New Owners at 21 Federal on Nantucket

New Owners at 21 Federal

Scott Fraley, Amanda Lydon, and Gabriel Frasca at the 2010 Nantucket Wine Festival

The management team of Straight Wharf Restaurant has taken over operations of 21 Federal restaurant. Chefs Amanda Lydon and Gabriel Frasca, along with General Manager Scott Fraley and Jock Gifford recently signed the new lease, and expect to open in time for the Nantucket Wine Festival, then open at least through Columbus Day.

21 first opened in 1985 as a year round fine dining restaurant under owners Chick and Mary Walsh, Michael Maloney, and David Fine. Nelson Doubleday became the majority owner sometime in the 90’s, and did not to renew his lease this year.

I asked Gabriel if he knew yet at which restaurant he and Amanda would be spending most of their time, or more to the point, who will be the chefs at both restaurants?

“Amanda and I will have a strong chef de cuisine at all three locations (Provisions, Straight Wharf, and 21). Mayumi Hattori, who has worked with me for eight-ish years, is already in place at Straight Wharf, and we have started to target a few candidates for the other two positions. Amanda and I will spread our time amongst all three places. One piece of the puzzle that fit so nicely when we were considering 21 was that this coming year we are very fortunate to have almost all of the Straight Wharf kitchen returning. That will prove incredibly helpful given the attention and energy necessary to get 21 to where we’d like it to be (or at least close). Straight Wharf is not a baby anymore, and though it still needs parenting, I think it will be good for it (and our incredible, dedicated staff) to take some steps on its own.”

I’d been hearing that the new 21, whatever it will be called (the name may not be available), was to be an “Italian restaurant”, which would increase the number of Italian restaurants from 2 in 2010 to 4 in 2011, so I asked Gabriel to clarify.

“21 will not be just an ‘Italian restaurant.’ It will be a Nantucket restaurant, seasonal, local, hand-crafted and modern, filtered through an Italian lens. Calling it an Italian restaurant will not be a limiting factor at all.”

“Italian cooking to me is the least humble of the peasant cuisines. One of its gifts is coaxing the best flavor and texture out of a secondary cut of meat, or often overlooked fish. In other words, roasting a pork shoulder instead of a chop, or a lamb belly instead of its loin. And, with the help of today’s cooking tools (circulators and planchas, for example), we hope to be able to fully realize those techniques.

“I never think of us as being in competition with other restaurants on the island – Italian or otherwise. Enough diners will come into our restaurant once, and if we do our jobs well enough – provide great service, warmth, genuine hospitality, good and interesting food, offer value, and leave our guests with the feeling that they’d like to come back – we’ll have a successful season. If we do that for a few seasons in a row, hopefully we’ll become a part of people’s lives and of their traditions.”

It’s too early in the process for Gabriel to name any of the dishes that may appear on the menu, but he did talk about his general concept.

“I think you’ll see sharable tastes of things as cheap as five dollars, pastas in the low double digits that could be doubled and turned into entrees, and some fish and meat items priced as high as the low-mid thirties. If we can find a great, local, humane steak that we feel good about serving, it will probably come with a low-interest loan.”

Will you be baking your own bread on the premises?

“As at SWR, 21 will be a scratch house where we make everything on premises, including (as of this writing), all of our pastas.”

Dinners are a given. What about lunch?

“Lunch and brunch are definitely possible. I would love to see the back patio filled with happy diners as much of the day as possible.”

Bartenders. Any thoughts?

“21 has a wonderful tradition of great bartenders, and we’d certainly be interested in working with people like that in the future. I’d be very disappointed if there weren’t lots of familiar faces smiling back at you this year.”

And the back bar?

“It’s fair to say that we are interested in making the back bar more open, not less.”

Do you expect to attract the same clientele as 21, or would you be looking change it in any way?

“We’d of course like better-looking diners, big tippers, and perhaps an aging philanthropist looking to adopt a mid-30’s father of two. All kidding aside, we are not presumptuous enough to try to choose our clientele. Hopefully the new 21 will still appeal to guests who have always liked it, and maybe pique the interest of those who haven’t been in for a while. We will work ridiculously hard, hew closely to what we believe in, and hope to find like-minded individuals who dig what we do. Clearly, there are a lot of 21 regulars who will be justifiably disappointed that a place they love is not coming back. That just makes it more imperative that we provide true hospitality from the moment we open our doors, as we try to convince people that change can be a positive.””

Any planned changes down at Straight Wharf?

“There are always refinements and improvements planned for the mothership, but nothing terribly drastic. In fact, this year, more than any other, I hope that no one will notice a difference.”

Any other thoughts?

“Just that we are thrilled, scared and humbled by this opportunity. We weren’t hoping to see 21 Federal leave, but once it became clear that that was the case, we jumped at the opportunity to write the next chapter.”

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