Eating at Waco Kitchen is an adventure.
“It's not your normal restaurant,” Executive Chef Nik Hancotte says. “You never know what you're going to see when you're here. The menu is always changing [with the season]. And it's a great way to look at the inside of a small biplane manufacturer. To see planes made in real time while you're visiting for lunch or dinner.”
Waco Kitchen is an extension of Waco, the biplane business. The owners wanted employees to have a good place to eat, but it’s become a premier restaurant in Battle Creek.
Panorama windows overlook the runway for the Battle Creek Executive Airport. Sometimes pilots will park their planes right outside the doors and come in for dinner. It’s fun to watch them land and take off, all part of the experience at Waco Kitchen.
Nik knew he wanted to be part of the culinary world since he was 10, going to Eastern Market in Detroit with his father or watching Food Network.
He started at his friend’s family restaurant before working at some of the best restaurants in Battle Creek, such as Umami Ramen and Nibi.
Nik has been with Waco Kitchen since it opened, reaching the height of executive chef within a year and a half.
Items like tacos and flatbreads are always in the menu (an easy way to remember how to pronounce “Waco” is that is rhymes with “taco”).
But it’s the seasonal menus where the staff’s diverse backgrounds really shine. Nik says he asks them what they are craving as the weather changes. In summer, it could include a refreshing shrimp pasta, in fall a shepard’s pie made with lamb, and for winter, it’s definitely comfort food.
Chicken picatta, one of his dad’s favorite dishes, makes an appearance on the winter menu. Nik learned a lot about loving food from his father.
“He worked a lot. He was a police officer for his entire career, for Battle Creek,” Nik says. “When he wasn't working, though, he was always cooking for the family.”
Picatta is a lightly breaded, pan-seared chicken cutlet cooked in a pan glazed with white wine, then chicken stock, capers, mushrooms, a little bit of cold butter and lemon juice are added. And don’t forget lots of parmesan cheese.
“I think less is more, especially when we have good ingredients – and local ingredients, for that matter,” Nik says.
Variety is also key to building the menu. Waco Kitchen is the only place in town where a group can order kimchi fried rice and pork chops.
And while you’re there, don’t miss out on the wine and cocktails. The owner of Waco not only makes biplanes, but makes wine and olive oil, as well. Each meal comes with fresh bread and the original olive oil for dipping.
It’s the Portuguese wine that really stands out, a red and a white that can pair with anything on the menu. Or indulge in a smokey old fashioned that’s as fun to watch as it is to drink.
If you want something extra special, make a resrvation for one of Waco Kitchen’s wine or cocktail dinners. They happen every couple of months and because it’s one night only, the chefs can cook some really complex dishes.
“The cocktail dinners and wine dinners are a lot of fun,” Nik says. “We can push ourselves and see what we can achieve.”
No matter what you order, whether it’s chicken piccata or a six-course meal with wine pairings, it’s sure to have the sophisticated flavors that Waco Kitchen is known for. Nik creates a menu that flies high – whether you arrive by car or airplane.