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At RD86, seafood and brunch with a side of mentoring

New London — Asked if RD86 will at some point switch up the "Land & Sea" theme of its Friday night dinners, Robert Ramsay replied, "We don't know and we don't care."

It's not a flippant response that reflects a lack of thought, but one that reflects excitement at the ability to change menu concepts on a regular basis.

"We can change the concept in a matter of a day, and transform it into another complete experience," Ramsay said of the restaurant space, which Hannah Gant describes as "raw, a little bit industrial, but clean."

Ramsay and Gant are the co-founders of RD86, a restaurant and cultivator kitchen named for its focus on research and development at 86 Golden St. Ramsay is the owner of Montauk House Café, while Gant was a founder of Spark Makerspace.

The public can come in for dinner on Friday night, or brunch on Saturday or Sunday. Starting in June, the outdoor patio will be up and running seven days a week.

Operations manager Thor Torgersen explained that RD86 envisions a "Brooklyn-style patio," with a wood-fired grill, a full bar with eight seats, street food, lights strung overhead and plants.

The inside and patio will likely act as one full operation on the weekends, Ramsay said.

But he wants to reserve the interior Monday through Wednesday to bring in budding food entrepreneurs to develop concepts. And so the restaurant financially supports the cultivator kitchen, which Ramsay also thinks of as a leadership development program.

For example, he said, Lacy Donovan came in wanting to expand her prepared-foods business but wasn't sure how. She then decided she wanted to learn more about the business management side of the industry. 

Over the next six to eight months, Ramsay said, RD86 will work on developing a wholesale prepared-food business. He also envisions the restaurant holding cooking classes, and groups can rent out the space for receptions or fundraisers.

Gant said of founding RD86 with Ramsay, "Both of us are really entrepreneurial and visionary, and we both kind of connected — like many people do — with the potential of New London."

Their proposal was selected as one of the programs of Thames River Innovation Place. The five programs are collectively receiving $900,000 in matching grant funds from the entrepreneur-boosting organization CTNext.

TRIP Executive Director David McBride said $180,000 has been allocated for the cultivator kitchen.

"We wouldn't have done it without them," Ramsay said of TRIP. Gant added that they used "the relationship with TRIP as a catalyst so we could be up and running, and self-sustainable."

RD86 began with outdoor grilling parties on Friday nights in September and October, when 86 Golden St. was still home to Spark Makerspace. (Spark downsized and moved to 225 State St. in November).

After Spark moved out, the indoor space was redesigned to be a restaurant. Several picnic tables sit inside — made by Spark members — and a few smaller tables. Food preparation is done in a glass-walled production kitchen in the back, while there's an execution kitchen in the front.

RD86 then began offering its Land & Sea Dinner every Friday night, and brunch every Saturday. Dinner options have included seafood cioppino, fish and chips, braised short ribs with oyster mushrooms and Yukon mashed potatoes, black bean cakes with spaghetti squash, lemon chicken saltimbocca with polenta and sautéed greens, halibut with mushroom risotto and arugula, beetroot falafel, vegetarian moussaka, and zucchini and spinach fritter.

Brunch options have included fried chicken and biscuits with gravy, crème brulee French toast, salmon cake benedict, shrimp and grits, buckwheat berry pancakes and beef brisket hash.

RD86 recently expanded brunch to Sundays. The restaurant gets locally sourced ingredients from providers such as Hunts Brook Farm, Firefly Farm and Sea Well Seafood.


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