Almost a year ago, when Tim Conover took a break from planning a new restaurant to cruise eBay for memorabilia related to The Charlotte Inn, he was amazed at what he found.
After owning/operating The Charlotte Inn for the past 42 years, and leasing the restaurant space to others, Tim and his parents, Gerret and Paula Conover, were creating their own restaurant — The Terrace at the Charlotte Inn. And just at the point when they were contemplating a logo for the restaurant-to-be, the younger Mr. Conover spied a matchbook from the Inn going back to the 1920s. The sad news was that the auction had already ended and someone had purchased the relic for 99 cents. “It took me six months to track down the guy who bought it,” he recalls.
After some good old-fashioned horse-tradin’ he was able to acquire the matchbook and bring it home to the Island. The logo — a silhouette of two diners in front of a large elegant window — was copied from it, with only slight alterations, including the addition of the name of the restaurant. It now graces all of the restaurant’s signs and menus and perfectly projects the tradition of elegance and sophistication that the Conover family has maintained since they acquired the inn in 1971.
Now, since its opening on November 8, The Terrace at the Charlotte Inn is already doing very well. “There’s been a great response,” Executive Chef Justin Melnick boasts. The cuisine is Classic American, with salads, steaks, and seafood that Mr. Melnick imbues with his own special flair.
Mr. Conover waxes enthusiastic over the acquisition of the rising-star chef. “We’re very excited to be working with Justin,” he explains. “He’s very talented and, we think, a great fit.”
A native New Englander (born and raised in Londonderry, N.H.) Mr. Melnick earned his BPS at the prestigious Culinary Institute of America. He began his career working with Barbara Lynch at The Butcher Shop and Todd English at Olives. In 2007, he took the reins as executive chef at Tomasso Trattoria in Southborough. With the exception of a three-month learning tour of Italy and a brief stint in a Dallas restaurant, he’s been there since. Until now.
Mr. Conover has absolute faith in his chef. “Although Justin’s experience has a lot of Italian background,” he says, “he does have a good general experience in all kinds of cooking. The basis of Classic American cuisine is simplistic and his talents will bring it a step above the rest.”
With so much experience on the east coast, the chef carries with him a deep-seated knowledge of local ingredients and suppliers. He expresses a dedication to using Island farmed and fished ingredients as much as possible.
“I’ve already been talking to Morning Glory Farm, The FARM Institute, and local fishermen,” he says. A sample menu advertises such fare as fried local oysters and bay scallops with preserved lemon and bacon aioli, and roasted local chicken breast with mashed golden potatoes, and sweet and sour cippolini onions.
The restaurant itself can only be described as old-world gracious. Sixteen tables fill the large glassed-in space that is amazingly cozy on a cold evening. White fan-back chairs, a scattering of antiques, and strategically placed small palms reinforce the vintage resort ambiance.
Come summer, an intimate outside area will be opened to accommodate another six tables. Another room, deep green walls with six tables covered with pristine white linens, sports a fireplace, lush carpeting, and dark wood wainscoting. It currently serves as the overflow area. In the summer, it will become the lounge where patrons can sip drinks before and after dining.
As with the inn, the use of cell phones and computers is not allowed in the public areas. A plaque at the inn’s front door, and another at the entrance to the front dining room, makes this clear. “We have to remind some people,” Mr. Conover admits. “Their lives have become so wrapped up in it, they’re usually taken aback by the prospect of doing without their gadgets, but often when they leave, they comment on how pleasant it was to have spent quality time without the technology.”
What made the Conovers decide, after leasing space to other restaurants for all of the 45 years they’ve owned the inn, to finally create their own gastronomical enterprise? “We’ve always had restaurants [at the inn],” Mr. Conover recalls, “but haven’t taken advantage of tying the two together. Having The Terrace here provides guests and the public a better overall experience.” And being a member of the elite Relais & Chateaux group, it makes sense for the management of the hotel to be able to maintain the highest quality in all facets of the inn.
Currently, The Terrace is open for dinner from 5:30 to 9 pm, Thursday through Sunday. It will remain open through the end of December, take a one-month hiatus, then return for the rest of 2013. For now, they have some special plans for the holidays. They will be open for Christmas Eve with their regular menu, but are planning a special traditional feast for Christmas Day.
On New Year’s Eve, the chef has a special menu in mind that will include a lobster dish. “We will make it memorable,” he promises.