Edit 12/29/10: We are sorry to report that Ataraxis Tavern has closed it’s doors.
Marblehead’s got a new bar and grill in town, though you likely haven’t heard of it yet. Ataraxis Tavern has quickly and quietly filled the space left by Flynnie’s and in the month since their soft opening, has been generating great buzz.
Jeff Flynn and his family are well regarded by Marbleheaders and both Flynnie’s on the Avenue and at Devereux Beach were favorites of many, so while it may not be fair, comparisons by locals will be inevitable.
We stopped by last night to take a look for ourselves and had the opportunity to chat with owner Dean Santamaria-Capetanelis. Dean grew up in Marblehead and when he and friend Paul Riccardi, previously the executive chef at Jack Tar, were looking to open a restaurant and saw the space for sale, they jumped at the chance to return to town. Dean and Paul’s shared vision is that of a relaxing family-friendly tavern atmosphere serving quality comfort food. The name, Ataraxis, is actually an English word meaning “the absence of mental stress or anxiety.”
On first glance, the interior feels darker, warmer and indeed quieter for such a small space. The paneling on the walls, which was originally reclaimed wood from a tannery in Peabody, has been stained a dark walnut. The other big change is the black tablecloths and linen napkins at each table. Dean explains that not only does this help in baffling noise, but using linens is also more cost effective and creates less waste than paper. The new chairs and fresh coat of paint add to the revived atmosphere. And families with children shouldn’t be put off by the new look—our junior Dish member was delighted at the offer of an Etch-A-Sketch from the stash at the hostess stand to occupy kids waiting on their food.
There are a couple of changes that haven’t happened yet, but are in the works. The floor needs refinishing, but instead of fighting the salt, sand and snow of winter, that will wait till warmer months. Also, the custom painted glass between the restaurant area and bar is in the process of being replaced.
Much of the transformation, Santamaria-Capetanelis tells us, will never be seen by the public. The kitchen has gotten a facelift, as well as new chef (Riccardi) and sous-chef (Jake Soucy), and a new computer system installed. There are some familiar faces, though, because he hired back the former Flynnie’s wait and bar staff which made the transition smoother than most.
The menu, as promised, centers on hearty and comfort food favorites. The big difference here is that everything is prepared to order from scratch, using fresh ingredients. Dean already uses local suppliers like Patriot Lobster for seafood and Atomic Café for coffee, and is interested in locally sourcing as much as he can as the seasons change.
While we didn’t get to explore much of the menu, we did try the ribs ($14.50 for half rack, $21 for full) which were terrific. They were fall-off-the-bone tender and had great flavor. The grilled farmhouse burger ($8.75) was fresh, juicy and generous, and the fries plentiful and tasty.
Santamaria-Capetanelis is pleased with the initial public reaction, and said that business for February, (a difficult month to open anything) exceeded their expectations. Visitors have warmed to the new place, and with so many storefronts still vacant from economic upheaval, we’re thinking Atlantic Avenue can only benefit from the energy generated by Dean and his crew.
If you are interested in checking out the AT for yourself, think about heading over tomorrow night, Thursday March 4th, for their grand opening celebration. They will be serving up samples of their signature dishes as well as handing out fun freebies from Cape Ann Brewing Company from 5-7 pm.