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    Wednesday, April 17, 2024

    Captain Daniel Packer Inne to be inducted into Connecticut Hospitality Hall of Fame

    Bartender Gerardina Del Franco, who has been working there for 19 years, gets ready for the day at Captain Daniel Packer Inne on Thursday, October 24, 2019. The popular Mystic restaurant and bar will be inducted into the Connecticut Hospitality Hall of Fame in December. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)
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    Mystic — The Captain Daniel Packer Inne story starts in both 1754 and 1979. The former date was when the restaurant's namesake purchased the land on Water Street, and the latter was when Richard and Lulu Kiley embarked on a four-year restoration of the historic building.

    When staff close the restaurant each day, they say goodnight to the captain and to his niece Ada, recalled general manager Allie Kiley Nasin, the owners' daughter.

    "They are a staple here in our state and across the country, obviously, without question," Connecticut Restaurant Association Executive Director Scott Dolch said.

    That reputation will lead to another important date in the restaurant's history. On Dec. 2, it will be one of two restaurants inducted into the Connecticut Hospitality Hall of Fame, along with New Haven's Modern Apizza. The 36-year-old DPI will be honored at the awards gala, called the CRAzies, at Foxwoods Resort Casino.

    Restaurants in business for more than 20 years are eligible, Dolch explained. The public does an online nomination process, and for the first time this year, a panel of 25 food critics and writers evaluated the nominations. He views the CRAzies as a way to tell the story of how restaurants "really do kind of take over their community and change the culture."

    When Captain Daniel Packer Inne opened in 1983, only the pub downstairs and the main floor were open, with no upstairs dining. The Kileys are from Rhode Island, and at DPI they would stay in a room upstairs with a bed for the parents and bunk bed for Allie and her brother.

    Kiley Nasin recalled that at age 6 or 7, she wanted to be in the Ice Capades, so she would put on roller skates and a leotard, climb down the back stairs, and roll through the dining room. Sometimes she put pastel mints in the house bottles of wine.

    So, her parents quickly decided it was time to buy a house in town.

    Over the years, Kiley Nasin said the restaurant's reputation has become "kind of like the six degrees of Kevin Bacon," that "there's always somebody who's heard of DPI."

    Kiley Nasin describes the vibe as "kind of the quintessential New England charm," a fitting description for a place with artwork of boats and old houses lining the walls above simple wooden tables.

    She said crafting the menu means walking a fine line between nostalgia and trying new things. People who had the lemon peppered chicken 20 years ago may still come in wanting that, so that's still on the menu, as are other old staples like scallops Nantucket and Blackjack sirloin.

    A new addition to the menu is a venison chop with potato gnocchi, truffle peelings and roasted red tomatoes.

    Diners can try items from the fall/winter menu — such as pumpkin bisque, an open face turkey sandwich and apple bread pudding — during Mystic Restaurant Week, Nov. 4-10. A two-course lunch is $17 while a three-course dinner is $27; dinner entrees off the full menu are typically in the $20 and $30 range.

    In terms of community engagement, DPI has donated private wine dinners for the Denison Pequotsepos Nature Center's Green Tie Gala, served food at the Wild Mushroom Festival, and sponsored the River Jam Festival.

    In the late 1700s, travelers between New York and Boston would stop for the night at the inn. "While they dined, Captain Packer would entertain his guests with thrilling tales of his adventures on the high seas. Early the next morning he would transport them — horses, stagecoaches and all — across the Mystic River on his rope ferry," according to the restaurant's website.

    Not including DPI and Modern Apizza, 22 restaurants have been inducted into the hall of fame since 2009. Locally, that includes Steak Loft in Mystic and Flanders Fish Market in East Lyme.

    At the CRAzies, CRA also will award Overall Best Restaurant of the Year. The finalists from the east region — there are four finalists from each of four regions — are RD86 in New London, Oyster Club in Mystic, David Burke Prime at Foxwoods and Cafemantic in Willimantic.

    Servers at Oyster Club and Cafemantic — respectively Dru Conway and Joelle Pagani — are among the five statewide up for Server of the Year, as is Martie Pollard at MBAR in Mystic. Adam Young of Sift Bake Shop is up for Pastry Chef/Baker of the Year, while Whitecrest Eatery in Stonington is up for Restaurant Newcomer of the Year.

    e.moser@theday.com

    The third-floor river room at at Captain Daniel Packer Inne features a view of the Mystic River on Thursday, October 24, 2019. The popular Mystic restaurant and bar will be inducted into the Connecticut Hospitality Hall of Fame in December. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)
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    The Seared Tuna at Captain Daniel Packer Inne features a scallion sauce, soba noodles, pea shoots, julienne red peppers and carrots as seen on Thursday, October 24, 2019. The popular Mystic restaurant and bar will be inducted into the Connecticut Hospitality Hall of Fame in December. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)
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    Chef Francisco Osorio prepares an order of Seared Tuna at Captain Daniel Packer Inne on Thursday, October 24, 2019. The popular Mystic restaurant and bar will be inducted into the Connecticut Hospitality Hall of Fame in December. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)
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