A lovingly restored building delivers meals that are earthy, unhurried, upscale and definitely all local.
The quiet surroundings of this agrarian hamlet extend into the reconstructed historic building on Manor Lane in Jamesport that houses the Jamesport Manor Inn. Across the street brown and white horses ruminate surrounded by fields extending to the west that will soon turn color as the sun sets. To the south, an apple farm, freshly shedded of blossoms, sits tight until the fall harvest. Behind the inn, shade trees line the parking lot. One scarcely
notices the delivery trucks bringing fresh produce and local fish, chicken and duck. Like many kitchens on the East End, Jamesport Manor’s has a back door that opens, not to an alley lined with Dumpsters, but to a backyard where an herb garden gets a regular haircut.
Inside, the kitchen is quiet as the staff prepares for a busy Memorial Day weekend. At the center of the quiet is chef Michael Mandleur, a native Long Islander who has spent his career cooking on the East End. Mandleur is hesitant to talk about his food. He’s worried about getting ready for the weekend, even though the first reservations are still a few hours away.
His quiet intensity is balanced by the smiley youth of his sous-chef, Tom Cooper, who at 21 is already a five-year veteran of the restaurant. A local guy, he started washing dishes and now is responsible for essentially making the kitchen run and preparing all the desserts. On the prospect of getting his picture taken, Mandleur nods toward Cooper, “He’ll do all the smiling for me,” he says.
Cooper beams, and the two geit back to work. Work on food that Mandleur is hesitant to describe, seeming more comfortable saying what it is not, instead of what it is.
But scanning the menu, which changes four times a year, it’s easy to see: It’s upscale yet earthy; specific ingredients are emphasized over sauces and reductions. The mizuna’s from Satur Farms, the duck is from Crescent, the oysters from Peconic Bay and a good 60 percent of the wines come from the North and South Forks.
“My food is straightforward—three ingredients on a plate,” says Mandleur. “It’s how I’ve always been cooking.” And he adds that working in many kitchens is the best way to learn because he’s seen how different chefs work. One big influence, he says, is Gerry Hayden, now chef/owner with his wife of the North Fork Table and Inn in Southold. Mandleur was a line cook under Hayden at East Hampton Point back in the ’90s. “With him, I got a better sense of food,” he says.
It’s showing up in dishes like oysters with a lemon granité, essentially a chunky sorbet that customers are now asking for on repeat visits. And the artichoke and tomato tortellini with shrimp and scallops, tomato confit, mushrooms and sherry wine oregano sauce, a dish Mandleur says is a good example of his style. The seafood is presented on its own, he says, with the tortellini as almost a garnish; the sauce makes the whole thing come together with balance.
Such ease in the kitchen and calm in the dining room betray the difficult path the restaurant had to its opening day. When chef Matt Kar and his wife, Gail (who many know from the Jamesport Country Kitchen just down the block), bought the building in 2004, it had been covered in asbestos shingle and the original cupola had been taken by a hurricane. The couple and their investors were determined to restore the house with its mansard roof and intricate woodwork that was typical of the 1820s. During the renovation of an older section of the house, dating to 1750 was discovered. By October 2005, the restoration was nearly complete, and then on October 20, the building was incinerated in a tragic fire. Renovations started again—literally, from the ground up—hewing closely to the original design. The restaurant opened in May 2007.
Today Mandleur is in the kitchen, and Theresa Wells runs the front of the house. In the winter the restaurant is open five days per week for lunch and dinner. In summer they go to six days.
“This is a beautiful place,” says Mandleur, as simple, fine food is plated around him and ushered to wide-spaced dining tables at an unhurried pace. “We don’t want it to be pretentious, and we want to have people leave not feeling that it’s stuffy.”
E.L. Wyves is a poet in Greenport.