Sayers brings southern style fine dining to bistro

Published 12:00 am Sunday, September 6, 2009

Natchez — If it weren’t for the newly installed black awning, the Mighty Martini Bistro might blend into its surroundings on North Pearl Street, but just a few steps behind the brick wall, reveals Natchez’s newest eatery.

Specializing in southern style fine dining, Mighty Martini Bistro daily serves breakfast, lunch and dinner and offers a Sunday brunch menu.

“The sign out front says we’re open from 7 a.m. until, and I’m here just about that entire time,” said Executive Chef Zac Sayers.

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Sayers came to Natchez after working in the kitchen at restaurants in South Florida, but, after spending several years growing up in Hattiesburg, Sayers is happy to be back in the “real south.”

“When I got off the plane in Jackson, I just took a deep breath,” Sayers said. “I was so happy to be back in a place where I can cook the kind of food I’ve always wanted to cook.”

For Sayers, that means many times putting a southern twist on classic ingredients and utilizing wild game meats in his dishes.

“I’ve always like cooking with those meats and now in the south I have the clientele that enjoys eating them,” Sayers said.

The dish most popular among bistro diners has been the duck egg rolls, but Sayers said there isn’t an item on the menu that hasn’t been well received.

“I think I’ve rolled the egg rolls every day,” he said. “But people are ordering everything — the pork ribs, the lamb, the sea bass. The first few days, I don’t think I sold a single sea bass, but now people are ordering it all the time.”

To finish off a meal, Sayers prepares a rotation of fresh-made desserts including crme brulée, a chocolate covered crme puff and a deep-dish bourbon pecan pie.

The restaurant also offers a detailed martini menu, wine list and fully stocked bar.

Sayers credits the popularity of the dishes to two things — preparation and presentation.

For preparation, Sayers believes creating as much of the dish as possible in his own kitchen is the key. He said many sauces and dressings are available from food suppliers, but he’s always had better luck when he does it himself.

“I could order a gallon of Caesar dressing or balsamic vinaigrette from Sysco, but its better to make it myself,” he said. “I figure if I know how, then it is worth the time.”

And from customer comments, Sayers said the diners appreciate the effort.

“I had one woman tell me that she felt like she was on the Food Network,” he said.

As for presentation, Sayers said he wants people to enjoy the food before it even gets to their mouth.

“People taste food with their eyes way before they taste it with their mouth,” Sayers said. “If food looks good on a plate, then most likely it is going to taste good too.”

To make sure his food looks as good as possible, Sayers utilizes a little knowledge he picked up while working at the Ritz Carlton — square plates work better than round.

“On a round plate, the edge isn’t for garnishing; it is just the edge,” Sayers said. “On a square plate, there is no edge, so you have more room to get the presentation right.”

And so far, Sayers said, his ideas seem to be working at Mighty Martini Bistro.

On grand opening night less than two weeks ago, Sayers said the dining room and adjacent courtyard were packed.

“And the Saturday after that we were just slammed,” Sayers said. “I think for dinner we had about 115 in a restaurant that seats 65 at a time. As soon as a table would open up, we had more people sitting down.”

Since then, lunch and dinner crowds have been steady but Sunday brunch has been the most popular dining time.

Sayers is a graduate of the college of culinary arts at Johnson and Wales University — the same school that spawned celebrity chef Emeril Lagasse — but Sayers got his real start in the kitchen as a teenager.

“My first job in a kitchen was at Waffle House,” he said. “I was working on the line and that is where I realized I enjoyed cooking and was good at it.

“I didn’t learn as much about cooking at Waffle House as I did in school, but what I learned was how to operate when it is busy. I know a lot of chefs I have worked with respect me more because I worked in that environment.”

Since his first days in the kitchen, Sayers said he has accomplished much more than he thought he could by this point in his career.

“At 26, I’ve run three kitchens and been involved in opening two different restaurants,” Sayers said. “But really not a day of it has felt like work because I love what I’m doing. I can’t even think of anything I’d rather be doing.”