Andrea Tese has a story to tell. First, as a New Suffolk native who grew up fishing with her grandfather. Then, as a photographer whose work immortalized an ocean in decline. And now, as the restaurateur behind one of the East End’s most thrilling new restaurants—one that is, truly, first of its kind.
James Baldwin famously wrote that writers only have one story to tell, and that their real work is to find a way to tell it again and again until it becomes “at once more narrow and larger, more and more precise.” Tese embodies this idea for non-writers, as well, as she has been telling the story of our local waterways all of her life. But now, with the opening of her restaurant, Minnow—a sustainably-minded seafood restaurant that serves only local, line or trap caught fish and organic, seasonal produce—her story is taking on new life.
“I am an avid fisher, so conservation is very important to me,” says Tese. “Years ago, I started going to all of these government meetings, researching and talking to commercial fishermen and I just became more and more disturbed by our fishing practices and our fishing regulations and all of the misinformation about fish everywhere—from markets to restaurants. What is truly disturbing to me is that, in America, we throw out an estimated 2 billion pounds of fish every year—from trawlers and different kinds of net systems. So I resolved to eat only fish that was line or trap caught—two practices that have little to no bykill—and I found that it’s impossible to find a restaurant that sources seafood in this way. Such restaurants just did not exist. So I started to eat fish exclusively at home, either fish that I caught myself or that a friend caught for me. And that’s when I knew I had to make a change.”
Tese resolved to open, by herself, the restaurant she had always been searching for, for herself: a sustainable seafood restaurant that only served line or trap caught fish. Everyone told her it would be impossible.
“I talked to a bunch of friends and all kinds of different people about it,” says Tese, “and they all told me it just wouldn’t work. Everyone said I would never be able to make the margins necessary to survive. Everyone said I would never be able to secure such sizable, responsible sourcing.”
And everyone was wrong. Tese opened Minnow this spring—in a beautiful, bayfront building, on the lot where the legendary Galley Ho once stood—and has lived up to every one of her ideals and front-facing promises. The restaurant exclusively serves line or trap caught fish, and never any fish caught via net, dragger or trawler; all of the restaurant’s produce is organic and as locally sourced as possible; and Tese’s commitment to sustainability extends beyond the menu to everything from the restaurant’s take-away packaging to its design elements, as well.
“The sourcing of the seafood has been a lot easier than I or anyone thought,” says Tese. “Ken Homan [owner of Braun Seafood Co., one of Long Island’s largest seafood distributors] totally gets it and he’s willing to work with me. So he puts aside all the fish that’s been caught by line or by trap and then notifies me when it comes in. So it’s an adventure, because we don’t always know what we’re getting; you have to be flexible with your menu if you’re going to do things like that. Luckily, my chef is up for—and truly excited by—the challenge.”
Cheo Avila, formerly of Greenport’s Kontiki, is Minnow’s executive chef, and together with Tese he has constructed a beautiful, ambitious and adaptable menu for the restaurant. Highlights include black bass crudo with basil miso and pink peppercorns; wild fennel porgy ceviche with tangerine essence, red onion, cilantro and lime; house smoked bluefish paté served with grilled sourdough bread; trap caught fluke oreganata garnished with ‘crunchy garden herbs’; and crispy tile fish almondine served alongside preserved lemon tartar sauce.
“The food speaks for itself and I hope the concept will, too,” says Tese. “I want people to know that this model can be replicated. It can be done. I figured it out and I’m happy to share it with whomever is interested. You know, I think of our name—Minnow—and obviously it’s just such a little fish, something we grew up using as bait. But it’s not insignificant. In the past, we’ve overfished bunkers, for example, and then other kinds of fisheries just collapsed. And then, also, this is a little restaurant. So it’s an important word in so many ways.”
Little fish, little restaurants. With every service Tese is proving that both are essential to preserving our food chain.