We’re at Robin’s Nest, Norwood’s new main street eatery, and this is co-owner and chef Scott Dorf, talking to four guys sitting at the table next to us. Clearly, it was time to look into this new place and its hardworking owners, Scott and Robin Dorf.
On a recent Saturday morning, the place is humming. Mid apologies about being so busy, I follow Robin to the back kitchen – where she’s about to fill three big pie shells. Lustrous stainless steel is the mode here – refrigerators, freezers, shelves, and the table top where she’s doing the pies. I’ve already gotten in a few words with Scott, and although I offer to come back later, both say, no, no, stay. Conversations are going to be on-the-fly.
Robin’s called away a couple of times, but we settle in as she finishes doing the pies. For both of them, “cooking is our passion,” she says. The Hawaii part happened because Scott, pretty much a career military guy (Marines and Navy), was stationed there. They’d planned long and hard for the day Scott would retire and they’d come back to Colorado – he’d fallen in love with Colorado when, age 7, he visited an uncle in Snowmass. They’d open their own bakery and cafe in Colorado. Within 60 miles of a ski area, preferably on the Western Slope. From their earlier research, the Dorfs pegged Norwood as the most likely small town to fit their plans.
Robin grew up in Summers, Ark., “a post office, one gas station” town near Fayetteville. She is tallish. Her serious brown eyes set off a cheery face and brown hair pulled back in a ponytail. A long, white, no-nonsense apron covers a dark sleeveless shift. Her hands confidently fly over the pie shells as she explains that her family background included farming, although her father operated a trucking business and sold farm equipment, while her Mom was postmaster. Inspired by her grandmother, “who always cooked,” Robin says she simply “grew up cooking.” She majored in psychology and criminal justice at the university, in Fayetteville. Scott, meanwhile, who’d attended University of Colorado, in Boulder, was a Marine stationed in Arlington, Va.
In 1995 their paths crossed on the internet – a kind of university chat room, Robin explains.
After graduation, she was heading off to Washington, D.C., to try for a job with the Justice Department. Scott, who knew something about the capitol, offered guidance. Two years later they were married. Among other things, there was their mutual enthusiasm for cooking. Scott says for a seventh grade science project, he prepared and served a nine- course Chinese meal -- for the entire c lass. Watching Scott bustle around the Robin’s Nest is part of the very pleasant ambiance of the place. No hint of a U.S Marine Corps officer here. A genial host, Scott is trim, soft-spoken, with a slim mustache and slightly thinning brown hair that tends toward his collar in the back.
The Dorfs have taken great care in remodeling the beautifully preserved historic 1891 main street house, located next door to the Norwood Post Office. The exterior in front is untouched, while the interior retains its remarkable period feel. They’ve widened doorways that now connect and open several dining spaces to an easy traffic flow.
The central kitchen is the hub. When customers step up to the counter to order, they look right into the kitchen. There are special nooks, games and a generous TV room, for kids. Perhaps this is because Myriah, their almost-7-year-old daughter, spends most of her time there during the summer. Kids, you can see, are very welcome here. Scott, who is Jewish, tells anyone who’s interested, that the cafe follows kosher guidelines – they serve no pork and no shellfish. The Robin’s Nest is open for three meals daily, seven days a week. They have six staffers and plan to hire two more.
The menu, which changes daily, has a distinctive international flavor –Cilantro Lime Chicken, with beans and salsa. Scott explains to diners that Garbonzo and Eggplant Stew with creamy tomato sauce and jasmine rice is set off by a distinctive blend of East Indian spices. A doubled-sided A-shaped sidewalk-signboard announces the mouth-watering daily lunch and dinner specials – and sandwiches are available all day.
The Dorfs, now thirtyish, say this commercial enterprise “just evolved” from Scott’s time in the service, where they delighted in cooking and serving dinners, often on holidays or special occasions, for dozens of single sailors far from home. Later, when Scott was a Marine officer, they put on impressive feasts for his fellow officers. At their various stations – including duty in Puerto Rico – Robin held jobs in social work, often counseling service families adjusting to the complexities of separation or overseas living.
Robin says she’s a person of “deep faith” – a Christian who believes that God has directed them to Norwood. She’s not worried about Norwood’s half-dozen other restaurants – The Back Narrows Inn dining room and Two Candles opened after the Dorfs started reconstruction on their project. The work involved digging a large basement, which they use for storage, building the whole kitchen, adapting the interior space for dining and adding a small apartment for themselves. The floor space is now double what it was when its original owner, George W. King called it home.
There’s something very gracious and welcoming about this place. The Dorfs enjoy the sense of serving others. Add that to their passion for cooking and it’s easy to see that Scott and Robin have made this what Robin calls “a gathering place.”