“The restaurant is not about our ego, it’s about what we offer to people.”
Siempre Algo, a new North Side restaurant from chef and owner Brian Hammond, opened for dinner in Deutschtown on August 23.
The three weeks since then have been chaos, Hammond says, but as a veteran in the restaurant industry he knew what he was in for before it even began.
The name Siempre Algo, which translates to “always something,” is a call back to Hammond’s early career when he moved to California and ended up working in kitchens where most of his colleagues spoke Spanish.
“Murphy’s Law dominates our existence in restaurants, so whenever something went wrong — which was always — the guys would just be like ‘ah, siempre algo,’” Hammond recalls. “In restaurants it’s always something. We kind of embrace the chaotic element of what we do and then make something great from it.”
Hammond’s previous project was a farm-to-table restaurant in Cranberry Township called Echo. A quick Google search of online reviews reveals that Echo was well received for its elevated food and drink offerings in an area that was dominated by chain restaurants when it opened in 2010. But by 2014, Hammond decided to close Echo and leave the 17,000-square-foot space as well as his three-acre suburban farm and move into the city.
It didn’t take long for Hammond to feel at home in the North Side. After just six months living in the neighborhood, he started looking for a new place to set up shop. He bought Schrim’s Garden Cafe on East Ohio Street and after three years of planning, design, and construction, Siempre Algo is open for dinner five nights a week serving up contemporary American eats.
“What contemporary American means is an expression of the best ingredients available being used through the lense of our experience,” Hammond says. “So for me that’s gonna be a lot of French and a lot of Mexican, not as fusion, but using those techniques to make dishes that make sense.”
The result is an wide-ranging menu where the list of snacks outnumbers the entrees. The entree options cover all of the bases—fish, chicken, vegetable, pork and steak. What sound like classic offerings are made new and fresh through Hammond’s unique pairings. The halibut is served with a green molé, the chicken with a brandied chicken-liver bread pudding, and the ribeye with a chimichurri sauce.
Snacks include sweet and spicy sambal chicken, a white fish ceviche, heirloom tomato salad, and baba ganoush. Hammond took a special interest in the homemade pretzels on Siempre Algo’s menu. They’re an homage to his Pennsylvania roots.
“I grew up loving soft pretzels in Philly and now I’m in Deutschtown and this is a really traditional Bavarian formula,” he says. “I wanted a project that I could anchor that would uniquely be for this place.”
The menu at Siempre Algo will adapt to the seasons and also to the feedback of guests as Hammond plans to keep an open mind and see what flavors his customers are responding to.
“When I was younger I think I’d get very upset about certain kinds of suggestions and now I want to try to really hear it for what it’s worth. The restaurant is not about our ego, it’s about what we offer to people.”
Hammond isn’t just concerned with what Siempre Algo offers to its guests; he’s done a lot of thinking about what he wants the restaurant to offer its employees. After 20 years in the industry and many lessons learned, Hammond is approaching his new restaurant with clarity and purpose.
“I’ve worked for amazing chefs and bad cooks, I’ve worked for great people and I’ve worked for tyrants and I’ve figured out what I want to do, what’s important to me,” Hammond says.
He recognizes that opening a new restaurant is more than an opportunity to create a new menu—it’s an opportunity to create a culture.
“I think our business has a habit of calling itself hospitality and then treating the people that work in it really badly, “ Hammond says.
Currently, Siempre Algo is only open for dinner service five nights a week. While this may seem slim to some, it was a conscious decision Hammond made about how his restaurant would run. Opening for a single service means that the same staff will work together at every single one. Hammond wants all of the servers, cooks, and bartenders to share the same experience so that they can build their culture together.
“The mechanism that drives me now is to make this a place that’s hospitable for the people that work here and where we can grow and nurture a great team.”
Haley Frederick is a Pittsburgh Current Staff Writer. Contact her at email@example.com.