"I was testing the waters," he said about opening a restaurant here. "I was planting seeds."
When the owner of the building on Gough Street asked him to change the vision of the space, formerly occupied by Cockey's Restaurant and Bar, he accepted. The restaurant is named after the owner's dog.
Mitchell, who has been a personal chef to celebrities like singer Mary J. Blige and actor and comedian Chris Tucker, describes his gastropub menu as having a "little upscale twist to it."
For instance, he cooks his bison burger in duck fat and bastes it with butter to keep the lean meat moist. It's an inspiring patty bolstered by caramelized onions, smoked Gouda and a horseradish-and-steak-sauce aioli.
But what first caught our attention was the Cheetos mac and cheese. It's more than a gimmick. It's a satisfying update of a familiar comfort food.
A small cast-iron skillet was delivered to our table filled with garden hues of green (peppers), red (tomatoes) and bright orange (a blend of five cheeses) tossed with cavatappi pasta.
Cheetos are part of the cheese sauce, which includes cream cheese, Parmesan, aged cheddar and smoked cheddar. It's a great way to eat the addictive snack food without getting orange stains on your fingers.
We sampled other items from the small-bites section of the menu, including the Caribbean jerk chicken skewers. Tender, spicy ribbons of chicken were threaded on small wooden sticks and served with soft plantains, both glistening with a captivating housemade Jamaican peach jerk sauce. The condiment is served on the side for dipping
The fine short-rib tacos were served open face, with shreds of the tequila-braised meat and pickled red cabbage atop zigzags of a tongue-tingling chipotle barbecue sauce and then punctuated with a cooling cilantro cream.
And while Ryder's is a tavern, its drink program is more sophisticated than at some neighborhood bars.
Sure, you'll find Natty Boh and orange crushes, but the shelves behind the bar are lined with an assortment of decent wines and liquors. Bottles of wine are half-price on Wednesdays from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m.
Signature cocktails include a whiskey smash with Lillet Rose, Sagamore rye, grapefruit, raspberry and mint, and an El Diablo with sloe gin and ginger beer. Various draft and domestic beers are offered, too.
The place is small. If you count the outside tables, it seats 50 people, who occupy bar stools with backs (thank you, management) and high-top tables inside.
Besides appetizers, patrons can choose from flatbreads, salads and big bites. The chef's choice entree (a rib-eye with side dishes) wasn't available the night we visited.
We didn't mind. Mitchell's shrimp and grits — a variation of a dish his mother, Leola Felder, originally from Charleston, S.C., makes — is a terrific taste of the South.
While soupier than some versions, it's a generous bowl of shrimp, andouille sausage, spicy Creole cream sauce and creamy Parmesan polenta.
This is the dish that took Mitchell to the second round in the eighth season of "Food Network Star," where he was a finalist.
We also enjoyed the Mediterranean naan flatbread. A crunchy base set the stage for caramelized onions, Kalamata olives and roasted red peppers dotted with feta cheese, Parmesan, cherry tomatoes and a swab of roasted garlic mint oil.
At Ryder's, you can end your meal with drinks like an Irish coffee or espresso martini. We decided on a nonalcoholic toasted marshmallow milkshake since the kitchen was out of its brioche bread pudding.
It was a disappointment. The milky beverage with an unmanageable glob of sticky marshmallow wasn't as appealing as the rest of dinner.