Patrick Harris toys with his poached egg perched on top of beef brisket and potatoes, part of his new brunch menu at Boka Grill and Growlers on the South Side.
There was a time when Harris, although willing to talk to media, came off as brash. Still, he had the cred to brag. A culinary veteran of the Washington food scene, including a stint as master cook at the St. Regis for Alain Ducasse, Harris helmed the kitchen of the Water Coastal Kitchen (then the Water Grill) in Carytown.
He wanted to open his own place, but that kind of move was cost-prohibitive. But he kept watching trends carefully. And when Los Angeles food truck Kogi sparked the food-truck mania throughout the country that continues today, he knew he’d found a way to get his food out to diners in Richmond. Besides the downtown food carts, Boka Tako was the first truck in town.
“I developed a reputation for my execution and flavor profile,” Harris says. In other words, he delivered quick, consistent, chef-y food. “I got to create a market that didn’t exist.”
That was in 2010. Today, he’s conflicted about his role as a food-truck pioneer. He started the first food truck court, organized the Richmond Food Truck Association and is the man behind the Central Virginia Food Truck Rodeo, scheduled for April 26.
“I can’t walk away from my identity,” Harris says. He opened two brick-and-mortar versions of Boka — one in the West End, Boka Kantina, and another in the Fan, Boka Tako Bar. Boka Kantina closed earlier this year.
The more subdued Harris opened his Boka location in the South Side shortly afterward. “People expect tacos — tacos are on the menu,” he says. “We can do sandwiches with a flavor profile that’s more complex.”
But Harris is moving his concept slowly forward. You’ll find spring chicken confit with a radish confiture and pickled carrots, fresh pasta with wild mushrooms and white cheddar polenta with vadouvan beef jus on the menu. All are packed with flavor.
“It’s my bridge — stepping stones to carte blanche to what I want to create,” Harris says. Eventually, his plan is to open a seafood steakhouse — a sort of upscale surf ’n’ turf along the modern American cuisine model.
He also has solid talent backing him. The culinary team in the kitchen consists of Andy McGinley, veteran of the Washington restaurant scene, Comfort and Rappahannock’s Christian Stilner, and Culinary Institute of America graduate Matt Davis.
“I want Boka to be a place to work that fosters creativity and culinary passion,” Harris says. “If someone wants to be great, this is where we push them.”
It’s a big change from the bravado of earlier years. Taking a step back to become a team player — albeit the team member in charge — may be the move forward that Harris needed to realize his dream.