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21 Federal Farewell

I have written several times (most recently here) about our favorite Nantucket restaurant, 21 Federal. With our next Nantucket visit approaching, 21 Federal crossed my mind this morning, so I went to its website to check out this summer’s menu. To my astonishment, I discovered that it no longer exists.

The website is still there, with a slideshow that makes its absence all the more painful. Below the slideshow, general manager Robert Sarkisian writes:

In spite of our earnest efforts to negotiate a lease with Nantucket Island Resorts for 21 Federal, it is unfortunate that we were not able to do so successfully. 21 Federal will remain a treasure and a most special island institution in our hearts. I thank the owner, Nelson Doubleday, a man of honor and integrity, for his kindness and support over the many years. Moreover, I thank the wonderful, dedicated staff for all their hard work, professionalism and personal efforts. Lastly, I thank the legions of customers, our loyal guests, who made it a pleasure to work at 21 Federal. A hearty Godspeed to all of you! I do wish the new operators of the 21 Federal Street building great success in their new endeavor.

Further research revealed some news from last winter about plans for a replacement. For instance, a post from February at a local Nantucket blog (to which I have now belatedly subscribed) fills in some of the details about what lies ahead.

The management team of Straight Wharf Restaurant has taken over operations of 21 Federal restaurant. Chefs Amanda Lydon and Gabriel Frasca, along with General Manager Scott Fraley and Jock Gifford recently signed the new lease, and expect to open in time for the Nantucket Wine Festival, then open at least through Columbus Day.

21 first opened in 1985 as a year round fine dining restaurant under owners Chick and Mary Walsh, Michael Maloney, and David Fine. Nelson Doubleday became the majority owner sometime in the 90′s, and did not to renew his lease this year.


I’d been hearing that the new 21, whatever it will be called (the name may not be available), was to be an “Italian restaurant”, which would increase the number of Italian restaurants from 2 in 2010 to 4 in 2011, so I asked Gabriel to clarify.

“21 will not be just an ‘Italian restaurant.’ It will be a Nantucket restaurant, seasonal, local, hand-crafted and modern, filtered through an Italian lens. Calling it an Italian restaurant will not be a limiting factor at all.”

“Italian cooking to me is the least humble of the peasant cuisines. One of its gifts is coaxing the best flavor and texture out of a secondary cut of meat, or often overlooked fish. In other words, roasting a pork shoulder instead of a chop, or a lamb belly instead of its loin. And, with the help of today’s cooking tools (circulators and planchas, for example), we hope to be able to fully realize those techniques.

“I never think of us as being in competition with other restaurants on the island – Italian or otherwise. Enough diners will come into our restaurant once, and if we do our jobs well enough – provide great service, warmth, genuine hospitality, good and interesting food, offer value, and leave our guests with the feeling that they’d like to come back – we’ll have a successful season. If we do that for a few seasons in a row, hopefully we’ll become a part of people’s lives and of their traditions.”

Sometimes it’s hard for us Seattleites to remember what season it is. The weather has been pleasant here of late, with high temperatures around 70. Mid summer seems far away. That had me wondering, as I read the post excerpted above, when the new restaurant would be opening. Then I came to my senses and realized it’s peak season in Nantucket now and the restaurant would have opened weeks ago. I headed to an online Nantucket restaurant guide to find the name of the restaurant now located at 21 Federal Street. It turned out to be the last one listed: Ventuno.

We will miss 21 Federal, but we’ll need to move on. I suppose we’ll give Ventuno a try. It’s just steps away from Nantucket’s best-known Italian restaurant, DeMarco, which we had anticipated dining at again. I don’t know if we’ll want to eat at both. But a look at Ventuno’s online menu suggests that we’ll have no trouble finding food we’ll want to try. I’ll have more to say in September.

Categories: Obituary, Restaurants
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