Holly Ebel: City native makes a Cameo

February 20, 2019

Something pretty exciting has been happening on the Rochester culinary scene the past few years. It’s the emergence and success of independent restaurants.

I’m thinking especially of Bleu Duck, Porch and Cellar, Hot Chip, Casablanca and, the godfather of them all, Prescotts.

Now we have Cameo at the Castle, open just a few months in what was previously the senior center and before that the armory. This newest iteration of the building is drawing crowds both at lunch and dinner. Weekend brunch started on Feb. 9.

The chef behind this new venture is Zach Ohly, a Rochester native whose involvement in all things culinary began in his late teens. His passion for it has taken him to some of the finest “training” kitchens in the business.

After graduating from Le Cordon Bleu in St. Paul, he first worked at the St. Paul Grill. Then, with girlfriend — now wife — Danika, Ohly moved to Denver, where he was executive chef of several high-end restaurants. Danika, meanwhile, also a Cordon Bleu graduate, was learning the ins and outs of the front and back of the house. She is now the pastry chef at Cameo, though also very involved in the restaurant’s general daily operations.

‘Respect for the ingredients’

Time was also spent in Napa, Calif., at Thomas Keller’s French Laundry, certainly the dream of anyone serious about a culinary career.

What did Ohly take away from that experience? “Respect for the ingredients. To work with simple ingredients and to prepare them well,” he said.

In spite of the excitement (as well as the stress, he points out), their Mdwestern roots lured them back. It wasn’t long after that the space in the Castle became available.

What Zach and Danika are doing at Cameo is impressive. While there are two other levels with specific purposes (large room on top for meetings, concerts and weddings, bookstore, artist spaces, art supply store on second floor), the restaurant is on the lower level and offers several options. There is a lounge with comfortable couches and chairs where you can relax with a glass of wine. Then one enters a bar area with high tops and booths. The full menu is available or there are a variety of appetizers.

Next is the wine section, and this is unique. Close to 50 bottles are on display and, thanks to a new preservation system, customers may order a glass or even a half bottle from any of them.

The dining area is spacious and what is especially appealing is the open kitchen where you can observe the chefs in action. At the end of the dining area is a private room that can be closed off (Meeting? Groom’s dinner? Perfect.). The setting throughout is best described as “industrial chic.”

Diverse, global cuisine

Ohly’s goal has been to create a place where the food is a focal point and an art form. You see that in what comes out of the kitchen.

“We are striving for a relaxed setting where no one is intimidated by either the menu or the ambiance,” he said. “It’s a comfortable space.”

He describes the menu as global cuisine, their interpretation of ethnic cuisine that will appeal to a diverse community. The good news for those with diet issues is that there are vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free items on the menu. If a customer has a food allergy, that can be accommodated by staff as well. Ohly plans on changing the menu seasonally.

So having been open just barely two months, what dishes have become best sellers? The bread pudding for dessert is a must.

An entrée of sweet potato coconut curry gets rave reviews from customers, and among Ohly’s recommendations are the chicken wings, marinated, seasoned and prepared in a special way. “We sell hundreds of pounds a week,” he said.

Recipes, for the most part, are his own. He also plans on doing catering, both for the other events in the building as well as privately.

Cameo does take reservations. Call 507-361-2070.

The restaurant is located at 121 N. Broadway — look for the castle turret. Parking is in a lot to the north of the building.