Last July, Chef Darnell Ferguson was celebrating the opening of SuperChefs, a restaurant concept he’d spent several years developing. In January, a fire gutted the St. Matthews space, taking the adjacent Chef Maria’s Greek Deli with it and leaving many to wonder if either could rebuild.
But a year later, Ferguson is once again celebrating the opening of SuperChefs, with a new Highlands location and a new spin on the concept.
“It feels different,” Ferguson said on the eve of the grand opening. “It feels like this was it, like this was my calling. I don’t know; it’s hard to describe. All the sequences of events were leading me to do more and dive in more to the restaurant and the food, and being a better person as well. It’s taught me a lot about myself.”
Through the whirlwind of 2016 — in which he saw the local restaurant community come out to support him and did a national TV tour, meeting his idol, Chef Emeril Lagasse, on the “Rachael Ray Show” — Ferguson also has refocused his efforts on “giving back.” He has stepped up his public speaking engagements, spreading his motivational message about overcoming adversity.
But he’s also worked on bringing SuperChefs back from the dead; there’s even a mural on one wall of the restaurant serving as a reminder of the fire that destroyed the original location, bearing the words, “It’s not how we fall, it’s how we rise that defines us,” and “The greatest glory in living lies not in never falling but in rising every time we fall.”
Of course, the superhero theme remains, including a smaller version of the superheroes version of “The Last Supper,” as well as some slick artwork depicting Wonder Woman, Superman, Spider-Man and Batman. There’s also an autographed cover of the famous 1978 oversize DC comic depicting an epic boxing match between Muhammad Ali and Superman.
And the dining room looks remarkably like the original, as do the menus. It’s clear Ferguson and his team went straight back to the original designers and suppliers, because the space looks like a smaller clone. Interestingly, while the area is about half the size, there are 96 seats in the new SuperChefs, located at 1702 Bardstown Road (the former location of Strati Wild Italian), versus 88 in the original.
The menu, while it does look very much like the original with many or most of the breakfast dishes, is pared down for lunch. SuperChefs will serve as a breakfast and lunch spot, closing at 3 p.m. daily, at which point Ferguson says his crews will swap out the tabletops and wall décor to change the theme for a concept called DINNER, opening at 5 p.m.
Seems far-fetched to think it’s a concept that could work day in and day out, but Ferguson — working with a business partner — says they’ve created a system wherein the changeover works. And he very much wants the two concepts to be different, so he plans to pay full attention to making the changeover as complete as possible. DINNER will open later in the summer, serving eclectic, upscale food focusing on small plates. A full bar will be part of the experience.
“It will be different and it will be fun,” Ferguson says. “They will be two totally separate things. I don’t want them to be connected; that’s why we’re opening it later. When dinner comes, people will be like, ‘This wasn’t here.’”
A soft opening reunited locals with some of their SuperChefs favorites. I stopped by for breakfast with my friend Kirk, having been a fan of the steak quesadilla at the SuperChefs in St. Matthews. We started with an order of waffle bites, crispy little nuggets of sweetness served with whipped cream. Those things are rather addictive.
For my main meal, I tried the SuperChefs Omelet, a massive beast containing diced candied bacon (a SuperChefs staple), sausage, spinach, peppers, onions, tomatoes and plenty of gooey cheese, served with home fries and a side of mixed greens. The quesadilla was nicely presented and perfectly made, but my aversion to sweets got the best of me – even the sausage had a sweet flavor profile, and about halfway through I found it dominating the other flavors.
Kirk’s breakfast was a sight to behold: He ordered the Pancake Platter, featuring one each of SuperChefs’ signature pancakes: Reese’s Cup, red velvet, Liu Kang (chocolate), and Sub Zero (blueberry). More than a breakfast, this was a beautifully presented sampler that would probably best be served for a small family to share.
Kirk, who has been known to effortlessly eat two dinners, couldn’t even finish it, in part because of the size and in part because of the richness in the flavors. Breakfast? More like an event. If you like sweet breakfast foods, this is for you.
Most of the quesadillas are gone from the lunch menu, but several sandwiches and burgers remain (including the popular Bron Bron), along with fish tacos, the shrimp po boy and a seafood pizza that looks mesmerizing with a petite lobster tail perched on top. You can also get salads and soups.
With the re-opening, Ferguson’s story comes full circle – he’s even being referred to as a “celebrity chef” these days, which isn’t a bad landing place for someone who once was homeless. His journey is perhaps what made the fire less devastating to him as it might have been.
“Every time something wrong happens and I have stayed positive, it seems like the situation changes,” he says. “I just want to be an example.”
SuperChefs is open Tuesday through Saturday, 7 a.m.-3 p.m., and on Sunday 7 a.m.-5 p.m.