Juxtaposition seems to be a theme at The Aviary: the accessibly urban yet tranquilly rural location in Swansea, and an upscale menu in a casual atmosphere. Head Chef James Weare is adamant that you can come here in shorts and flip flops to enjoy a lunch and the price point of the menu is about making upscale dining affordable.
We talked about the familiar modern American menu classics, the ever-changing line up of craft beers and the Wednesday night “Flight Night” (which is not quite what it appears). It all makes for a relaxed and welcoming atmosphere, surrounded by beautiful décor in the lush countryside.
Well, I can immediately tell we’ve got something in common aside from being fond of food: you’ve also got a British accent! How did you find yourself in Swansea?
Family ties brought me over here. My wife is American and we have a strong connection to Little Compton, where we live. My wife’s grandmother was the mayor of the town for over 30 years.
I’ve been at The Aviary since June of 2015, having previously been at Sakonnet Point Club in Little Compton. Prior to that I was in DC at The Blue Duck Tavern. My roots are back in Europe… but I feel like I grew up in France. My parents would go to France every year for summer vacation. When I was about 14 or 15 they bought a house in Brittany. After that I would stay there every summer, working in restaurants, and ended up going to culinary school.
I hear there’s another connection between you and the UK, that Swansea might not be so unfamiliar to you?
I studied for a short time in the Welsh city of Swansea that ended up being somewhat prophetic. My Instagram handle is @DragonsAnchor. It reflects the melding of my Welsh experiences (the Welsh flag displays a dragon) and that of Rhode Island and its instantly recognizable anchor emblem.
So with a background in French culinary training and high-class fine dining in both Europe and America, how does that influence the food at The Aviary?
Though I come from a fine dining background, that’s not what we want to do here. The Aviary is about using the fine techniques in the kitchen, but making it more affordable so that people can experience that. It’s casual, upscale food.
How did you find the transition from the culinary scenes of Europe to America?
When it comes to flavors, I’ve found people are more open to things over here. Top end British food is great, but traditional British food shies away from spices and chilies, and I like using that sort of stuff. I’ve found the American palate a little more adventurous than the British [one].
One thing both countries seem to have in common though is a love of curries. Britain tends towards Indian style, whereas Thai flavors go down really well here. I love both, so I like to pull those flavors out a lot.
What’s your process for creating new dishes?
The way I like to cook is to take dishes that are well known over here but prepare them in the way that my European training and experience leads me to. Rather than following a traditional recipe, I like to do my interpretation and use my intuition to put a fresh twist on well-loved dishes.
I love that you’re serving well-known classics in a fresh way, like Fish and Chips, Chicken Paillard and Clams Linguini. What else can diners look forward to?
We have daily specials that change frequently and Wednesday evenings are “Flight Night,” when we offer flights of three different types of pasta. Right now it’s Bolognese, mushroom and pesto but we change weekly to keep it interesting.
The bar also has an ever-changing selection of draft beers. We try to keep the beer selection local and appealing to the large number of craft beer drinkers in this area. Our current line up includes Berkshire Lost Sailor, an IPA from Massachusetts; Buzzards Bay 81 Whacks, a red IPA from Westport, MA; Jack’s Abby Sunny Ridge, a pilsner from MA; and Clown Shoes Clemetine, a Belgian-style white ale from Ipswich, MA.
2229 Grand Army of the
Republic Highway, Swansea