The first time you meet Chris Prosperi, as I did a few weeks ago, it’s like running into an old friend.
When I mentioned to people that I had made a visit to Metro Bis there was an outpouring of praise and admiration for both the restaurant and its chef. You immediately feel at home in his restaurant and you know that everything will be perfect. And even in this time of a pandemic, it is.
“Since we were allowed to reopen in June,” explains Prosperi, who is co-owner of the restaurant with his wife, Courtney Febbroriello, “we have been operating at 50 percent capacity. We’ve created a new menu with four choices each for first, main, and one dessert. It’s easier for the staff to take orders and it makes dining a bit more of an experience. PreCOVID-19 every inch of the place was filled inside as well as the 70 seats on the porch and every private room would have an event.
“We took out a whole row of tables and every other table so they would be six-feet apart. But it’s working and we’ll get through this.”
That positive attitude is what makes Prosperi one of the most successful chefs in Connecticut and Metro Bis one of its most popular restaurants.
Prosperi grew up in Brooklyn and eventually moved to Tyler Lake in Goshen. His family has always had a presence in the food world. His mother managed a restaurant, his father taught at the Culinary Institute of America and ran a pastry in New York City for many years. Additionally, his brothers attended CIA and are chefs as well. Prosperi studied electrical engineering at the University of Connecticut before making his foray into the food world. A stint as sous-chef at the West Street Grill in Litchfield in 1991 was the beginning of Prosperi’s culinary education.
“Owner James O’Shea brings out the best in the people who work for him,” says Prosperi. “ He was always the idea guy and if you’ve got West Street Grill on your resumé, it opens doors for you.”
After stints at several other restaurants, Prosperi and his wife bought Metro Bis in 1998.
The history of the restaurant and its progression from a hole in the wall to its present location is an interesting one.
“We bought the original business from a Frenchman who had been an attaché for Aetna and his position was eliminated. He decided to open a restaurant in Granby called Metro Kitchen. As it was successful, he decided to open a second restaurant in a shopping mall in Simsbury and called it Metro Bis, “bis” meaning encore, in French. But no one really remembers what it means now, so we say Bis is short for Bistro and it solves the problem.”
Prosperi ran the restaurant in that location for 15 years, then moved to an 1820s house in Simsbury that was converted to a hotel. Five years later it opened in its current location — an extraordinary building that had never been changed architecturally. The Joseph Ensign House is a brownstone mansion built in 1906 by the owners of the adjacent munitions factory. Over the decades, the structure was used as a bank and as a church rectory. Its most recent owners created apartments on the upper floors and made the ground floor into the space now occupied by Metro Bis. It includes two dining rooms, one of which occupies the former rectory chapel; a parlor; smaller private dining spaces; an outdoor patio, and a room for special events. The unique bar in one of the dining rooms stands in for the original chapel altar. And one of the dining rooms houses Prosperi’s extensive collection of cookbooks.
“The amazing thing is that the previous tenants made no structural changes,” said Prosperi. “Nothing was torn out, painted over or destroyed in any way. So it has basically remained as it was originally designed.”
While the space has been consistent, the menu at Metro Bis has evolved over the years. What started out as a French bistro has now become an American bistro and is all the better for it.
“There are so many farmers with great produce, so we tend to plan and cook around what is available,” said Prosperi. “Of course, there are dishes that have been on the menu since the beginning, like the crab cakes and the chicken spring rolls.”
The new menu, abbreviated during the pandemic, still offers some of the best food in the area. Included among the lunch appetizers are: Crispy Chicken Spring Rolls; Chicken, Chorizo, and Butternut Squash Soup; Arugula Salad, or the Metro Caesar Salad. Second course lunch options include: the Metro Cheese Burger; a Cobb Salad; the Pulled Pork Sandwich; a Vegetable Wrap of roasted eggplant, peppers, zucchini, spinach, mozzarella, tomato aioli; Pan Seared Crab Cakes with steamed greens, curried quinoa, tomato tartar sauce, or Chicken Pad Thai.
For dinner appetizers, choose from: Crispy Chicken Spring Rolls; Pan Seared Shrimp with ancient grain fonio, butternut squash, lemon; Arugula Salad, or Shrimp & Crab Salad. Dinner offers a second course of Beets with feta, basil, yellow watermelon reduction and EVOO; Chicken, Chorizo, Butternut Squash Soup; the Metro Caesar Salad, and Carnival Squash with pumpkin seeds, sage, maple syrup, and EVOO. Entrees include: a Grilled Flat Iron Steak with whipped potato, peppers, onions and red wine sauce; Autumn Risotto with butternut squash, zucchini, sage pesto and parmesan; Pan Seared Halibut with roasted corn and butternut squash succotash, and Roasted Chicken with thyme infused polenta, steamed kale, parmesan, and a red wine sauce.
The featured dessert at both seatings is Granny Smith Apple Crisp, with toasted oats, and vanilla ice cream.
For lunch or dinner it is worth a trip to Simsbury for great atmosphere, wonderful food, and to chat with the ever jovial chef.
For 21 years fans have followed Prosperi from place to place because of quality, service, and creativity. Today he is serving new generations of families who were there at the beginning.
“We are part of the town and these customers are part of our family.”
For more information visit www.metrobis.com.