New Trolley Stop chef is on reality TV this week

Don Warfe appears on ‘Kitchen Nightmares.’The Oregon District institution has delicious plans.

When the owners of the Trolley Stop in Dayton decided late last year to update their menu and fine-tune their kitchen they turned to a chef who has helped other restaurants improve and update on national television.

Chef Don Warfe, 37, has served as a consultant on Chef Gordon Ramsay’s “Kitchen Nightmares,” now in its sixth season, working on two of the episodes.

He is briefly featured in the “Mangia Mangia” episode airing on FOX at 8 p.m. Friday.

“My job was to come in at the beginning of taping, learn the recipes, so that I could train the staff on how to execute their new menu,” Warfe says. “I would then stay after the ‘Kitchen Nightmares’ crew left and work closely with the entire staff, helping them implement the new menu, new practices and whatever training was necessary. It was my responsibility to be the insurance so that they understood exactly what to do after the show came in and changed everything.”

In his role on the show, Warfe would do everything from teach kitchen staff the cooking techniques needed for making the new menu, how to order the fresh local ingredients, help to create order guides, cleaning lists and showed them daily operations of a proper kitchen.

“This was my first TV experience … I love to cook and I feel very comfortable in most kitchens,” said Warfe. “Right before the restaurant opened for opening night, Gordon came up to me and reassured me that it would go well. … It was quite an experience and an unbelievable honor to be working for my favorite chef.”

Warfe’s focus on fresh locally sourced dishes and an array of different styles of cooking was what the Trolley Stop was looking for. He was hired as executive chef on March 30.

Robin Sassenberg has served as general manager of the Trolley Stop, in the city’s Oregon Historic District, for the last 18 years. She said, “We have always served food that was just like home cooking, but (those) involved lots of processed items. A few years ago, we began transitioning to healthier options. We want to serve food raised in a stress-free environment.”

Sassenberg is also a co-owner, along with Chris Sassenberg, Gale Davis, Will Davis and Barry Briggs.

“We honestly believe in supporting local farms and businesses, recycling, helping the environment by transporting food only short distances and avoiding pesticides. Though we have some of the same recipes, everything is now made from fresh, mostly organic and local ingredients,” Sassenberg said.

Highlights on the new menu include sandwiches such as the savory pulled Pork BBQ made with KJB Farms pork, a house made BBQ sauce and crisp apple slaw on a pretzel bun ($8) and Keener Farm Burgers ($8.75), with the bleu-cheese stuffed, peppercorn crusted option holding steady as one of the most popular with customers. There’s also a burger of the day, which is often a highlight.

Entree dishes such as the zippy red beans and rice ($7) made with zesty farm sausage; thick chili made with grass-fed beef ($4) as well as robust salads sourced from local gardens including Fulton Farms and soon Patchwork and Hungry Toad Gardens round out the menu.

The updated menus features a handful of brand new dishes including a lush Antipasti board, flatbread pizzas, burritos and a shrimp po-boy.

All dressings, all sauces and all dishes are now made from scratch.

“Mindy, our kitchen manager called (Chef Warfe), frequently, at his restaurant in Denver; she sought his advice so frequently I think he came here just to get off the phone. … We hired him as a consultant, and he spent several weeks raising the skill level in our line cooks, and re-creating our dishes to highlight local foods,” Sassenberg said. “He has worked from upstate New York to Baltimore, to Denver. He’s been the chef in a number of upscale large and small fine-dining establishments and even a reality TV chef. His food is amazing.”

The long-established eclectic eatery and bar is looking to leverage Warfe’s skills, talent and vision to help create fresh, memorable dishes at the right price; working to create meals instead of filling orders.

“I was a chef for a restaurant in downtown Denver, helping them open a new location. Before that, I was an executive sous chef for Flemings,” Warfe said. “I actually worked at the one in Dayton, but they gave me a promotion, and I worked in Baltimore, Maryland for about two years. Before that I was the head chef for a small fine-dining restaurant in Upstate New York.”

Warfe is excited for what the future holds in Dayton closer to his family and at a restaurant that has always been a hidden gem. Based on several recent visits, it’s only a matter of time before a lot more people start catching on.

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