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A tiny little restaurant with a big personality

Nibbles in Miamisburg celebrated its second birthday last month.

While relatively new to the local dining scene, it has left a big impression on many diners, including myself, thanks to the playful creativity and deliciously wonderful execution of the food.

The genius of what’s happening at this tiny restaurant in Miamisburg — with one of the biggest personalities on a plate that you will find — is thanks to Maria Walusis, chef and owner of Nibbles Restaurant and Catering.

If you don’t recognize her name, now is the time to take note. Walusis has a passion for food that was a calling and a longtime coming. Based on what she has accomplished in two-years and the meals she has been serving up, there are plenty of great things still to come.

Pursuing a passion for cooking

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All you have to do is listen to her story and that will become crystal clear.

Here it is, in her own words …

“I started my working life in restaurants, waiting tables from my high school years until I graduated college. But with a degree from Ohio State in dental hygiene, the next 25 years of my life were spent in that field. I have always had a love for cooking and food, and over the years that passion grew to a point where I decided to make a career change.

“When I decided to seriously pursue becoming a chef, I was working a full-time day job at a dental office. I devoured everything I could about cooking, food, and being a chef. I read textbooks and cookbooks. I watched countless hours of shows. I cooked anything and everything. I took classes at a local cooking school, and eventually advanced to the point of teaching there. Chef Jeff Aylor ran that school, and his experience at the Culinary Institute of America, along with his strong encouragement, helped convince me I could do this.

“After talking with many chefs and touring culinary schools, I realized that school wasn’t the best option for a professional in my position. I already had many cooking skills and good basics, so it made much more sense to get hands-on training in restaurants. A French chef I met encouraged me to apprentice as my “school” as that is how everyone is trained in Europe.

“This made sense and I began to apprentice — or ‘stage’ — at L’Auberge right away. I worked my full-time day job, and then worked several nights a week at the restaurant until close. I bought textbooks from the Culinary Institute of America and studied them cover-to-cover. I worked under four different chefs over several years, at which point one of them hired me to help open a restaurant in Cincinnati, and train me further on the line. When I finished those 12 weeks with him, he said that was easily equal to a year of culinary school.

“At this stage, I launched a catering business on the weekends and continued to work with local chefs as a ‘gun for hire’ when they needed extra crew. This connected me with Chef Anne (Kearney) of Rue Dumaine, Chef Margot (Blondet) from Salar, and Chef Dana (Downs) from Roost.

“I worked many off-site events with these talented chefs and continued to learn and grow, while simultaneously developing a profitable catering business.

“I also prepared desserts for some local bars and restaurants, which gave me a great audience to develop my pastry skills and recipes. Many of the desserts I developed during that period make an appearance on my restaurant dessert menus.

“After several years of catering, I felt it was time to open a restaurant of my own. We found a small space in Miamisburg that was perfect for my first restaurant. I wanted a small, affordable place where I could learn the ropes of operating a restaurant. Having never done this before, I wanted to keep it manageable and minimize my overhead. Most people are unaware how insanely expensive it can be to run even a small restaurant.”

Menu changes every 8 weeks

Walusis’ approach to the business is as unusual as her journey to get there. With menus that change out every eight weeks, a range of preparations and ingredients and creative takes on classic and modern meals, Nibbles’ tag line “Experience Food” couldn’t be a more perfect fit.

The menu, food quality, plating and cooking has impressed me each time I’ve visited.

A recent trip out with the current menu, which was unveiled on Jan. 18, was every bit as delicious and well executed as I expected walking in.

The creamy mushroom bisque ($7) made with just the right amount of cream flavored with herbs and onion and packed with a variety of fresh mushrooms was delightfully light and a wonderful start to the meal.

The grilled octopus starter ($11) was tender, flavorful and the char was just right. The tender fingerling potatoes, fennel and zucchini melted in with each bite of the octopus, never overpowering it and always leaving it as the superstar on the plate. The grilled lemon served with it brought out more of the flavor after a generous squeeze.

And, oh my gosh, that Osso Buco ($34) I ordered … the veal came out fork-tender having been braised to simmering, succulent perfection, served over rosemary polenta with cipollini onions, duck fat-roasted carrots and gremolata. It’s every bit as good as it sounds, and a dish I would like to go back for before it leaves.

Walusis’ attention to detail can be seen in everything from the homemade, handmade pasta; the from-scratch desserts, the quality of the ingredients and even the selection of wine and craft cocktails that her husband, Eric, barman and front-of-house manager, oversees.

“I hear people all the time say how they go to ‘Restaurant X’ and always order the same thing. By changing our menu so frequently, we challenge our guests to keep tasting and trying new things and not get into a food rut. There is actually an industry term for it: ‘menu fatigue’ … and our original business plan stated as a goal that we want to avoid creating that problem. I also desire to keep learning and growing as a chef,” said Walusis.

Since she opened the restaurant, the range of cuisines she has chosen to showcase have taken her customers around the culinary world with dishes including French, Southern, Southwestern, Latin American, Spanish, Asian, Eastern European, Italian and more.

If you haven’t discovered Nibbles yet, now is the time. It’s a joy to see a chef that takes this much pleasure and joy in experimenting, learning and continuing to play in the kitchen. Even better than that is enjoying the meals she creates while doing it.

Dayton Eats looks at the regional food stories and restaurant news that make mouths water. Menu updates, special dinners and events, new chefs, interesting new dishes and culinary adventures. Do you know of new exciting format changes, specials, happy hours, restaurant updates or any other tasty news you think is worth a closer look at? E-mail Alexis Larsen at alexis.e.larsen@hotmail.com with the information and we will work to include it in future coverage.

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