Make us your home page

Hernando's celebrity chef, Kevin Howe, returns, promising some new twists

SPRING HILL — Dressed in his white linen chef's jacket, Kevin Howe seems to glide across the floor in the dining room of his restaurant when he sees a customer waving to him. On a typical Wednesday morning, a few minutes before lunchtime, he stops to chat with a couple finishing their breakfast at Chef's Cafe.

"How was everything?" he asks the woman, a new customer to his establishment.

Howe has always been eager to know what his customers think about his cooking. But with his latest restaurant venture just taking off, opinions on everything — food, service and decor — are essential.

"It's wonderful, just wonderful," she tells Howe with a smile. "We'll definitely be back, and soon!"

After a four-year hiatus, Hernando County's very own celebrity chef is back doing what he loves most: serving as captain of his own culinary ship. The ponytailed kitchen impresario — who parlayed an in-house specialty at the former County Line Cafe & Grille into a contest finalist a few years ago on the nationally televised Live! With Regis and Kelly show — has returned to the location at U.S. 19 and County Line Road where he launched his first Hernando dining establishment.

And Howe's longtime customers couldn't be more thrilled. In early April, as Howe and his wife, Karen, were cleaning and readying the establishment, many of them stopped by to check on the progress.

"When customers tell you how they missed you, it means a lot," Howe said. "I've missed it, too. It's where I share my heart and soul every day."

The 40-seat restaurant where the Howes introduced customers to Kevin's skill at creating fare such as chicken brandy walnut Gruyere, pan-seared scallops with apple brandy cream sauce and she-crab soup, plus what many considered to be the tastiest homemade raisin bread they'd ever eaten, has gotten a new life.

Now sporting cheery sunflower-yellow walls and hand-painted brick inlays, the interior reflects the couple's renewed vigor for playing host to delighted diners. It also reflects a change in the Howes' approach to the restaurant business, Kevin said.

"The restaurant business means that you put in long hours, and you can't do that without the right attitude," he said. "We decided to come back because we really wanted to, but we knew that we had to do it smarter than we did it before."

Howe, who has spent most of his adult life working in commercial kitchens, and for more than a decade was a chef at some of the Florida Keys' toniest dining establishments, decided in 2010 that it was time to take a break from the business. He and his wife sold the restaurant they had operated for 10 years to new owners and settled into a life that revolved comfortably around more family time with their daughter, Ronnie.

Howe, however, never let his culinary creativity go idle. He worked part time in a number of Hernando establishments, including the former Duke's American Grill, the Palace Grand and, finally, at Timber Pines Country Club. When he learned his former restaurant was available for lease, he was immediately intrigued by opportunity to once again be independent and creative in the kitchen.

"We didn't want to go back and re-create the past," Howe said. "We wanted something totally different, something fresh with some new twists along the way."

Indeed, Howe's approach will be to use more locally grown produce and locally caught seafood in an effort to hold down prices. He also wants to spend more time exploring and tweaking his recipes.

Breakfast might include interesting variations such as sweet potato pancakes, eggs Benedict with biscuit gravy, or a variety of breakfast burritos. The lunch menu includes new items such as French bread pizzas, wraps and taco salads.

Dinner specials will flourish from Howe's creative prowess, from favorites such as prime rib, to pork, chicken and pasta entrees.

Much of the renewed focus will be on healthier eating trends such as gluten-free breads, and he wants to add more vegetarian choices for his customers who choose to forgo meat.

Howe promises plenty of surprises along the way.

"People who know me know that I like playing with food," he said with a laugh. "That's a given with me. I don't think I was made to be ordinary in the kitchen."

Logan Neill can be reached at or (352) 848-1435.

>>fast facts

More information on Chef's Cafe

Chef's Cafe is at 120 Commercial Way, Spring Hill. Hours are from 7 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Monday through Wednesday, 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. Thursday through Saturday and 7 a.m. to 1 p.m. Sunday. For dinner reservations, call (352) 606-3970. For information, visit the restaurant's Facebook page.

Hernando's celebrity chef, Kevin Howe, returns, promising some new twists 04/30/14 [Last modified: Wednesday, April 30, 2014 8:37pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. For Gov. Rick Scott, 'fighting' could mean vetoing entire state budget

    State Roundup

    Every day, Gov. Rick Scott is getting a lot of advice.

    The last time a Florida governor vetoed the education portion of the state budget was in 1983. Gov. Bob Graham blasted fellow Democrats for their “willing acceptance of mediocrity.”
  2. Potential new laws further curb Floridians' right to government in the Sunshine

    State Roundup

    TALLAHASSEE — From temporarily shielding the identities of murder witnesses to permanently sealing millions of criminal and arrest records, state lawmakers did more this spring than they have in all but one of the past 22 years to chip away at Floridians' constitutional guarantees to access government records and …

    The Legislature passed 17 new exemptions to the Sunshine Law, according to a tally by the First Amendment Foundation.
  3. Data breach exposes 469 Social Security numbers, thousands of concealed weapons holders


    Social Security numbers for up to 469 people and information about thousands of concealed weapons holders were exposed in a data breach at Florida the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. The breach, which the agency believes happened about two weeks ago, occurred in an online payments system, spokesperson …

    Commissioner of Agriculture Adam Putnam on Monday that nearly 500 people may have had their Social Security numbers obtained in a data breach in his office.
[Times file photo]

  4. Trigaux: Can Duke Energy Florida's new chief grow a business when customers use less power?


    Let's hope Harry Sideris has a bit of Harry Houdini in him.

    Duke Energy Florida president Harry Sideris laid out his prioriities for the power company ranging from improved customer service to the use of more large-scale solar farms to provide electricity. And he acknowledged a critical challenge: People are using less electricity these days. [SCOTT KEELER   |   Times]
  5. Citigroup agrees to pay nearly $100 million fine for Mexican subsidiary


    NEW YORK — Citigroup has agreed to pay nearly $100 million to federal authorities to settle claims that a lack of internal controls and negligence in the bank's Mexican subsidiary may have allowed customers to commit money laundering.

    Citigroup has agreed to pay nearly $100 million to federal authorities to settle claims that a lack of internal controls and negligence in the bank's Mexican subsidiary may have allowed customers to commit money laundering. 
[Associated Press file photo]