Shelter Island natives Alison Bevilacqua and Keith Bavaro know about hard work, family, friends and, certainly, good food.
After opening Salt, a successful “come as you are” waterfront restaurant in 2012, surviving devastating flood damage from Hurricane Sandy and getting engaged, what’s next? Open a second restaurant, of course.
Partnering with family members Suzanne Walsh and Janet Rogler, the duo’s latest venture, the Tavern at Shelter Island House brings local ingredients to a newly renovated circa 1800 boutique hotel. I stopped by for their unlimited mimosa Sunday brunch and chef John Weston’s lobster benedict and unbelievable quiche made with Goodale Farms eggs.
Doug Young: What made you decide to take on another restaurant? Did the Shelter Island House have any significant memories for you growing up?
Alison Bevilacqua and Keith Bavaro: The Shelter Island House is an establishment our parents and grandparents frequented. There is so much history in the building. Everyone who enters has a story about it. Some tell of the days of big bands in the ballroom and fine dining with tuxedoed waiters, and some tell stories of rowdy nights and barroom brawls.
So while we don’t yet have fond nostalgia for the building, we make every effort as business people to move Shelter Island commerce forward with respect to its past.
We took on the Tavern and decided to open it in the off-season to provide a service to locals and second homeowners during the long, cold winter. We had a lot of fun with the fire place roaring and the snow falling and the beer flowing.
DY: How did you both connect with Chef Weston? It seems like a perfect fit.
AB and KB: Darren Boyle, our executive chef at Salt, had worked for John Weston years earlier, in Montauk. He put us in touch.
During one of the many blizzards in February, Keith convinced a reluctant Weston to take the trip on the ferry and see the property. He was immediately enchanted with the quiet country inn and the culinary possibilities of working on Shelter Island.
DY: What’s on the brunch menu that you dream about?
AB and KB: It is tough to choose. The level of quality and care that goes into each dish is unmatched. But if we had to choose, the hand made crust on the quiche just takes it to another level.
We love the mix of fine dining with chickens scratching at your feet and a breakfast beer.
DY: Is there a secret to a really good mimosa?
AB and KB: The secret is to drink a lot of them. The more you drink the better they get.
DY: You guys are always traveling off season, did any of those trips inspire your plans for the Tavern?
AB and KB: We were inspired by the tropical garden and farm fresh eggs for brunch at the English Rose in Rincon, Puerto Rico. And the 1785 Inn in North Conway, New Hampshire, where the owner pulled wine out of his personal collection to share with us; that level of hospitality is rare these days. And a little bit of Blue Heaven in Key West, we love the mix of fine dining with chickens scratching at your feet and a breakfast beer.
DY: Ahh yes, Blue Heaven. I can feel the Key West Vibe here. John, you source your eggs from Goodale Farms on the North Fork, any particular reason why the quiche is over the top besides the “good eggs,”
John Weston: Because my brunch chef Kiki Abdat doesn’t cut any corners; he puts all his 30-plus years of culinary experience into each and every item he makes. The crust is made by hand; the onions sit on the stove forever until they are just right and cheeses are tasted before they go in the work bowl. He’s good like that!
DY: Chef, do you have a philosophy about food?
JW: Go with your gut. Ingredients should look, smell and taste right to start with. Then treat them with respect and pay attention to them; they will tell you what they need and what you need to do. It took me forever to learn that lesson.
DY: Ali and Keith, your big day is coming up, do I see catering events in your future?
AB and KB: The Island Boatyard is renovating a waterfront boathouse on the property of Salt with the intention of offering it as an event space. We are very excited to work with them on this! In fact, our own wedding this October will be the test run. If all goes well, look for Salt weddings in 2016.
DY: What is and remains your favorite thing about living and working on the Rock.
AB and KB: The people of Shelter Island, year round residents, summer people, day-trippers —all of ‘em — are simply the best people you will ever meet. We get to live and work in paradise. We get to show others what it truly feels like to slow down, unwind, relax, and live life the way it was meant to be.