property, decided to manage the popular restaurant in-house. Executive chef Jeb Aldrich and pastry chef Claudia Martinez wrapped up their work in the kitchen, making room for Jon Novak and Charmain Ware to take over in early February. Now, the duo has settled into their new roles and is ready to share their carefully crafted menus.
At 30 years old, executive chef Novak has spent nearly half of his life working in restaurants, including a stint as sous chef at TORC in Napa Valley. With classic culinary training, he draws inspiration from French nouveau cuisine and local, seasonal ingredients.
He’s reworked nearly every dish on the Tiny Lou’s menu. Take the free-range chicken, for example. He confits and quarters the leg for one-and-a-half days, slow cooks it for three hours, then sears it to suck up all the jus in the pan. Braised carrots are the vegetable accompaniment, while crisped and dehydrated carrot greens add crunch to the sauce.
“The flavors of the dish sing together,” he says.
Another of his favorites is the Gnocchi Parisienne cooked in brown butter and served with roasted okra and celery root velouté. Steak frites, pan-seared diver scallops, and Berkshire chop round out the menu, which still includes French onion soup and a burger.
Unlike Novak, executive pastry chef Ware did not take a traditional career path. After a car accident forced her to be bedridden for some time, she became fascinated by cooking shows. She attended City of Refuge’s 180 Kitchen Culinary Program and then fine-tuned her skills in the kitchens at Brasserie Café at Parish and Restaurant 356 at the Porsche Experience Center, where she met Novak.
“I’m inspired by things that bring back memories from when I was a kid, like the way your mother’s kitchen smells on a Sunday after making brownies,” she says. “It’s always about a memory for me.”
She devised a play on a hummingbird cake with white chocolate, pistachios, turmeric, pickled pineapple, curry, and local honeycomb, inspired by life in the South. She also created a savory goat cheese cheesecake that is served like a cheese plate with Parmesan twill, honeycomb, and savory graham cracker crumbs.
“I go to a lot of wine tastings and taste unexpected things that blew my mind. You’d be surprised how well curry and white chocolate pair with each other,” she says. “I guess I’m like a mad scientist in a way.”
Martinez’s popular Ode to Blondie dessert, inspired by the Clermont Lounge’s infamous dancer, has been reinvented and renamed Hello Blondie. A banana blondie with chocolate cremeux, pretzel crunch, dulcey mousse, PBR caramel, and espresso ice cream, Ware describes it as “a little salty, sweet, grimy, and grunty, just like Blondie.”
Ware has also reinvented the multi-layer crepe cake to include chai spice, caramel, vanilla mascarpone, and toasted pistachio.
“I try to stay fun, familiar, and local. I like to play,” she says. “A dessert should be inviting; it doesn’t have to be hoity toity.”
She believes her Southern upbringing and Novak’s technical training provide a nice balance to their working styles.
“We ask each other for advice,” Novak says. “She’s been in the South longer than me so she unlocks the ingredients for me.”
Though Tiny Lou’s is perhaps their biggest undertaking, Novak and Ware are responsible for leading the culinary approach to the entire Clermont Hotel, including the Rooftop dining space.
“For the roof, I think about slutty and nasty, like chili cheese fries with all the toppings, pulled pork, gumbo, fried okra,” Novak says. “We’re switching it up every 60 days—maybe do a Pho bar, Mexican, lobster rolls.”
Similarly, Ware strives to keep the Rooftop sweets simple and familiar, such as cookies, brownies, and shaved ice. In the hotel’s Café, she’ll have grab-and-go items like biscuits, muffins, parfaits, cake pops, spiced nuts, and flavored popcorn. Once Tiny Lou’s re-launches brunch, she’ll be making sweet potato cinnamon rolls, Cinnamon Toast Crunch French toast on brioche, and Cheddar Bay biscuits.
Meanwhile at the Lobby Bar, Novak is focusing on light items that he describes as “fun, fast, and go well with a cocktail,” like pimento cheese deviled eggs.
“This building is a representation of our personalities,” Ware says. “We can be fun, grimy, and refined.”