Widgets Magazine

Dennis McDermott on his New Greenport Restaurant & Bar and How 9/11 Made Him a Restauranteur

Q: You’re bringing a new restaurant to Greenport in July; tell me about it A: Our new project is called American Beech, and it is a casual, beach inspired American restaurant with a large, really nice outdoor dining area under a cedar pergola, and an outdoor bar, the Beech Bar. We’re offering coastal American food.

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Q: Wait—the name is American Beech, but you said it’s beach-inspired and serving coastal American cuisine—what gives?

A: We’re located in Stirling Square, which has a beautiful, huge American Beech tree in the center of it. I like the play on words in naming the restaurant. We’re a harbor town, so people hear “American Beech” and they automatically think of b-e-a-c-h but we’re not, we’re named after our tree. The Beech Bar is all around the tree. (Glimpse the tree in the featured photo)

Q: I get it; cool. What’s American Beech like?

A: It’s got a casual but sophisticated dining room, with 50 seats, plus the 45 in the plaza out front in Stirling Square. We source as much as we can locally; local fish, produce, wines, beer—as much as we can get locally. Our signature cocktail is the Greenport Mule. It’s our take on the Moscow Mule.  In tandem with the restaurant we’re doing a five-room Inn called The Suites at Stirling Square.

Q: Sounds great; when and how can I book a table?

A: Well, we’re aiming to open in mid-July. At that point you can book via Open Table or by calling us. We’ll serve dinner seven days a week, brunch on the weekends too, we’ll cater off site, and do a fair amount of to-go orders. We’ll be open late.

Q: Mid-July is a couple weeks away; any way I can get a taste of the goodness to come before that?

A: Yes; we’ll be doing a booth for the Tall Ships over 4th of July weekend, out in front of the square.  We’ll be doing Greenport street corn—roasted corn you can easily eat while you walk—and shrimp skewers, and we’ll pair that with Greenport Harbor Ale and One Woman rosé.

Q: What will The Suites at Stirling Square be like?

A: Five comfortable, beautiful rooms, each with a private bath, conveniently located to everything.

Q: American Beech isn’t your first Greenport restaurant.  What’s been the journey to this one?

A: Well, I started with the Frisky Oyster in 2002, and then I opened up the Frisky Oyster Bar in 2010. About a year later I sold them both. The bar I sold to Noah Schwartz, who opened Noah’s in that location. I sold The Frisky Oyster to my chef Robby Beaver, who has carried on the tradition.

I opened The Riverhead Project in 2011. I was very proud of that restaurant; I thought the interior was contemporary and sexy, the menu was well thought through. Although we were well received by the community, and our regulars sorely miss us, we were a little ahead of our time.  When the opportunity to move into Stirling Square opened up, it seemed the perfect fit.

Q: Have you always been a restaurateur? How did you start The Frisky Oyster?

A: I’ve been in the restaurant business a very long time, as a waiter, manager, on up.  It’s very dynamic, evolving, always something new. You can create and re-create yourself as often as you like. Your every day is a blank canvass.

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I started The Frisky Oyster right September 11, because at the time I was living at Chambers and West Broadway, four blocks from the World Trade Center. Obviously I couldn’t continue living there.

While I lived in the city, I was involved in catering. The catering business crashed too—all events were essentially canceled in September, October and November, and necessity being the mother of invention we decided to do the Frisky Oyster. We signed the lease in Dec ‘01, and opened in July of ‘02. The menu was similar to our catering menu.

When we opened the Frisky Oyster, there were no local oysters available; the name was an homage to the history of the industry in Greenport.  As the oyster industry started to develop, the Frisky Oyster featured it and became an early and major outlet for it.

Q: Wow, what a story.  So that’s the tale of your restaurant history out here; but how did you get to the North Fork in the first place? 

A: I had a summer house in Southold for the longest time.  When we wanted a second home, coming from the city, we looked at the South Fork, and for all the reasons people don’t like the Hamptons, we didn’t either. We looked at the Hudson Valley and other spots upstate, but we just really liked the North Fork.

We like the pace, the feel, the wineries, the farms; it just is a lot more real, genuine, honest.  We bought the house and felt immediately part of the community. When we decided to open the restaurant, Greenport was just the natural place. It’s such great hub, everybody goes to Greenport.

The entire North Fork has a great neighborhood feel. Everybody seems connected to everybody else some how. The North Fork’s just a great neighborhood.