WATERTOWN — It’s the calm before the storm at the Chef’s Door restaurant just off Straits Turnpike in Watertown. The lunch crowd will soon be arriving and owner/chef Chris Bruno, manager Jessica Falzone, and bartender Diana Young were getting set for the crush. Cody Koester-Hoben is chef de cuisine.
Open since April, the Chef’s Door is a fitting name for the establishment, as a number of doors of various sizes, shapes and colors line one wall. Jim Morrison would have loved this place. “I just thought it would be cool to hang the doors on the wall,” said Bruno, who has been a chef and restauranteur in several other locations, including a run of 20 years in Brookfield at Chris’s American Restaurant.
The doors are indeed cool as are myriad photos that grace other walls. The tables and chairs were custom made for the eatery, Falzone points out, and their metal and dark wood construction lend further eclectic ambiance to the setting. The restaurant has seating for 55, including at the bar.
“I’d say we aren’t too formal and not too casual,” said Bruno, when asked how he would describe the atmosphere inside his restaurant. “It’s a place where people can relax and have a drink and a great meal.”
“This is a wonderful spot for me,” added Bruno, a graduate of culinary school at Johnson and Wales in Rhode Island and a man who has had a lifelong love affair with cooking. “We draw from Watertown and we are close enough to towns like Woodbury and Litchfield to draw from there as well. A lot of people don’t like to drive a long way for dinner after working all day and this is perfect for them, especially the locals.”
Bruno has been cooking since he was around seven years of age, although his first attempts were not what one would term culinary successes. “I cooked hot dogs and grilled cheese and I think I burned them both,” he said with a smile. “But I got a job as a dishwasher when I got older and the kitchen was such an adrenaline filled place. I knew then that the kitchen was for me. I caught on quick to cooking and then decided to go to school and become a chef. I also had the opportunity to apprentice with several phenomenal chefs along the way. I developed a palate first and I have always paid attention to detail.”
That detail extends out of the kitchen and into the dining area. “I rely on Jessica to run the front of the house and she does a tremendous job working with our staff and helping them develop a rapport with the customers. We also have a very clean restaurant that we are proud of. From the cuisine to the uniforms the staff wears, it’s a way to differentiate yourself.”
The menu at the Chef’s Door is a mixed one, although Bruno likes to rely heavily on fish and chicken in his main dishes during the warm weather. He is particular about how he prepares each dish, taking care to allow the meats, fish and pasta to speak for themselves and not be overwhelmed with spices. He and his assistant chefs (there is also a pastry chef that makes fresh delights to cap off a great meal) pride themselves on originality. Bruno is not afraid to take risks. By the way, he sources locally whenever he can and supports area craft breweries, wineries and distilleries.
“I like to push the envelope a bit. We have had rabbit where we used the whole animal for various dishes. I like changing the menu up, but there are always go-tos that people enjoy and you have to keep them happy. But Jessica and the wait staff try and entice our customers, especially the regulars, to try something different once in a while.”
Falzone is in charge of social media and posts often about the restaurant and its offerings on Facebook, Instagram and occasionally on other channels. Millennials are so plugged into social media that it is an effective method of creating buzz. “Jessica does a great job with that,” Bruno said. “I’m more of an introvert and I’m much better at the back end of the restaurant preparing the food and running the kitchen staff.”
When asked what one of the house’s most popular dishes is, Bruno quickly pointed out the grilled marinated pork chops that are served with homemade apple sauce and mashed potatoes.
Other current entrees include: steak tips with tomato and mushroom risotto; Bourbon Street chicken and shrimp served with “trinity “vegetables, andouille sausage, tomato creole sauce and rice; and pork osso bucco with an apple cider glaze and mashed potatoes.
There’s also a splendid appetizer list that includes beer and cider-brined wings; pork belly sliders; yucca fries; and tuna carpacccio, the latter served with sherry vinegar, horseradish aioli, and almonds.
The menu has a soup of the day; knob salad (a delightful mixture of mixed lettuces, cucumbers, onions, tomato, crumbled gorgonzola cheese, almonds, bacon, grapes, hardboiled egg, and “green goddess” dressing; and a honeydew salad that involves mixed lettuce, feta, “pepitas,” cucumbers and a sherry vinaigrette.
Among the Chef’s Door’s sandwiches are a traditional burger; grilled eggplant with goat cheese, “peppadews,” caramelized onions, chili mayo, arugula and garlic bread; and an Indonesian street cart chicken with a curry spice rub, “sambal” mayo, pickled vegetables, lettuce, and naan bread. And remember those fresh pastries. The bar serves up an assortment of drinks, including designer cocktails.
“It’s a big thing for us to always keep things fresh, whether it is the ingredients in our dishes to the drinks and to the way we greet and serve the people that dine with us,” said Bruno. “We have been received extremely well thus far and we want to keep it that way.”
The Chef’s s Door is open Monday through Thursday from 11:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m., and Friday and Saturday from 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. The restaurant is closed on Sunday.