If you're really into video games, you may already know about Nerdvana Cafe, a coffeehouse that opened in Frisco in June with both a serious coffee program and board games. Now the cafe has a newly opened sibling restaurant next door called Nerdvana Food + Spirits, which brings together the unique combination of a video game-friendly environment with an upscale menu from a gifted chef.
The concept comes from chef Mike Junio and his sister Kristy Pitchford, who previously had a catering company together. Pitchford's husband, Randy Pitchford, is CEO of Gearbox, a video game company based in Frisco.
"Gearbox was relocating to a new building, and we thought we would open a little restaurant on the ground floor," Junio says. "Kristy saw a bar in Brisbane, Australia, where you could play video games while sitting at the bar, and we said, 'Let’s do something like that in Frisco.'"
They opened the coffeehouse as an interim step. "The building houses about 280 employees, and they were eager for a place to get coffee in the area," Junio says.
At the coffee bar, they bring in guest roasts from around the country; every month, they sell the beans and serve the coffee in-house. They also host a lending library with 200 board games you can play while you sip your latte and snack on toasts. Yes, they have toasts.
"We have an aggressive toast menu, it's a unique concept with Texas toast," Junio says. There are toasts topped with avocado, tomato, and red onion; pesto and veggies; strawberries and whipped cream; and Caprese with tomato and mozzarella.
Nerdvana Food + Spirits is even more ambitious, with seating for 330 — 220 inside and 110 on the patio — and a full menu where everything is from scratch, including butchering their own meats and making their pasta in-house.
"All of the recipes on the menu have been created specifically for this restaurant," Junio says. "I worked with consultant Mark Brezinski, we explored all of the chef-driven restaurants in the Metroplex and figured out what worked."
Appetizers range from crab cakes to crostini to "bass bites," beer-battered chunks of striped bass with a curry tartar sauce. Sandwiches are "melts," like fancy grilled cheese, with shaved rib-eye, fried chicken, or one with caramelized onion and Gruyere cheese that's like a sandwich version of French onion soup.
Entrées include rib-eye, brick chicken, and prawns gratin — a casserole with prawns, peas, and cauliflower in a cream sauce, ladled over griddled rice cakes, and broiled. Entrée prices start at $22 for pappardelle pasta with vegetables and max out at $40 for a rib-eye with garlic mashed potatoes and broccolini.
The menu uses video game terms for a theme. For example, appetizers are called "multi player," implying they can be shared. Sandwiches are called "hand helds," as in a video game you can play on a mobile device.
The bar has play stations and TVs, where up to a dozen people can play together. There are also seven booths with old-style video game consoles built-in. Everything is high-end, thanks to the participation of Plan B, the design group led by restaurant industry veteran Royce Ring. Where else can you sit in an upscale bar with a cocktail while playing Final Fantasy?
According to Junio, the average video gamer is 24- to 40-years-old. "Most games are geared towards adults," he says. "Games are $60 each. Kids don't have that kind of money. And video games provide a lot more entertainment value than going out to a movie; you get hundreds of hours from a game. It's a growing demographic.
"This is about giving a classy nod to the nerd culture," he says.