The Tavern by the Sea, or just “The Tavern” as its regulars call it, has overlooked the quaint little river running from Wickford’s Academy Cove for over a decade now. In the summer, diners eat on the deck, perhaps watching the odd crab scuttle past. In colder times, its cozy interior rooms are a warm refuge. Owner Kostas Karampetsos has made various improvements over the years, and is quick to cite his hiring of Elmer Castellanos as executive chef three years ago as one of them. Since his arrival, Elmer has made some changes to the menu, including a full range of gluten-free offerings. With a Greek owner and a Guatamalan chef, The Tavern brings just a touch of welcome variety while still offering all those seafood classics, from stuffies to scrod. With a let up from the surges of summer tourism, Elmer and his team have the breathing room to cut loose a bit in the kitchen, relishing the opportunity to offer more involved specials. I spoke with both Kostas and Elmer at The Tavern, after a quick nose around a full house on a drizzly day.
How long has Rhode Island been your home?
Elmer: I moved here in 1996 and been a Rhode Islander ever since. I love it here. It’s nice and relaxed, without too much noise. Now that I’ve got my family here, I don’t plan on moving anywhere else.
The Greek touches on the menu are obvious. Elmer, how are your Guatamalan roots reflected?
Elmer: Sometimes when I make specials, beef, seafood and marinades I’ll add a little bit of Guatemalan flavors like cilantro and achiote [a reddish-orange ground spice from a tree seed]. It’s so good. People from our country mostly use achiote in tamales, but a lot of people also use it in other dishes, like in seafood and meat dishes.
‘Tis the season for cinnamon abuse. Tell us what The Tavern does differently for autumn.
Kostas: We always have drink specials that change with the season, so we just switched our drink menu. We are also talking about bringing back the Acorn Squash Risotto, which is something very seasonal. It’s acorn squash, roasted, then stuffed with risotto and sausage. It’s very good, and very popular.
Wickford has seasonal changes of its own; how does the village change for winter.
Kostas: It really transforms winter through summer. Wintertime is the season that I like because I get to spend more time with the locals. You get to know new people a little bit more, or see familiar faces you haven’t seen during the summer when you didn’t have time to spend with them because it’s so busy.
You can be more creative in wintertime too because of the amount of people you serve on a daily basis. In the summertime you have to create a menu where you can produce quickly. In the wintertime that’s not the case, and we like that. We’re able to cater to people a little bit more, and we feel good about that. When the customers leave here, they’re happy. It’s a satisfaction that only people who love the restaurant business can understand.
How did you end up in this little nook?
Kostas: I came here as a student from Greece to attend Johnson & Wales for hotel and restaurant management. I stayed and did my MBA also, but was always involved in restaurants. I worked in restaurants and hotels, here and overseas also. I was always looking to open my own place; that was my dream. In 2005, I had the opportunity to buy this restaurant. I fell in love with the location because it reminded me of being back home in Greece: the water, sitting outside especially in the summertime. So there was an immediate connection to the location. It’s very quaint. Sometimes I sit in my own restaurant and feel like I’m on vacation.
Tavern By The Sea
16 West Main Street, Wickford