Before you go to a restaurant, what do you want — or need — to know most? In this new series, The Rundown, we’re sharing all the essentials about newly opened (as well as favorite) Resy restaurants.
This week, we’re in Canton, Mass., taking a look at Northern Spy, which just opened on December 26, and is now open for outdoor dining and takeout.
Northern Spy is the second restaurant from chef and owner Marc Sheehan, a Milton native who opened his first restaurant, Loyal Nine, in Cambridge in 2015.
1. The location is historic. Truly.
Northern Spy is housed within the all-brick Rolling Copper Mill, where Paul Revere (yes, that Paul Revere) opened the country’s very first copper milling facilities in 1801. It’s the official birthplace of the U.S. copper industry.
For the past two years, Sheehan and his team have painstakingly resorted the mill to transform it into a full-service restaurant, installing a custom French kitchen from Boston’s legendary L’Espalier restaurant as well as a new copper roof from the current Revere Copper Products Company, which is now operating out of Rome, N.Y. The restaurant is part of a larger Paul Revere Heritage Site that will eventually have a museum, housing, and a rolling town green.
2. Sheehan took design and menu cues from the past.
“The first time you enter the building and if, you know, you’re sort of staring at the ghosts, and you’re feeling the heat, you can imagine the people who were laboring here, who were toiling here at the mill,” says Sheehan. “It was hot, and there were furnaces everywhere and, you know, to me, that’s the kitchen. We’re like those tradesmen or factory workers from before.”
Sheehan says he wanted the restaurant’s design to center on a wood-fired hearth, especially since the hearth was the center of so many New England homes in the early 1800s. “You always had something cooking on the fire and bubbling away over a flame all day,” he says.
The menu also reflects historic New England cuisine although, he adds, those recipes were deceptively simple. “These old recipes seem so simple and basic, but what you’re not reading on the page is that it was being cooked over wood, and that wood was imparting a flavor to it. That smoky element is really important to me to have on the menu, even on dishes that aren’t being finished over the grill.”
3. The opening of Northern Spy was both delayed — and rushed, to a degree.
Sheehan had originally hoped to open Northern Spy in the spring/summer of 2020, but the pandemic set construction back by approximately six months. “Because we’re in a mill that was bult in the 19th century, the buildout took a little longer than expected,” says Sheehan.
However, by December, when construction was complete, he had about two days to open the restaurant and get it ready for service — all while still running its sister restaurant, Loyal Nine, and contending with the holidays.
“The chef de cuisine, Paul Clark, and I were here until I two or three in the morning on Christmas Eve, getting everything prepped [to open the day after Christmas]. We enjoyed the holiday as best we could and the day after Christmas, we were back here at six o’clock in the morning, and we opened for service at 3 o’clock.”
“There have been a lot of nights where Paul and I were getting our a— kicked, cooking for takeout. But you know, those are all good problems to have right now,” he says.
4. Order, fire.
As the opening of Northern Spy approached, Sheehan knew he needed to make sure the menu was adaptable to COVID times, namely, to have food that was both takeout-friendly and also prepared in a way that would allow for proper social distancing in the kitchen — something he’d already been perfecting over at Loyal Nine throughout the summer and fall.
But once he and Clark and the rest of the chef team started cooking in the space — and with that massive wood hearth oven — they really began to transform the food over time with small tweaks here and there.
“I’d say that if you ordered our chicken on day one, and if you ordered it now, I hope it still comes off as the same chicken, but I know we’ve probably changed the way we butchered it, prepped it, and cooked it to order at least five or six times in the last three months,” Sheehan explains. “That’s what happens, especially when you cook everything in wood-fired oven like that.”
He adds, “I’m still kind of trying to workshop and define exactly how we’re cooking on it to order, and we’re still kind of moving the pieces around and putting that putting the fire in different places and seeing how it affects certain products have.” For instance, many nights following dinner service, the chefs might bring in different cuts of meat and seafood, from cuts of beef to whole lobsters, just to test out cooking in the oven.
5. The chef’s favorite dishes both involve cheese…
Chef Sheehan has a few favorite dishes on the menu but two of them, in particular, list cheese as a primary ingredient.
The first is a Northern Spy take on chicken and dumplings: It consists of seared potato dumplings made from mashed potatoes and mascarpone cheese and potato flour, shaped into a scallop-sized cakes, and placed in a bowl of a flavorful chicken broth, made from roasted chicken bones that impart a smoky flavor. The broth gets topped with garlicky cabbage that resembles noodles. And then that gets topped with some Parmesan: “When my mother would make chicken noodle soup or tortellini soup, there was always a bowl of Kraft cheese on the table. We don’t have Kraft here, but we have real Parmesan,” Sheehan says. “It’s a dish that’s emblematic of what the restaurant is.”
His other favorite dish? The macaroni and cheese gratin. “I think for a long time, I would poo poo cooking familiar foods,” Sheehan explains. “Like I never wanted to do a clam chowder or a macaroni and cheese because I wasn’t confident enough that I had a good one yet. But I think at this point, I’m more comfortable with it.”
At Northern Spy, the macaroni and cheese is cooked as a terrine that’s seared and rested in a serious Mornay sauce. “Visually it’s pretty interesting and it’s pretty simple on the plate, but you get that kind of crunchy lasagna topping to it,” he says.
6. … And he hopes Northern Spy will become a new favorite among locals, too.
Sheehan hopes Northern Spy will eventually become a family favorite in the local area, just like so many of the restaurants he loved going to while growing up in nearby Milton.
“When I was 12 years old, for whatever reason, whenever I would walk up to a restaurant and smell the smoked and roasted garlic it meant, to me, that this place is for real,” he says. “It got to the point where I would be researching the menus and getting excited before we even arrived; the anticipation was so high. I want to recreate that feeling here, and I hope we can really become a gathering spot for the community.”
Northern Spy is open Tuesdays through Sundays from 10:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. for outdoor dining and takeout.