Steve Johnson is the executive chef and owner of The Red Dory in Tiverton. He comes from a background of cooking at exquisite restaurants in Boston and spending time in southern France where he learned about French cuisine. The James Beard Foundation even nominated him for Best Chef in the Northeast. I caught up with him to talk about his love of food, being inspired by the seasons and the secret to making the best ice cream.
Being that you’re practically right on the water, I would expect to see typical New England fare on the menu, but you’ve incorporated some unexpected dishes as well.
At The Red Dory we try to offer a combination of dishes that have easy appeal along with others that are a bit more unusual for local diners. Our menu is based on tasty, seasonal ingredients, and my cooking simply follows my personal interests and curiosity about food. For our guests, I hope that they are able to enjoy good cooking whether it’s in standard dishes like Fried Oysters or Linguine and Clams, or more unusual ones like Grilled Sardines with fennel vinaigrette and Octopus with Chick Peas and smoked paprika.
Where do your culinary influences come from?
The core of my cooking is based on the flavors of the Mediterranean, and so staples such as garlic, capers, anchovies, olives and fresh herbs are the usual ingredients in my toolbox, along with vegetables – lots of vegetables. We apply those ingredients to all of the great local seafood to produce the dishes on our menu.
Aside from your culinary repertoire, where do you draw inspiration?
I’m always on the lookout for the freshest, best ingredients and really enjoy the steady process of tinkering in the kitchen. We buy much of our produce and seafood from area farmers and fishermen, and the great quality and seasonality of these foods are what drive our menus throughout the year.
What’s one dish that represents your commitment to sourcing locally?
One of our most popular dishes is a Fish Stew of haddock and clams with salt cod and escarole – the broth is light yet very invigorating. The main ingredients in this dish are very familiar to New England diners, and among my favorite seafood to cook and eat.
There’s a movement towards using uncommon, local seafood. What have you brought onto the menu that you want to introduce your diners to?
During the winter months, we offer a main course of Skillet-roasted Skate Wing with browned butter sauce, lemon and capers. Skate is a delicious local fish that is abundant along our shores, yet you don’t see it too often on area restaurant menus. When people come to our restaurant, they always have the option of choosing something that they might not find everywhere else.
Tell me about your special small plates you serve only on Sundays.
On Sundays, in addition to our regular menu, we also offer a series of tapas dishes. It’s the one day each week that we open at noon, and these blackboard specials expand the list of options – there are lots of tasty bites at very reasonable prices.
What are you preparing this time of year?
For desserts, we always have our signature Lemon-Buttermilk Pudding with huckleberry sauce. Along with that, we also have a Warm Chocolate Cake and a seasonal item, usually fruit, such as a French-style Caramelized Pear Tart. We make our own ice creams here at the restaurant, and boy do the fresh farm eggs make a big difference.
Does your culinary influence expand to your cocktails?
We have a full bar and offer several small batch bourbons, and we love finding unusual ryes, tequilas and amari. While we don’t have a house cocktail menu, we do periodic specials based on our herb garden out back. Many of our regular guests rely on us for a well-made martini or manhattan. Beers on tap or by the can or bottle are mostly local (Buzzards Bay Brewery, for example) or from craft producers. Our wine list isn’t huge, but tailored specifically to match our menu – a greco di tufo from southern Italy or an albariño from northern Spain are great choices to pair with our seafood.
The Red Dory
1848 Main Road, Tiverton