New Kids on the Mid-Island Block -Fall 2015

by: Dean Geddes

photography by: Jonathan Nimerfroh

With this summer’s opening of GREY LADY and ATLAS BBQ & FISH HOUSE, and ISLAND KITCHEN already firmly ensconced on Chin’s Way, the small area across from the new Stop & Shop is being transformed into a vibrant culinary pocket in the heart of the mid-island. These restaurants have been offering top-caliber food in a less hectic setting than downtown all summer, and they plan to continue doing so throughout the fall and beyond.

The evolution of the area began in 2013, when Patrick Ridge, former chef at Le Languedoc, took his Culinary Institute of America-trained cooking experience and opened ISLAND KITCHEN in the space that was formerly The Hen House.

While Ridge was trained with a background in fine dining, he decided to serve classic American fare, concentrating on local, rustic ingredients.

At dinnertime, however, his fine-dining and European training shine through with a mix of more complex flavors like the wiener schnitzel, veal pounded thin and fried, served with asparagus over a mustard and white-wine sauce; and classics like a black Angus burger and fries.

But Ridge still keeps the classic rustic theme at dinner with a seasonal menu, which this summer included classic New England fare like lobster dinners with fresh

Bartlett Farm corn. There are also the fried clams, which Ridge says, “I think we have the best on the island.” It’s hard to argue. The breading is perfection.

The decor is simple and cozy at Island Kitchen, and perhaps it’s that cozy atmosphere that gives it a very local feel. Many of the regular customers, especially those in the morning, don’t have to pick up a menu, and if they’re not known by name, they’re known by their order.

“My hope is that I’ll get to know you, and my staff will get to know you and your preferences. There’s a sense of community that comes along with that and I really love that,” Ridge said.

“I knew when we were out here we weren’t going to be able to cook for hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of people. I wanted to serve the local community as much as we could. That’s what keeps us going. We’re busy here ten and a half months, a solid nine anyway.” In the three years that Ridge has owned and operated Island Kitchen – until this summer anyway – the restaurant was next door to the building that housed the former Bamboo Supper Club, a now defunct bar and restaurant perhaps best known for its late-night rowdiness. After knowing nothing but an empty building since he opened, Ridge said he is ecstatic about having a new restaurant next door, GREY LADY.

“No one is more excited than me to see people spending money in the building next door. It’s been closed all the years that I had been here. Just to have neighbors, I’m so excited about that. It helps further legitimize the area for dining and brings more people to the area,” he said.

Now with new neighbors in town, Ridge has decided to step up his game as well. He has redesigned the front of his building, installing a brick patio lined with flower boxes and adding seats and tables of rich mahogany.

“I felt strongly that there were new guys coming into my neighborhood and I wanted to show that I cared about my building and my space. I wanted to spend that money. I wanted them to feel some curb appeal here and great neighbors,” he said.

The original Grey Lady, located on Manhattan’s Lower East Side, is a successful restaurant and bar coowned by Ryan Chadwick, Callum McLaughlin and his twin brother Gavin, who have now set up in the very home of their business’ namesake. The trio have been seasonal residents of Nantucket growing up and named their original location after the hazy fog that often blankets the island they loved. They partnered at the Chin’s Way location with Ian Perry, who has been part of the restaurant scene on Nantucket for over a decade, a majority of that time bartending at The Pearl, The Boarding House and 21 Federal.

Grey Lady offers a bountiful menu caught fresh from the sea, with entrées from Tuna Tartare to Swordfish Kabobs. All sounded tantalizing, but it’s said that head chef Dave Nevins best showcases his talent with the daily specials, so I tried the Pan-seared Red Snapper over Seasoned Rice with Avocado Creme. The flavors were incredible on their own, but what really stood out was how the fish was cooked. It was seared perfectly with a crunchy top and a moist filet that flaked apart with a fork.

“In all the places, we do a lot of the classics – chowder, lobster rolls, oysters – and then we let the chefs do their own interpretations off of that,” Callum said.

There’s also plenty to like if you’re not into seafood, like the crispy pork short ribs appetizer, a mixture of sweet and savory in a black peppercorn caramel sauce that tastes as good as it sounds.

“Mid-island wasn’t always associated with fine-dining. I don’t mean fine dining in the white tablecloth sense. But I think a big game-changer was Pi Pizzeria. I think they showed other people it was possible to be a mid-island success. It was a great place to have a nice dining experience and not mess with the downtown traffic and parking,” Perry said.

“Mid-island I think first and foremost just has a longer season. The energy right now in the summer is downtown, by the waterfront. But once the season turns to fall, which I think is everyone’s favorite season that lives here, the local people kind of come back to the rotary. So we’re excited.

“It’s not a coincidence that restaurants all pop up next to each other. It’s a complementary relationship. Now people can come, park and have an app at Island Kitchen, a drink here or vice-versa while they’re deciding where to eat. There’s conceivably four different restaurants you can walk to from here,” he said.

One of them is ATLAS BBQ & FISH HOUSE, opened by Brandt and Gabrielle Gould in late June after they renovated the space formerly occupied by Pazzo at the corner of Pleasant Street and Chin’s Way.

The Goulds know all about the challenges of running restaurants, having opened Cambridge Street in town in 1995 and selling it in 2006. Gabrielle said there were major benefits to the in-town location, like the constant customer traffic in the summer months. But they decided to open their new venture in the mid-island because they could see the changing dynamic of the area.

“Part of what made this space really attractive to us was that we saw this neighborhood having a revival. The Stop & Shop wasn’t open yet but we could see what it was going to be. We knew about Grey Lady, and Island Kitchen really has a great buzz about it. And Pi Pizza and Kitty’s have been here for years,” Gabrielle said.

Atlas BBQ & Fish House serves mouth-watering barbecue, from the Wet Sauced Baby Back Ribs, reminiscent of the Cambridge Street classic, to brisket and pulled pork. On a Friday evening, Brandt was in the process of pulling a full pig roast out of the smoker for that night’s feast as part of a parking-lot pig roast. It’s a concept they are thinking about continuing, making it a weekly or monthly event.

But Atlas is more than just a barbecue joint. It’s a seafood restaurant serving up everything from Tuna Niçoise to Baked Swordfish and Pan-Roasted Halibut in a sophisticated setting. A late-summer special was local, fresh-caught scup with grilled peaches, part of the Goulds’ philosophy of concentrating on fresh local bounty found in the surrounding waters.

Managing the opening of a new restaurant at the height of the summer is hectic work, and the Goulds are looking forward to making improvements in the fall. Atlas, like Grey Lady and Island Kitchen, will be offering diners a wide-range of options throughout the year.

“We’re here for the long haul, year-round as part of the community. We wanted another place where we can go all year long and get a great, high-quality meal and it doesn’t have to be the 12-week season,” Gabrielle said. “Our businesses are going to be the places in September, October, November. We’re still going to be doing really nice numbers and people will be really appreciative.” ///

Dean Geddes is a reporter for The Inquirer and Mirror.

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