It’s a hot, sunny Friday afternoon in Cuba, NY and after a 94-minute drive down to the Southern Tier, I’m standing in Iva Ann’s on Main—a new chef-driven restaurant in town. After welcoming me in, co-owner and head baker Melissa Halleck is telling me how the town is starting to attract a new kind of resident — the cosmopolitan remote worker.
“They just built these new modern apartments in town, and one of the guys that just moved in is from Connecticut,” she says. “He mostly works remotely, and he moved here because you can get a really nice place for cheap, compared to apartments in Connecticut.”
Small towns like Cuba are changing, and restaurants like Iva Ann’s are part of that change. When we think of chef-driven restaurants, we often think of cities, but with the concept getting more popular and “knowledge-based” remote workers trickling in, places like Iva Ann’s are finding you can serve elevated, whimsical food in a small town.
Rocking a Vans Off the Wall hat and a Morton’s Salt Umbrella Girl tattoo on his left arm, co-owner Paul Chapman Sidener is the other chef driving the menu at Iva Ann’s. After growing up and becoming a chef in Atlanta, he visited Cuba a few years back and when it was time to open a place where he could make his own food, he decided to get out of Atlanta’s pressure cooker restaurant scene.
The new Iva Ann’s is named after Sidener’s mother and the food gives an impression of who he and Halleck are as a couple. There are Southern classics, sandwiches, chef-y menu specials and handmade baked goods. The beverage options include wine, beer, iced tea, lemonade and soft drinks.
It’s a little bit country, a little bit rock-n-roll. Perhaps not surprisingly, it’s working. A recent menu special took the Chinese takeout classic kung pao chicken and turned it into a sloppy joe.
“When you eat kung pao chicken, it smacks you in the face, and that’s literally with this did,” he laughs. “I was thinking I probably went a little too far on that one, but we actually ended up selling like 20 of them.”
“We wanted it to be completely eclectic and to throw curveballs at people,” he continues. “Just do something completely different than what was already being offered. It seems like we have people’s attention at this point. They’re not looking at us like, ‘I don’t know what’s going on there.’ People are actually, kind of, starting to get it. It’s been a little bit of a surprise.”
The partners recently invited me and some guests down to check out the space and try out the menu. While the Iva Ann’s menu is pretty varied, the restaurant’s gotten known for Southern Cooking and killer sandwiches. We tried a dish of fried green tomatoes that harmonized bright, green tomato with a dill, buttermilk ranch and tangy feta cheese. Our house-roasted turkey club sandwich with bacon, smoked gouda, tomato, sprouts and Duke’s mayonnaise was a full-flavored take on the deli classic.
But the star of the show on our visit was the Yardbird Chicken sandwich. Once again, it’s a 94-minute drive down to Cuba from Buffalo, but this fried chicken sandwich was worth every minute, worth every mile, worth every tailgater and brake-pumper on the 400. With delicately crispy breading, instantly craveable Alabama white barbecue sauce and decadent pimento cheese spread, the Yardbird was like a trip to the Deep South in every bite. After about 7 or 8 minutes, the only thing left was my glistening fingers. Pesky evidence of the gluttony that had just occurred.
While the menu at Iva Ann’s can deliver brute force, it can also deliver delicacy. Our arancini were the crunchy, gooey spheres you know and love, but the rice interior was softly perfumed with welcome notes of lemon.
If Iva Ann’s is any proof, things are changing in Cuba. A recently renovated opera house down the street features a cheese museum and a modern café. There’s also an antique shop, with slabs of Christian vinyl sprinkled in amongst the classic rock. You may not be ready to live and work remotely from Cuba, but it’s definitely worth the 94-minute drive. Even if you only stop by to get that Yardbird sandwich.
Hours at time of publishing (Subject to change): Wednesday and Thursday 4 p.m. – 7 p.m., Friday and Saturday 11 a.m. – 7 p.m., Sunday to Tuesday CLOSED
Iva Ann’s on Main
29 East Main St. Cuba, NY 14727 • $$$$$
We are a small, cozy 39 seat fast casual restaurant offering a variety of food options featuring southern comfort food. Read Our Article About Their ...
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