Sometimes when a restaurant has something for everyone, it’s from a lack of identity. It’s clear that with Bridge in Westerly, this couldn’t be further from the truth. David Parr, the chef and co-owner, has created a menu to accommodate the voracious meat eater and the vegan, the thrifty hot dog inhaler and the uncompromising angus-ophile. We talked about supporting local farms, the direction of the menu and how Chicken Pot Pie is one of his greatest hits.
You’ve opened six or seven restaurants for other companies. What was it like doing it on your own?
In 2009 I was starting to feel like I really needed to do something on my own. I quit my job and started to look for a place to open. I found a great partner in Josh Welch who helped me finance this place. He also owns a farm in Stonington, CT called JW Beef where he grows grass-fed Lowline Angus cows.
When we opened, the economy wasn’t in a great place and we had a huge flood. It was definitely a struggle when we came into the area because people didn’t really get what we were doing. Up River (the previous restaurant) had been a fine dining restaurant, and our plan was to buy the best quality ingredients and do our best not to mess them up. Like a lot of new businesses, we struggled for the first couple of years, but now Bridge is a pretty popular spot.
What’s a local product you’re excited to put on the menu?
We buy polenta from Davis Farm in Pawcatuck, CT. It’s a stone ground white cornmeal made from an old stone mill on their property that has been milling corn for [hundreds of] years. The most recent thing I did with it was make Indian pudding. It was awesome.
I hear that you really elevate your food for Appy Hour. Tell me about that.
From 4-6pm, during the “Gathering Hour,” we have a special menu. We do buck-a-shuck oysters, buffalo chicken wings and all the standard things, but done in not such a standard way. We roast the wings to render out the fat, and then make our own buffalo sauce and broil them. They are crispy and charred, and I believe they are the best buffalo wings in the area. We also make chili from sirloin steak, not from ground beef.
What’s with the quotes around the “Chicken Pot Pie” on the menu?
“Chicken Pot Pie” is my version of [Lynyrd Synyrd’s] “Free Bird.” It’s the song I don’t want to play but I love the fact that people love it, so I keep making it. It’s got a dollop of mashed potatoes, roasted root vegetables, chicken jus and sautéed chicken breast with a biscuit and a little bit of pea puree on the plate. By the time people are done eating it, they say, “That was like a chicken pot pie.”
There’s a significant vegetarian portion on the menu, with more attention than you normally see from a place that also likes pork belly. Why bridge those two worlds?
I was a macrobiotic vegetarian like a lot of people when I was young and in school. When I went to CIA (Culinary Institute of America), my skills teacher, this German chef, said, “You must eat the beef.” I said, “Alright, I’ll eat the beef.”
I’ve always focused on people who are left out because they’re vegetarians. I would say 25% what we sell is from the vegetarian section of the menu. The Buddha Bowl is one of our popular dishes, for example. It’s got quinoa, vegetables, arugula and watercress tossed together.
37 Main Street, Westerly