Seekonk's Old Grist Mill Tavern: history & great food
Warwick native and Johnson & Wales graduate Greg Esmey loves to talk about the history of his Old Grist Mill Tavern, a story that dates all the way back to 1738, when a fully operating gristmill, sawmill and icehouse stood on the property. While many changes have occurred since then, including devastating fires in 1957 and again two and a half years ago, Esmey rebuilt the restaurant as close to the original as possible.
“I’m ever grateful to the firemen who went out of their way to salvage many of the historical objects as possible,” Esmey said. “Tiffany lamps and duck decoys over 150 years old were recovered floating through the site, along with the Cyprus boards brought here from the Florida swamps and many of the signs and memorabilia. We actually found more Cyprus boards in a barn in New Hampshire.”
During construction, Greg moved most of his staff, many who had been at the restaurant for over 20 years, to his Wharf Tavern, which received its own setback due to major storm damage.
“Fire and water. What’s next, locusts?” he said. “I consider myself to be the caretaker of this magnificent, historical property. Just think, there has been activity on this site since the 1920s!”
I was amazed at how close the restaurant looked to the building I remembered back in the early ’70s when I worked in East Providence and attended many Chamber of Commerce meetings there. The view through large windows of the duck pond and waterfall are still major attractions. Esmey points out that while many restaurants try to recreate a certain theme within the structure, the Grist Mill has its own personal identity.
“What you see is what it is,” he said. “It is what and who we are, and I wanted it as it always was.”
No sooner was the restaurant up and running again last November, when the Town of Seekonk decided to reconstruct the road, making it difficult to enter the parking lot from one direction.
Loyal customers won’t let a little construction from finding their way to the restaurant. Greg admits that it has been tough financially, with the cost of construction and loss of business for two and a half years. He would like to increase his luncheon business, with a full menu of grilled flat bread pizza, burgers, sandwiches, soups, salads and his signature seafood dishes, steaks and salad bar. The fabulous salad bar is still there, right where I remembered it and as good as I remember it. You could easily make a meal out of it…and many do.
Dinner at the Grist Mill
While lobster is always a specialty, along with prime rib, August is the time for their 25th Annual Lobster Feast, which runs through Labor Day.
After enjoying a basket of fresh bread, including the signature cinnamon bread, all made fresh in their bakery, plus a perfect gin martini and Black Russian, we decided on our appetizers.
Joyce chose the Lobster Quesadilla ($13.99) off the special menu, which also included lobster bruschetta, spring rolls, pizza and cob salad, all loaded with fresh lobster meat. Realizing the four large portions, stuffed with lobster, avocado, mango, cheese and tomatilla sauce was a meal, we each ate one and wrapped the other two for the next day.
I ordered crab cakes ($11.99) from the regular menu and found myself facing two of the largest, tastiest crab cakes I had ever encountered. I took one home for the next day. Of course, I let Joyce taste it and the accompanying corn relish.
For my entrée I ordered a dish I had never had: lobster scampi ($23.99). The huge portion of fresh lobster meat (I even found a knuckle) was tossed with tomato in a garlic butter sauce and served over gobetti pasta. Gobetti is similar to larger elbow macaroni and absorbs the sauces perfectly.
It came with French fries and cole slaw. I avoided the fries but the cole slaw, like the potato salad on the salad bar, was fresh and delicious.
While the restaurant is still famous for its prime rib, Joyce chose the 7-ounce filet mignon ($23.99), accompanied by wild rice and fresh string beans. She asked for it rare, and that’s exactly how it came. I’m not a steak eater, but the small bite she gave me was tender, juicy and delicious.
Chef Ernie has been with the Grist Mill for 23 years, starting as a dishwasher and working his way through the kitchen to become one of the finest chefs in the industry.
The Old Grist Mill is open seven days a week for lunch and dinner. For reservations call 336-8460.
Directions: Take Route 95 north to Route 195 East, To Exit 1, Seekonk. Bear left at the light and continue a short distance to the fork in the road, where you will see the construction. Bear right and take an immediate left into the parking lot overlooking the beautifully landscaped grounds and pond.