PROVIDENCE — More than two years after shutting the doors to Birch Restaurant, which received several James Beard Award nominations for best chef, Benjamin Sukle announced Monday that he’s opening Gift Horse, a new restaurant in late spring of 2023.
Gift Horse — the name derives from the tongue-in-cheek saying to not look a gift horse in the mouth — will be located in a massive ground-level space on the corner of Westminster and Union streets. It’s right across the street from Oberlin, the second restaurant Sukle opened and still operates, which is a more casual play on crudo, handmade pastas, and locally-sourced ingredients.
Gift Horse will be an eclectic raw bar that focuses on New England-caught shellfish and seafood, with an array of oysters that are harvested from different bays around the state or within “very close proximity.” Craft cocktails with low alcohol content like spritzes inspired by the Mediterranean coast, and martinis, will be highlighted in their beverage program. Bethany Caliaro, a front-of-house manager at Oberlin for nearly five years, will join as a partner in both of the restaurants.
The concept at the Gift Horse could “add to the fabric, culture and core to this city,” said Sukle in an exclusive interview. A raw bar “was always something I wanted to do based on the the relationships I have [with fisheries and producers] in the region.”
Sukle, who is building out the restaurant in a newly renovated building, said the Gift Horse will have “1970s, Italian disco vibes.” The Gift Horse, similar to how Birch used to look, will have a horseshoe shaped bar. An outdoor bar and patio area will line Grant’s Block on Union Street and Sukle said he plans to plant hedges along the border.
“If you’re walking down the streets of either Copenhagen or Rome, you look down the alleyways and there’s gardens. Restaurants feel ‘lived in,’” said Sukle.
Sukle closed Birch, which was located on Washington Street in downtown Providence, after he attempted to make takeout and an outdoor patio sustain the business at the height of the pandemic. But with only 18 seats and pandemic-related regulations requiring social distancing at the time, it was difficult to to keep it open. Birch closed in October 2020. Clementine, a cocktail bar owned by Congressman David Cicilline, opened in that space this month.
After graduation season, in the summer of 2023, Oberlin will close for about a month to start vacating its current location, which Sukle explained his team has outgrown, to stand alongside the Gift Horse. They’ll have a brick oven, which will be used for seafood and for Oberlin’s fresh breads that are made daily.
The two restaurants will technically be in the same ground-level unit, connected through a hallway.
Caliaro said these changes should be viewed as a “continuation” of what Oberlin has already accomplished. She said when the restaurants do move, they will have an expansive wine book for 800 to 900 bottles. She said she is still curating the list, but said some natural wine producers they already serve at Oberlin will be highlighted.
For Sukle, now is the right time to be launching a new project in Providence, which has seen a renewed interest in revitalizing the hospitality industry.
“Providence is going through something ever since James [Mark] leaving the industry,” said Sukle of the owner of North and Big King restaurants shutting their doors this past summer. The two are friends and said they “grew up” in the industry together.
Sukle said there’s a number of innovative pop-ups and new dining concepts opening across the city. While there have been waves of ups and downs in Providence’s dining scene over the last decade, Sukle said this latest surge may stick.
“There’s this desire from the consumer to not have [the same] standard in every city,” said Sukle. In Providence, there’s “a desire to be more.”
Alexa Gagosz can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @alexagagosz and on Instagram @AlexaGagosz.