APPLETON — Briar Patch restaurant was a vision years in the making said owner Ben Magro, over a cup of coffee in the bright but intimate space that houses his new restaurant venture. The structure, while not new, was a labor of love.
Magro, a longtime resident of Appleton, said that he had always admired the property that now houses Briar Patch.
“I always eyed this property, it’s just so beautiful,” he said, referring to the early 1800s cape that has been reimagined as a charming 40-seat restaurant. “I thought, ‘wouldn’t that make the coolest little bistro or restaurant?’”
He added that the three-acre property, at 48 Peabody Road, is ideally situated near a busy intersection, making it a compelling and convenient location for a gathering place — and for business.
“It’s unbelievably busy,” Magro said, gesturing toward the intersecting roads. “In the summer we’ve counted often more than 60 cars an hour coming through.”
He had the opportunity to purchase the property in 2015. Extensive renovations included moving the original cape house back from the road and marrying it to another existing structure — also moved — on the property. Magro said he hired almost entirely local contractors, including one man who had grown up in the house.
“We worked to achieve the feeling that we want to have here,” Magro said.
Getting resourceful was an important part of the construction, and Magro explained that many materials were repurposed, even within the building itself.
He said that when Appleton residents were surveyed as part of the development as a comprehensive plan they had been asked what types of business they would like to see in Appleton. Approximately 70 percent of those responding indicated they would like a restaurant.
He has the aid of a small team, including his daughter, Eliza, and son Noah, who both have restaurant experience. Eliza has worked at numerous restaurants, including a number of well-known area establishments, and has “tons of front- of-the-house experience.” Ben Magro said.
He said that working with family has been, “great, it’s just great.”
Additional members of the Briar Patch team include Italian-born manager Marco Bonometti, who originally came to Maine to study at the Apprenticeshop in Rockland, and Mark DiGirolamo, who works as a consultant.
Additionally, Heather Carle has been enlisted to assist with the business side of the restaurant and Sam Turner is the Pizzaiolo.
Magro attended Scuola Italiana Pizzaioli school in Chicago for a one-week intensive; he makes all of the restaurant’s pizza dough in a prep kitchen downstairs.
Magro said he wanted to open the restaurant “very quietly.”
As the construction and menu design were moved along and deliveries began to roll in, Magro said neighbors and community members were increasingly eager for opening day.
“We started two weeks ago,” he said during a November 1 meeting. “First we did a week of just family and friends. We didn’t charge anything and just gathered comments.”
The second week was an unadvertised soft opening. Despite the intentional quiet opening to “get the kinks worked out” business was good, Magro said, praising his team and the growth throughout the process.
On October 24, Briar Patch officially opened its doors.
It’s clear the space has been well thought out, from the small but well-appointed kitchen to the rustic but clean aesthetic in the dining room.
Both have a centerpiece: In the dining room, it’s an impressive stone fireplace, designed and built Lanphere and Sons, of Appleton. In the kitchen, the wood-fired oven is the star of the show.
Magro said Briar Patch holds Appleton’s inaugural full liquor license. A feat that he explained required filing a citizen’s petition with the town and collecting the signatures of two-thirds of the registered voters in Appleton.
Due to existing laws, Magro said two petitions were required: one in order to sell alcohol Monday through Saturday and one for Sunday sales.
After gathering signatures, Magro explained that the petition was forwarded to the select board and a special town meeting was called.
The voters favored the plan, and as a result, Briar Patch is the inaugural establishment in town allowed to sell beer, wine and cocktails.
While Noah Magro holds down the fort behind the bar, Eliza serves and assists with running the front of the house and Ben has been working with the kitchen team.
“We want to make sure we all work together to develop the look and feel of the food, just as we did with the menu,” Ben Magro said.
The menu consists of Italian inspired items and traditional favorites. Appetizers range from specialty salads and charcuterie plates to fried calamari and chicken wings. Entrees include a variety of specialty 10-inch pizzas (they can cook three at a time in their wood-fired oven), specialty ravioli and lasagna, a grass-fed burger and their “Appleton Roadhouse” pulled pork sandwich, in addition to a variety of other items to suit all palettes.
Nightly specials include a pizza special and a slow-roasted meat such as brisket, short ribs or pork butt served in a bowl with pan jus and roasted seasonal vegetables.
“Nobody here looks at oneself as a ‘chef,’” Magro said, describing a chef as a culinary school graduate. “We all love to cook and we’ve developed a great team spirit through working together.”
Nearly every item on the menu is $16 or less.
“One of the goals is that we didn’t want to price people out,” Magro explained. “The community reaction has been great.”
He explained that the menu will remain the same through the autumn season, musing that consistency is key and developing consistency in all menu items is a goal. Both the pizzas and the nightly special have been very popular, Magro said.
“Things are going well,” he said. “The kitchen running like a machine is very important, we’re looking forward to adding more specials, too.”
Magro mused about the contentment he feels in sticking to the vision he and his children initially crafted for Briar Patch. One thing he has observed is happy, contented customers.
“We realized during our first week that when guests come here they’re staying, and that makes me really happy,” Magro said.
The Briar Patch is located at 48 Peabody Road in Appleton and is open Wednesday through Sunday from 4 p.m. to 9 p.m. daily. Reservations are recommended. Reach the Briar Patch at (207) 785-2151.
Jenna Lookner can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org