DINING A LA KING: Restaurant owner turns the heat up on flavor!

Sean Kelley lives with the name on his restaurant.

Temper Grille a constant reminder of who he was and who he wants to be instead.

He was fired from Ruth’s Chris in September 2009 after bringing a disagreement to work and acting out. He was known for his temper.

He says he was mean to his friends, even to his mom. “There’s a lot of good stories out there,” he said. He says he was a jerk, but uses a word that puts a finer point on it.

But after opening his own restaurant built on a menu of appetizers, he’s mellowed. He had kids and got married. He battled the demon to become a kinder-hearted soul. “Just don’t mess with family,” he said.

Temper, which opened in April 2010, is by nearly all accounts successful. It has a devoted following of young and older who like to come order several dishes. Kelley is handing over control to Roman Yoder in the front of the house and Chef Ryan Emmons in the tiny kitchen. Business is good and the small restaurant at 1213 E. University Drive, Granger, is usually full.

Letting go has been work, but stress has gone done and it’s given him time to do something new. As soon as all the permits are in place, there will be a Temper Grille in Boca Raton, Fla. His business partner Erick Guerra wanted one there and Kelley has been working to make it happen.

The new Temper there will be double the size and have a full bar instead of only beer and wine as there is in Granger. The menu will be much the same, but Boca Raton and Granger have different demographics, evidenced by kosher Jewish deli near the Florida location.

“Florida’s going to be great. It’s just hard right now,” Kelley said of waiting to open.

Temper Grille in Granger already uses fresh fish that arrives daily. Lobster is used for both bites and macaroni and cheese. Ingredients from closer to home include duck from Maple Leaf Farms, potatoes from Arthur Snyder’s farm west of South Bend and sauces from Sunny’s Korean.

Kelley, Emmons and Yoder then cook and taste to get what they love and what the customers will love.

Kelley engineered a process to make some of the best chicken wings in the area. They’re brined for seven day, smoked 30 at a time on an itty, bitty smoker, fried and sauced. “I didn’t want to just create a wing. I wanted to make a statement,” Kelley said.

The sauces range from garlic butter to hotter than even the heat-loving regulars can withstand. They don’t just make a statement with heat, but with flavor.

The series of “bites” using various meats have fans, but I’d take the Temper Noodles over them. Yoder could buy fresh ramen at a store down the street from where he lived in China for five months when he was teaching English there. Turns out Temper can get the same noodles and use them in a dish that has fresh vegetables and a meat or fried egg if you choose.

The sauce and spice is glorious. The noodles resist a bit when you bite them. It’s simply a great dish at a place that has the freedom to go any direction to create a great tapas plate.

The menu is smaller than it was, but Emmons is offering six or more weekly specials. This time of year, he’s offering a braised short rib and arctic char, which are both good. He’s a young chef with good training and is learning how to oversee a kitchen.

Temper Grille started as and remains a 21-and-over wine bar, though the craft beer offerings are remarkable. Kelley is a collector and aficionado and you can spend about as much as you want on a bottle of wine from his collection.

Temper isn’t a cheap date night. Dishes are $8 to $20 and the check average is $65 to $70, Kelley said. Yet he regularly offers Groupons and advertises discounts on the radio.

Yoder and others on staff provide attentive, informed service, the kind that helps a newcomer work into the menu and understand it better. It’s not easy to find such service and a treat when it works. “It’s that service that really defines a restaurant,” Kelley said.

Kelley has mellowed, but that doesn’t mean he’s always a teddy bear. Online reviews still rankle him. Yet he’s established a popular restaurant and is now opening an outpost that could lead to more.

He’s become an owner and teacher rather than the chef ranting in the kitchen. That’s no small thing. “Temper Grille. It’s perfect. It’s a constant reminder of what I’ve become,” he said.

I’m hungry. Let’s eat.

If You Want to Go

Temper Grille is located at 1213 E. University Drive, Granger.

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