PROVIDENCE — When Mike Seely moved from Boston to Providence, he said he noticed a gap in the culinary scene. There were miles of ocean that stretched across Rhode Island’s coastline, yet he said he couldn’t find a vibrant raw bar in the Rhode Island capital. Though there are acres of farm lands that stretch across the state, their produce didn’t make their way onto dinner plates very often, said Seely. And while he found plenty of Italian-American style restaurants, the dining scene wasn’t really representative of all of the vibrant cultures of the people in the Ocean State.
“There just wasn’t a place that had the seating, the right layout, or the volume for a raucous to really bring the party, get a bunch of oysters for the table and crush a bunch of crudos with a fun, natural bubbly wine,” said Seely.
Seely previously worked as the culinary director for all of Michael Scelfo’s James Beard Award-nominated restaurants in Cambridge, Massachusetts, which include Alden & Harlow, The Longfellow Bar, and Waypoint.
So when husband-and-wife duo Tom and Natalie Dennen, the owners of the Bayberry Beer Hall in Providence, asked him to collaborate with them to create a new concept that would feature local meat and seafood, small plates for sharing, and a room to entertain, it was a no brainer. He was on board.
After plenty of preparation, Bayberry Garden is slated to open June 11 with Seely as executive chef. The 196-seat space is located on the first floor and outdoor patio of the Wexford Innovation Center, owned by Wexford Science & Technology and anchored by the CIC (it’s also where Globe Rhode Island’s offices are located).
While the Bayberry Beer Hall is known for their selection of craft beers, Bayberry Garden will celebrate coastal New England with a vibrant seasonal menu, featuring preserves, pickles, and fermented sauces.
Their all-day raw bar will feature oysters with preserved lemon mignonette; fluke crudo with strawberries, chiles and black lime; and snacks like the “radishes in their element,” which are made with koji butter, radishes harvested fresh from Rogue Lettuce, and an edible “dirt” made from rye.
Their larger plates will feature Rhode Island Striped Bass crusted with pistachio; their roasted chicken, served half (for $29) or whole for the table (for $57), will have rainbow root vegetables and morel cream.
And another of Seely’s favorites, and his sous chef’s brain child: a long-bone short rib that will cook for a full 72 hours, marinated with chipotle, koji, and spices and served with fava pupusas and cortido. It will also be served either half, for $47, or whole, for $89.
“You’ll see a new dish every time you dine with us — either on the menu or for the specials,” said Seely.
The beverage program is led by Ariel Brodsky, who has more than 15 years experience, including at Perry Street by Jean-Georges Vongerichten in New York. She’ll oversee the cocktail program, which she said will compliment Seely’s menu. Sustainability is top of mind: For example, oyster shells from the raw bar that are typically thrown out will be used to make oyster shell vermouth for the “Half Shell Martini,” which will also include gin, celery bitters, and a “pearl.”
Their “hideaway” cocktail, which Brodsky said is an “older sister that’s more dressed up” version of a piña colada, uses white rum, coconut water and coconut cream, makrut, pineapple rind, basil syrup, and black lime. It’s not frozen, but the pale-green combination is poured over a mound of crushed ice.
Two of their cocktails are coming from their draft system. The white negroni will be made with mezcal, Suze (an herbaceous French liqueur), and Lillet (which brings out a mineral-taste). And the “Earheart Spritz,” which Brodsky said is a twist on the classic cocktail the paper plane with a nod to Amelia Earhart. It’s made with bourbon, Nonino, red bitters, lemon, and cava.
“We want to introduce liquors and wines that Rhode Islanders have never seen here in a restaurant before,” said Brodsky.
General manager and sommelier Kelsey Shaw, who previously managed Altro Paradiso in New York, will oversee the wine list, which will offer more than 150 selections by the bottle — something she says is “just the beginning.” Her selection is a mix of rising winemakers and world-renowned producers that are keen on sustainable agriculture, minimal intervention, and lesser-known grape varieties. Wines sold by the glass will include Rogue Vine Pipeno Blanc from Chile; Château Roquefort “Corail” Rosé from Provence, France; and Nicolas Chemarin P’Tit Grobis of Beaujolais-Villages.
Desserts will also be handled by Karissa Bednarz, who was previously at Providence’s Gracie’s. For the grand-opening, she’ll be introducing a Banoffee Crème Brûlée with hazelnut, coffee, and banana miso ice cream as well as a Rhubarb Pavlova with rhubarb, zucca with lemon verbena, green strawberries and juniper ice cream.
Bednarz “is really bringing a bright array of desserts that is going to pair so well after a meal, or even on their own with a cocktail,” said Seely.
Co-owner Tom Dennen will offer a selection of regional beers from micro-breweries like Fox Farm Brewery in Connecticut, Drowned Lands Brewery in New York, and Oxbow Brewery in Maine.
Co-owner Natalie Dennen created a bright space, where nearly floor-to-ceiling windows will illuminate the more than 100 layered trees, vines, and foliage they have nestled in the restaurant.
“We weren’t from here, so inviting people over to entertain and make new friends became a way of life for us. Bayberry Beer Hall is all about how we personally entertain in our home casually. It’s about mingling leisure,” said Natalie Dennen. “Bayberry Garden is a whole new experience. We want to ‘wine and dine’ you.”
Seely said he hopes that Bayberry Garden becomes the place where people from all walks of life can gather.
“We want you to come and feel at home, having a pasta and a beer. Or having a glass of wine and oysters with friends. Or bringing the whole family for your college graduation, doing it up four-course style with a full dessert array,” said Seely. “We want the space to be adaptable, be comfortable and bright. This is for everyone.”
Bayberry Garden, 225 Dyer St., Providence, opens June 11. Hours: Tuesday to Thursday from 5 p.m. to 11 p.m., Friday and Saturday from 5 p.m. to midnight, and Sunday from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. Brunch will launch June 26 on weekends, from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. bayberrygarden.com