Daniel Orwa said when people look at him, they might not necessarily see a chef.
As I’m sitting next to him after my first meal at his new restaurant, The 411, his casual clothes — a tie-dyed shirt, a backward cap — doesn't seem overly chef-like.
“I don’t look like a chef, but I can cook you really good food,” he said. “And when you look at me after the fact, it changes your perception: ‘Wow, there’s more to that guy than tie-dye and a hat.’ ”
Orwa said he wants to achieve the same effect through his new restaurant: Give downtown Norfolk a place “that belongs in metropolitan (areas), in the most random place you don’t expect it to be.”
The 411 provides upscale entrees with friendly service at a reasonable price. It will be adding alcohol and cocktail options to its menu on Nov. 22. Orwa got the idea of starting this kind of restaurant based on his experiences living in Rapid City, South Dakota. He said after he moved there in 2008, the downtown was jolted alive after a concept restaurant named Tally’s Silver Spoon opened its doors.
“And now if you go down there, it’s just booming — all sorts of varieties, different chefs, different styles,” he said. “... So being a young guy, taking these ideas, I was like, ‘I have something good here.’ What is it? It’s not fine dining, it’s not casual dining, it’s the two married together.”
Orwa has more than a decade of experience in food service and hospitality, which included working for a chef who won a James Beard award, and first became acquainted with Norfolk on a trip with his family. He had a few stints at Black Cow Fat Pig before finally settling on a space where he could bring his own restaurant to life, at 411 W. Norfolk Ave. (Hence the name.)
“That’s where I built my mission, which is that I want to change people’s lives with ridiculously delicious food,” he said. “ … It’s a place to get away. And you want to just soak in a different mood and vibe.”
It took two years to shape the space into Orwa’s vision, making it into a restaurant with a fully equipped kitchen. And my first impressions of the place is that it’s well worth the wait. It certainly brings a unique vibe with meticulously envisioned details such as silverware and chair choices. But at the same time, his ideas seamlessly blend with Norfolk’s downtown history. This can be seen in preserved aspects of the original building, as well as large windows that make downtown Norfolk front and center.
“I wanted to utilize the vision of Main Street, I want people to take the time that they can see Main Street,” he said. “Before this, you could just drive by, but now you can sit down and soak it in and see the town.”
The atmosphere is a fitting frame for The 411’s upscale, yet unfussy food, like its signature burger that features drunk apples, caramelized onions and brie with arugula. The apples, onions and cheese meld together, accentuating the rich and slightly pink all-Angus beef patty, encompassed in a pillowy bun. Of the sides, I liked the hearty and crispy sweet potato fries, which were delicious dipped in their house-made ketchup.
The menu is neither overly extensive or limited, and it has a Dakota seafood feature with rotating weekly options and a prairie harvest feature such as venison. It also includes such items as mac and cheese, a pulled pork sandwich and fish and chips.
“We do it differently, you know,” Orwa said of 411’s food. “We plate like a fine dining restaurant, but we’re not a fine dining restaurant. We use the same ingredients you’d use at a fine dining restaurant without charging fine dining prices; we go for comfort.”
Preparing and serving the food is a staff of 15, and the restaurant is still hiring. The 411 went through some “hiccups” training the staff and opening a few weeks ago, but it’s been getting better, Orwa said. Personally, I received attentive, prompt and helpful service.
He said the liquor options would include beer and wine, with a particular focus on providing a “full cocktail program” with high-quality drinks.
“Our mission is, if you order a vodka martini, I want to give you a vodka martini with the premium vodka in it, fresh-squeezed juice in it, well-shaken,” he said. “Portion-wise, it’s just enough where you enjoy the vodka flavor.”
With its food and atmosphere, The 411 boldly challenges conceptions of restaurants in small-town America and provides another vibrant downtown destination for Norfolk Avenue.