George’s of Galilee is 72 years old, and it’s still owned by the Durfee family. Since 1948, fans have journeyed to this remote little village for platters of seafood. Through the windows, guests watch fishing vessels motor into the harbor. George’s stands about a block away from the Block Island Ferry, so summers are crowded – but even in winter, locals keep the restaurant busy.
“This is a destination restaurant,” says Kevin Durfee, owner of George’s and grandson of its founders, Norman and Edna. “We have such a reputation for seafood that people will drive from western Mass. just to come here. People have to get up in the morning and say to themselves, ‘Hey, honey, let’s take a ride down to Galilee. I really want to get a baked stuffed lobster.’”
To celebrate those 72 years, George’s is offering a half-dozen clam cakes and 72-cent Rhode Island clam chowder with every entree.
At the same time, the menu changes regularly, informed by local ecology. Kevin and his staff pay close attention to invasive and overabundant species – fish that most of us wouldn’t recognize but can be cooked into sumptuous entrees.
“We definitely have traditional aspects of our menu that we stick to,” says Henry O’Neill, one of George’s main chefs. “But I think in recent years we’ve also started to branch out and experiment, and our clientele trusts us to come up with these new ideas and introduce them to fish and seafood that they wouldn’t normally have.”
Take whiting, for example. This fish is little-known and full of tiny bones; most folks would never think to order it. But the southern coast is rich in whiting, and when the fish is fried whole, the bones are pleasantly edible. The same goes for skates; these cartilaginous fish look like stingrays and are typically used as bait. But when they’re properly cooked, the wings of a skate are sweet and delicious, a convincing alternative to scallops.
“We’ll take that fish that’s abundant – and so unknown to customers – and the kitchen will turn it into something amazing,” says Kevin. Some items are rare, such as the unusual, cup-shaped shellfish grown by Bluff Hill Cove Oyster Farm, located about a mile away. Kevin praises their consistent shape and oceanic flavor. “I like an oyster that makes you feel like you got hit by a wave.”
“What’s still on the menu after 72 years?” asks Yulia Kuzmina, George’s executive chef. Originally from Russia, Yulia grew up gardening and fishing. “I think there are four or five dishes left, with all the menu trends and changes. We do have to utilize what we have in a port – and our location couldn’t be any better.”
The team is glad that so many fans will travel out of their way to try these creations, but their greatest satisfaction comes from the fishermen themselves: Many regular customers are the same anglers who stock George’s kitchen.
“It’s a real seal of approval,” says Henry, “to get the fisherman who came to sell you the fish to come in and then eat it as well.”