Published May 13. 2014 4:00AM
New London - The Seehund German Pub & Restaurant is offering an American twist on beer hall favorites at a location that many still identify with the long-gone Yankee stalwart Ye Olde Tavern.
And The Seehund hasn't shied away from the original dark-paneled decor of the former Bank Street gathering spot, which gained traction for a while as Dev's on Bank until the tapas restaurant moved to smaller quarters nearby.
In fact, the dark wood adds to the restaurant's vibe of mixing German beer with creative fusion dishes that marry such favorites as Philly cheese steak and nachos with flavors including bratwurst, red cabbage and beer cheese sauce.
"People come here and love the ambiance," said manager Shannon Arruda. "We haven't changed too much."
Kyle Hurst, a marine biologist and former Mystic Aquarium employee with an affinity for all things German, opened the restaurant April 24 and plans a grand opening at 5 p.m. Friday. The Stonington resident said that in Germany a lot of restaurants are named after animals, so he called his place the Seehund, which translates as "sea dog" - meaning a seal or sea lion.
Hurst said he checked out several locations but fell in love with the old world charm of the former Ye Olde Tavern, which the Woviotis family operated for about three decades. The building, now owned by Steve "Stash" Schiavone, also has housed PaStachio's, The Tavern and Hughie's restaurant. Hurst said there's no reason why New London can't gain the same kind of traction as trendier places such as Westerly and Mystic.
"I think New London is going in the right direction," Hurst said.
Hurst was happy to attract a veteran head chef, Mark Vecchitto, to help put together the restaurant menu and kitchen staff. Vecchitto, formerly of Coastal Gourmet, Latitude 41 and Aspen, admitted that German food is not his background, but said the Asian and other influences he has added to classic dishes will appeal to American appetites.
"I didn't want to go fully German," he said. "I had to Americanize it as much as possible without ruining the integrity of its origin."
Arruda, a veteran manager with experience including stints at two Mohegan Sun restaurants, said she believes The Seehund may be the only German restaurant in this part of the state, and an online search appeared to confirm the observation. Five hamburgers and a garden burger are on the menu, but it also includes such German favorites as schnitzel, sauerbraten and cabbage rolls, with dinner prices ranging from $10 to $18.
"I really think this is going to be a staple on Bank Street," Arruda said.
"It's not another Italian restaurant," added Vecchitto.
While the 110-seat restaurant offers the family-friendly atmosphere of its beloved predecessor (and includes a "kindermenu"), The Seehund isn't shying away from the pub aspect of its business. The bar offers German beer on tap, including Franziskaner Hefe-Weisse, Hacker-Pschorr Maibock and Hofbrau Marzen.
The restaurant has a payroll of about 70, nearly everyone working part time. Vecchitto and Arruda said the idea is to identify the best workers and eventually offer them full-time positions.
"If they have a passion, they're staying," Vecchitto said.
Hurst, whose mother is German and who grew up on the food, said the restaurant will participate in Wednesday's New London Food Stroll and has booked one wedding reception. A space upstairs can be employed from time to time as a banquet room and might be available for an expansion if the business takes off, he said.
It took about two months to get the restaurant up and running, Arruda said, despite the fact that the building was in good shape, with very little need for renovations.
Hurst said he put a few posters on the wall depicting European travel spots such as Lucerne, Prague and Heidelberg, and that was about it. A coat of armor greets visitors at the front.
"We've carved out our own unique niche," Hurst said.
"I really think this place is going to take off," added Vecchitto.