A Historic Building Offers a New Dining Experience

Since 1826, one of Marietta’s most iconic buildings has stood sentinel on the Ohio River levee, a landmark with multiple lives and a colorful past. This week, the Levee House will begin yet another life when its doors open as the Levee House Bistro, an opening happily anticipated by locals and long-time residents.  Owners Tom and Casey Hickey share that anticipation as they work tirelessly with last minute preparations for the February 19th opening night.

The historic building has been owned by local resident and architect Harley Noland since 1977, and most recently was home to the Levee House Restaurant until 2017. Since then the street level has stood vacant, though for a brief time it appeared a Thai restaurant might be opening. When that venture didn’t come to fruition, Chef Tom Hickey was ready to step in and put his own experience to work.

Hickey has been at home in a kitchen since he first worked for a Boston family restaurant at age sixteen. He then learned the business working in larger restaurants in Boston and New England, and held the position of chef at a Vermont inn. After earning his certification from Johnson & Wales in Virginia, Hickey continued honing his skills until he moved to the Mid-Ohio Valley. He’s worked for several area restaurants, including the Cornerstone Inn and the Lafayette Hotel. In fact, it was at the Lafayette that he met wife Casey, after she sat at the bar one evening visiting her bartender friend. His most recent position was chef at the Buckley House, where he prepared sophisticated dishes for the upscale dining room.

Although Hickey enjoyed working for the Buckley House, the desire to be his own boss was growing stronger as the months went by. The couple inspected some available spaces in town but didn’t find a building that filled their needs. When friends Rita and Andy heard he was searching, they urged him to contact Harley Noland about the Levee House building. The meeting resulted with a signed lease and just three months later the Levee House Bistro is a reality.

Visitors will recognize such familiar features as the blue brick interior walls, white tin ceiling  and those coveted river views. An antique judge’s desk performs the duties of hostess podium and on the walls, prints of river boats pay homage to Marietta’s history as a vital river city. In the kitchen, the Hickeys had to replace all the major appliances, but Tom explained that there was an upside to the investment. “Instead of adjusting my style to someone else’s kitchen layout, I was able to set my stations up the way I’m most comfortable.” Hickey will be joined in his kitchen by sous chef Steve and line cook Keith, both former coworkers at the Buckley House.  A new wait staff is being trained and the Hickeys are confident that soon everyone will be working together as a tight-knit team.

So many of my dishes begin with a good stock, and I start my stock every night for the next day.

When asked to describe the menu, Hickey calls it “casual with a fine dining aspect.” He learned French techniques in his earlier positions and described how a proper stock is the foundation for so many dishes. “So many of my dishes begin with a good stock, and I start my stock every night for the next day.”  The menu is smaller, featuring familiar favorites along with some new items. The appetizer list includes one his signature dishes – Maryland crab cakes. “I use lump crab meat with no filler, and my crab cakes have been a favorite at every restaurant I’ve made them.”

The Shrimp and Grits feature blackened jumbo shrimp, sautéed with mushrooms, onions and peppers served over smoked gouda grits. The smoked gouda adds a delicious layer of flavor to the creamy grits, and even someone eating grits for the first time will fork up every bite.  The generous portion of jumbo shrimp is complemented by the mushrooms, onions, and tender-crisp peppers and garnished with just the right amount of aioli sauce.

Fans of the old Levee House restaurant will be thrilled to learn that Hickey is reviving several of its original recipes including the Chicken Pea Pasta. When he learned that Noland had a copy of the recipe, he challenged himself to replicate the dish even though he’d never tasted it. He prepared the dish and invited Noland to taste and offer feedback. Noland declared the dish a perfect replication and diners will find it listed as an entrée. In addition, Hickey is using the original recipes for the Levee House rolls and at least one dessert.

The menu includes other such dishes as Pan Seared Halibut, Steak Au Poivre and Lobster Mac ‘n Cheese. Hickey will be sourcing local ingredients when possible and he hand cuts his own meat and fish. Desserts are made on site and all dishes are made fresh; the specials will change frequently and the menu will be adapted to the seasons. Until Hickey has a liquor license, diners are permitted to bring their own alcohol and the staff will chill, uncork and serve the drinks for a small fee.

We are so appreciative of the help we received from family, friends and Morrison’s. They all helped make this possible.

Opening a restaurant is stressful and difficult at any time, but COVID restrictions and safety procedures can add another level of work and stress to the task. The Hickeys have been scrubbing and sanitizing, and they’ve installed UV lights that will sanitize the air inside the restaurant. Casey has a large family and Tom expressed his gratitude for their help with the preparation – he gestured toward a window and explained how all the large items had to be lifted through the window to the kitchen. The Hickeys also shared how Morrison’s Inc. (Casey’s employer) offered support and expert advice. “We are so appreciative of the help we received from family, friends and Morrison’s. They all helped make this possible.”

As Casey unpacked items for the dining room décor, Tom explained that the restaurant will begin with the single large dining room. There is room to accommodate nearly 50 diners with social distancing, and outdoor seating will be added when the weather is warm enough. The bistro tables will surely be the most requested seats when the weather allows diners to sit beneath the awnings and watch the river traffic glide by. In the future, the smaller dining room will be renovated to provide an intimate space for small gatherings and private events.

On February 17th and 18th, the restaurant will have a soft opening hosting family, friends and industry supporters by invitation. On the 19th, the Levee House Bistro will open its doors to the public from 5-9:00 p.m. for dinner. Hickey said the limited hours will allow the staff to hone their routine and work out any problems before expanding service and adding lunch hours. Reservations will be taken until 8:30 p.m., and although he encourages reservations, walk-in customers will be welcomed. As of publication time, there were still some available tables for opening night. The restaurant will also offer curbside service and is using DoorDash for local delivery; customers can use Facebook to place orders.

In the days leading up to the opening, Hickey has been posting photos of various dishes and finally photos of the menu itself. If the excited comments are any indication, he can expect a full house in no time. When visitors enter the old doors into the dining room, they might feel a sense of familiarity in the comfortable surroundings. But they will find a new menu of delicious meals prepared by a talented new chef. Chef Tom Hickey and wife Casey said “We just want people to feel welcome and enjoy some great food on the riverfront.”  There is no doubt that the Levee House Bistro will achieve that goal, and the historic building’s new life will be a successful one.