In the Kitchen

Chef Joe’s Restaurant Redux

By Andrea E. McHugh / Photography By Rupert Whiteley | November 23, 2015
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Mediterranean Flavors Pair in Harmony with Local Seasonal Foods


Much like the dishes for which he is best known, Chef Joe Simone is a dichotomy: uncomplicated but elegant, classic but effervescent, calculating but captivating. So when he was ready to start a new chapter in his cooking career after closing his daytime dining hotspot in Warren, he proceeded with caution.

In the few years it was open, The Sunnyside garnered a wide-range of loyal customers and an enviable reputation. Capitalizing on those two critical components and confident that Rhode Islanders would have a long memory—long enough that they’d remember his classic dishes that let the flavors speak for themselves—Simone opened his eponymous restaurant, also in Warren, in October 2014.

“We didn’t want to create a natural extension of The Sunnyside,” explains Simone. “Doesn’t every good restaurant reinvent itself?”

When developing the lunch and dinner menus, Simone hearkened back to the time he spent honing his craft in France, Italy and Greece and ultimately embraced refined but uncomplicated Mediterranean style to be the hallmark of his kitchen.

“The Mediterranean menu is inspired by the ingredients we can get our hands on seasonally,” he says. “I like to highlight one item in a dish ... we don’t let anything get bogged down by a ton of butter or cream.”

Ask anyone in the business and they’ll likely agree that restaurant staffs are like family. Simone subscribes to that philosophy, reuniting with many of the chefs, cooks and servers who contributed to his past successes.

“Having a good group of people I love—that’s what it’s all about. I couldn’t be prouder of my staff,” he says. “In the immediate future, the plan is to continue to build our team and our customer base; to continue on the road we’re headed,” he says.

In the most literal familial sense, Simone joined forces with his brother John, a lawyer by trade, who oversees the daytime operations of the restaurant. The addition has allowed Simone to bring back those beloved breakfasts for which he became best known, including the “Dutch Baby,” a baked pancake filled with seasonal fruit or, for a heartier meal, with ham and cheese.

More than a year after opening, Simone’s has solid legs, serving breakfast, lunch, dinner and, on the weekends, brunch. An impressive wine list showcases lesser-known varietals from around the world and special events, including wine dinners and cooking classes, offer guests a more intimate experience with the chef. Simone’s devoted fans quickly returned and new ones have been won over. But for Simone, that’s just part of the puzzle.

“We want to have our restaurant be a positive influence in the community,” he says. And he walks the walk. With a passion for the charming coastal town in which his restaurant thrives, Simone champions the successes of emerging food artisans at Hope & Main, the state’s first culinary business incubator. Hope & Main aids local entrepreneurial start-ups, early-stage food companies and food-related businesses by providing low cost, low risk access to shared-use commercial kitchens and other industry-specific technical resources. Simone serves as vice chair of the board there and it’s a role he takes seriously.

“If we help these food businesses grow, we are doubling down on the future. Consumers benefit from the dollars that are ultimately being reinvested locally in Rhode Island,” Simone says. “There is a demonstrated need for quality, artisanal products. If we can give these innovators a chance, it’s a win-win for the businesses and the community as we keep those dollars within state lines.”

But it’s not just emerging visionaries Simone lifts up. He embraces those who have been a part of his life, who have lifted him up, as they celebrate their own successes. When longtime friend and author Nancy Harmon Jenkins debuted her recent title, Virgin Territory (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2015) (see page 40), Simone hosted a book signing and celebratory dinner at the restaurant. Widely considered the world’s leading authority on olive oil, the cookbook unsurprisingly features a host of Mediterranean-based recipes.

“I’ve known Nancy for about 15, maybe 20, years,” he says. The two share a bond over the flavors stemming from that part of the world, and naturally, olive oil. “I buy my olive oil in 24-liter jugs,” laughs Simone. “It’s called Unio Siurana; it’s from Northern Spain.”

Though the EVOO is from Spain, much of Simone’s menu can be sourced back to farms in and around Rhode Island. That hot cup of joe is from New Harvest Coffee Roasters in Pawtucket. The grilled “Under a Brick,” chicken breast hails from Baffoni Poultry Farm in Johnston. The clams in the linguini alle vongole are from Andrade’s Catch, located just one town over in Bristol. “They deliver local clams seven days a week and the Andrade family is just amazing,” Simone says.

Beef and pork are sourced from Smithfield’s Blackbird Farm, and other ingredients are sourced from Four Town Farm (Seekonk, MA), Little City Growers (a Providence-based farmer-run cooperative), Narragansett Creamery, Rhody Fresh and other items they get delivered from Farm Fresh’s Market Mobile.

Simone’s 275 Child St., Warren • 401.247.1200; SimonesRI.com

Chef Joe serves short ribs from Blackbird Farm in Smithfield over creamy stoneground polenta (or grits).
Article from Edible Rhody at http://ediblerhody.ediblecommunities.com/recipes/chef-joe-s-restaurant-redux
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