The Chanticleer -August 2007

Revival of a Sconset Icon

by: M. R. Stanton

photography by: Nicole HarnishfegerThe Chanticleer has always been more of a total culinary experience than just a mere restaurant, largely due

The Chanticleer has always been more of a total culinary experience than just a mere restaurant, largely due to the efforts of Jean-Charles Berruet, who owned the restaurant with his then-wife Anne, for 35 years.

Under Berruet, a classically-trained French chef from Brittany, The Chanticleer developed into a dining destination, boasting an impressive wine list to pair with matchless cuisine. Lunch or dinner at The Chanticleer in Berruet’s heyday was an experience to savor and remember.

When the Berruets decided to sell The Chanticleer in the fall of 2005, the choice was whether to sell it to someone who would keep it as a restaurant, or to someone who would convert the property to a private residence. Sconset residents were adamant in their feelings that their community would be best served by keeping The Chanticleer open to the public as a restaurant. After all, there is only one other fine-dining restaurant, The Summer House, supplemented by the tiny Sconset Café and Claudette’s, a sandwich shop. The Chanticleer’s location opposite the hub of Sconset summer activity, the Sconset Casino, was another reason why residents of the village wanted it open to them and the public.

The challenge for any new tenant of the property was what to do with it and how to carve out their own identity in the shadow of Berruet’s ghost. The answer was to keep the name, change the cuisine to an adaptation of French bistro fare and to start their own traditions.

Susan Handy and Jeff Worster are comfortably into their second season of breathing new life into Sconset’s storied Chanticleer. Last year, they opened the New Street restaurant after the building lay vacant for a season following its sale in the fall of 2005 to a group of Sconset residents for $4 million. Handy and Worster, who have successfully owned and run Black-Eyed Susan’s for over a decade, were the new owners’ choice as the culinary couple who could revive the revered Sconset icon.

The first challenge was to refurbish the building and bring it up to code. While the kitchen was in fine shape, the multiple dining rooms on the interior were on different levels and access to restrooms was problematic in some instances. Floors were refurbished and leveled between the kitchen and the main dining room and the bar area. No more steps up and steps down for servers or patrons of a certain age. The upstairs, often used as a private dining room for parties of 50-60, was given a face lift. The result was a huge improvement for patrons and waitstaff.

Deciding what to serve was the easy part. The menu would be more accessible, less pricey, but definitely French. Whereas The Chanticleer of Jean-Charles Berruet reflected his disciplined classical French training with traditional dishes and sauces, Worster’s food is more interpretive of the French style and less rigid.

There is no coq au vin or tomato tart on puff pastry or escargots bourguignonne. There is, however, a lovely sole meuniere, delicious duck confit and some excellent cod beignets- a signature dish of the new Chanticleer. The roses still lend their fragrant perfume to the garden, though the carousel horse and hanging fuschia plants are gone, and nibbling on lobster salad while sipping a fine Meursault on the patio is still one of the most heavenly experiences on this eastern end of the island.

The Chanticleer has had several owners under the same name over the lifetime of this writer: The Wiley family in the 1950s and 1960s, the Berruet era from 1970 to 2005 and now the latest iteration with Susan Handy and Jeff Worster at the helm. Each restaurateur served their own style of food and put their own mark on the place, but for all, the magic of Sconset held sway making a meal there an unforgettable experience.

M.R. Stanton writes about food, wine and travel for Nantucket Today.

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