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Sean Cummings closing pub, opening new concept, killing St. Patrick's Day in OKC forever?





Sean Cummings Irish Pub is closing in a couple of weeks, and the future of St. Patrick's Day celebrations in Oklahoma City faces a future as dire as Democrats in Congress.

The pub closure isn't tied to politics, but the Cummings family, now, is.

As most of you know (at least I hope most of you) Cathy Cummings, the ebullient owner of Vito's Ristorante, recently made a run at the Lt. Governor's office. Her first-time attempt at politics ended in defeat, but our reporter Chris Casteel noted her numbers in Oklahoma County trended surprisingly effective, especially considering she ran as a Democrat in a district so Republican Karl Rove must consider it the model for his vision of global incorporation.

What almost none of you know is during her statewide campaign tour she got some news even more surprising than her Oklahoma County totals: half the immensely successful tandem of restaurants she and her husband Sean runs at 7521 N May Ave. in the Lakeside Shops was no longer welcome.

"The landlord doesn't want a pub in the middle of the shopping center," Sean Cummings said.

And that means Sean Cummings Irish Pub, which landed at its current home four years ago following a dramatic wake and procession from its previous home at The Collonade Shopping Center, will serve its last pint in its current home on Nov. 23. Vito’s will continue on as it has for many years and the pub will be replaced by a new concept the couple are calling Land and Sea, which will open first week of December or shortly thereafter.

"It's gonna be a little 40-seat (38 to be exact) seafood restaurant," Sean Cummings said. "We'll bring back some of the stuff we did at Boca Boca, and offer some fish no one's ever heard of so it'll be really cool."

Cummings came to Oklahoma City from Kansas City back in 2000 already a successful seafood restaurateur, in search of a better place to raise a young family. He ran Boca Boca for eight years before converting it into Sean Cummings Irish Pub.

Fourteen years after coming into the 4-0-5, the kids have grown and flown the coop and Sean has inspired another landlord to show him the door.

"It's what I do!" Cummings (half) joked.

Cathy, with the graciousness she showed in her campaign, negotiated an extension on the original July 1 deadline the Cummings had to convert the pub space until after the election. Now, it's go-time -- literally.

"Sean is amazing at this kind of thing," Cathy said about her husband's ability to retrofit a restaurant space.

The new menu will allow Sean to return to his culinary passion. On Wednesday, I was lucky enough to sample a few items from the upcoming menu and was blown away. Potato-crusted Chilean Sea Bass was was flaky and delicate as a cloud, drawing oohs and ahs as it disappeared from the plate. Roasted Butternut Squash Risotto was pitch-perfect, and the Pesto Shrimp Risotto had the bold, garlicky goodness of a top-seller.

Cummings said Land and Sea will be a true gastropub, serving gourmet food and a full bar.

"We'll have art installations and a laid-back atmosphere," he said.

He wanted to emphasize the new place won't be doing high-volume business or be home to wall-to-wall patrons as the pub will continue to be until its final day.

"This will be a place where people can come in and relax. Have cocktails, wine. We want people to be able to take their time, relax and enjoy some really great food."

But where will one be able to procure a properly poured Black-and-Tan or a draw of Smithwick's?

"Well, I'm not sure yet," Cummings said. "I need to get Land and Sea going first, but the town does need a real Irish pub."

Cummings said the reality is he needs to find a building of his own to purchase to avoid taking a third strike from an unhappy landlord. All signs point toward a new location in the future, but don't count on spending St. Patrick's Day 2015 there. But then if someone were to challenge Sean to be up and running by then, it would take a team of well-armed leprechauns to stop him.

Bonjour and Bonjour

Chef Vuong Nguyen left Guernsey Park last month, and now he's ready to tell you his next concept will be a gourmet breakfast and lunch eatery called Bonjour.

The new spot will be in the Chase Plaza. Nguyen promises both quick and traditional breakfast and lunch fare that represents his chefly sensibilities and his committment to wellness.

But that doesn't mean Nguyen has broken ties with butter and bacon. Far from it.

"You can eat whatever you want if you limit your portions and commit to exercise as part of you daily life," Nguyen said over breakfast at The Lobby Bar where Daryl Moore was serving up some superior Spanish eggs with Sriracha on Wednesday morning.

Nguyen said the food at Bonjour will be all about quality ingredients and showcasing familiar dishes in original ways, but he wants to be able to impart his life philosophy as well.

"I'm all about doing things the right way," the passion-rich and caffeine-fueled Nguyen said. "No matter what I take on, I like to do things the way they're supposed to be done."

And that goes for taking care of your health.

"I got off track for awhile when I was Guernsey," Nguyen admitted. "I was putting in a lot of hours and I let my health get a little out of control."

Nguyen said he wishes Guernsey Park nothing but the best. He said he looks forward to chef Sam Salinas' new menu. He said the decision to leave Guensey Park was about taking better care of himself and pursuing an opportunity to leave a culinary mark that's all his own.

"We're gonna do some cool stuff," he said. "We'll do plays on the classics like croque madame, but we'll also have quick stuff that you can take on your way to work."

Vuong said he and his partner hope to have Bonjour and running early in 2015.

Mucho Gusto

Chris Lower and Kathryn Mathis are on the verge of finishing their magic-wand wave in the direction of pizza, and that's a good thing for Oklahoma City diners.

The curtain is ever-so close to rising on Pizzeria Gusto, 2415 N Walker Ave., the new concept brought to you by the people who brought you Big Truck Tacos, Mutt's Amazing Hot Dogs and Back Door BBQ.

But unlike previous fast-casual concepts from the dynamic duo, Pizzeria Gusto will be a full-service restaurant. That means a hostess station, but more importantly it means a bar. And not just a bar tucked in a corner outfitted with a few kegs of beer and nondescript wines. Master of mixology Scott Glidewell is overseeing the bar menu at Gusto, which means cocktails will be crafted to compliment the food and be conceived with an eye for detail that is the standard for local bartending.

Chef Kathryn Mathis has been busy with her kitchen staff, training on a brand-new, wood-burning Italian oven that routinely breaths at 900-degrees to produce Neapolitan-style pies. I was in last week to sample as many sample slices as my stomach could handle. The crusts with thin and crisp, bearing the requisite char marks that makes my palate percolate. Mathis' menu shows the kind of range we've come to expect without compromising quality.

If Lower and Mathis are ever going to produce a concept that outpaces Big Truck, Gusto might be it. While tacos and the trucks they ride in are all the current rage, pizza is still king of the restaurant business. But pizza options are much broader than fast-casual gourmet Mexican in this market. To outperform Big Truck, it will have to overcome stronger competition. Based on my early experience that also included addictive fried-artichoke hearts and killer hot wings, Gusto is poised to stand as tall as any pizza purveyor in town.
Gusto's pizza serve 1-2 and range from $10 to $14. The menu also offers small plates, sandwiches, salads and dessert with prices topping out at $15 for lamb chops or a salmon board. Desserts include Affogato, Poppyseed Olive Oil Cake, Chocolate Tart, Buttermilk Panna Cotta and Ricotta doughnuts.

To see pictures of the menus, go here.

Be on the lookout for soft opening in the next week or two with grand opening before Thanksgiving.

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Dave Cathey

The Oklahoman's food editor, Dave Cathey, keeps his eye on culinary arts and serves up news and reviews from Oklahoma’s booming food scene. Read more ›