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    Monday, April 15, 2024

    Whitecrest is the best new restaurant to open in this area in a long time

    Seared swordfish with farm potatoes and lemon sauce (Ann Baldelli/Special to The Day)

    When our younger son told us that he’d been to Whitecrest Eatery in Stonington five times and we still hadn’t gotten there, it sunk in that we had better get going.

    The kid knows and enjoys good food, and once again, he was spot-on. Whitecrest, in my opinion, is the best new restaurant to open in this area in a long, long time, and that’s quite a statement considering all the exceptional dining establishments we have in southeastern Connecticut and southern Rhode Island.

    The fish, proteins and vegetables are locally sourced, freshly prepared, and made with unique and flavorful sauces and accompaniments, resulting in dishes that are unique and extraordinarily good.

    Like the Stone Acres Farm Roasted Veggies, a delightful blend of beets, coined and whole carrots with the greens still attached, nestled in a paprika bisque with smoked ricotta ($9). Words just cannot describe how good it was. Or the Seared Swordfish ($26), on this night prepared with Wehpittituck Farm Potatoes and lemon supreme Danish parsley sauce. Even our non-carb eaters couldn’t resist the baby potatoes — perfectly crisp on the outside and pillowy soft inside.

    Both Stone Acres and Wehpittituck are local farms, and you will find whatever they raise or grow, as well as the bounty of many other local farmers and fishmongers, on the Whitecrest menu, which changes regularly, sometimes daily. 

    The owners, chef Johan Jensen and his wife, Abbey Hemmann, are both in their mid-20s and opened their restaurant in Stonington’s cavernous Velvet Mill in early July, pulling together every nickel they had. When they realized the cost of dishware, they started looking in thrift shops and today serve their fare on china plates donated by family and friends, and purchased at Goodwill. The mismatched dishes remind me of my late mother-in-law’s favorite special-occasion china.

    The couple named the restaurant for White Crest Beach in Wellfleet, Massachusetts, where they were married at sunrise three years ago. The two met when Jensen was hired from his native Denmark to serve as a summer chef at the restaurant owned by the family that Hemmann was nannying for.

    They have gone back and forth between Denmark and the States, and for a time, Jensen worked as a chef in New York City and New Haven. It was Hemmann, who summered as a girl with her family in Westerly and Groton, who suggested they look for a place near Stonington when they decided to open their own restaurant.

    They’ve settled in the space formerly occupied by The Velvet Vine and, before opening in early July, spent months transforming it to their liking. The kitchen is now open to the dining room, and the first thing customers see when they walk in is Jensen and his assistants chopping and sautéing. Typically, the chef is the first one to greet customers and he will occasionally leave his work station to come chat with patrons.

    When our non-carb eater asked our waitress what he could substitute for the fries with the Sloping Meadow Farm Steak Frites ($28), she said she’d consult with the chef and be right back. Two minutes later, Jensen was at our table, offering ideas for substitutions. He ended up sending the ribeye, served with blue cheese butter and chili aioli, out to the table with a substantial side of Buffalo Brussels, roasted Brussels sprouts served with blue cheese and house-made buffalo sauce.

    Virtually everything is made in the kitchen at Whitecrest, from the pasta, recently gnocchi, to the charred and pickled scallions served on a fish dish, to the creamy rich chocolate mousse and other desserts. Jensen prepared a Danish Dream Cake one night, something his wife told us he’d enjoyed as a boy at family birthday parties, and the slightly sweet, coconut-laden confection was wolfed down by the four of us who shared it. 

    That gnocchi, served as the Sloping Meadow Farm Ragout ($20), was a blend of beef, pork, lamb, pecorino, and smoked ricotta and parsley.

    If there’s a complaint about Whitecrest, it’s the heat. Not the food, but the temperature in the industrial space converted to an eatery. On sultry summer days, it got very warm inside, but customers seemed to overcome it. And in the fall, there are plans to expand Whitecrest out into one of the main halls in the mill complex where there will be more air and better circulation.

    I only hope when they grow, they don’t ruin the perfection. Currently, the restaurant seats about 30 people, plus an additional 12 at the full-service bar where capable barkeep Kelsey mixes a great martini.

    But the big draw at Whitecrest is the food, and it makes it even better that the service is exceptional. The waitstaff are attentive and knowledgeable, and Hemmann is a constant presence on the floor, moving from table to table to assure that customers are happy and answering all their questions about the menu, owners and their story.

    They serve Small Plates, which range in price from $5 to $13, and entrees or Big Plates, averaging from $14 for their hamburger to $32 on a recent night for the Sepe Farm Lamb Shank, prepared with Davis Farm polenta, lovage, lamb sauce, and herbs grown locally.

    With its menu, Whitecrest pays homage to the local farmers and fishermen that it buys from daily, and Jensen is always ready to prepare whatever is fresh and intrigues him. Like the Sloping Meadow Smoked Beef Tongue ($10), prepared with scallions, cilantro capers, and a horseradish sauce. Yes, there are customers who clamor for it.

    Among the early favorite Whitecrest dishes are the Gazpacho ($5), made with tomatoes, watermelon and cucumbers; the Sloping Meadow Farm Smoked Bone Marrow ($12), prepared with a tomato jam, celery and big chunks of sourdough bread to soak up all the goodness; Mexican Corn ($5), an ear of corn with the husk intact grilled and served with buttermilk dressing, cheddar cheese, and house hot sauce; the Share Steak for two ($46), a 30-ounce tenderloin with a mop-up-every-last-bite sauce, house-cut fries, and a salad; and the Firefly Farm Pork Chop ($38), served with a bean cassoulet, swiss chard, summer squash, and pickled green tomatoes.

    Remember, the menu is constantly changing, so there will likely be something new if you visit. And why not? You know a restaurant is good when you see the owners and staff from other fine establishments dining there. The word is out on Whitecrest.

    Dirty Tito's martinis at Whitecrest (Ann Baldelli/Special to The Day)
    Farm roasted veggies — carrots and beets in paprika bisque with ricotta (Ann Baldelli/Special to The Day)
    Whitecrest's Mexican corn (Ann Baldelli/Special to The Day)

    Whitecrest Eatery

    Stonington Velvet Mill, 22 Bayview Ave., #14

    Instagram and Facebook @whitecresteatery

    Cuisine: Creative dishes made from locally sourced fish, proteins and vegetables, with a menu that changes regularly to complement whatever is fresh and inspires the chef.

    Atmosphere: Upscale industrial with an open kitchen and welcoming ambience.

    Service: Very good.

    Prices: A wide range, from as little as $5 to the high $30s, but on average, most entrees in the $20s.

    Hours: Open for lunch 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Wednesday to Sunday, open for dinner 5 to 9 p.m. Sunday, Wednesday and Thursday and 5 to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturdays. Closed Mondays and Tuesdays.

    Credit cards: Yes.

    Reservations: No.

    Handicapped access: There are many ways to enter the old mill but the best access for handicapped accessibility is from the Bayview Avenue entrance near the Whitecrest sign.

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