by Rebecca M. Alvin
Chef Devon Gilroy stands at an imposing height with tattoos covering both arms. But it is his smiling eyes and boyish grin that best reflect his demeanor. There isn’t a trace of arrogance, and yet, when the Central House Restaurant executive chef talks about his food, he is full of knowledge and passion. The result is a menu that is not fussy and pretentious, but still pushes diners’ palates with a range of flavors and the textures of real, fresh ingredients.
Gilroy has restaurants in his DNA. Both parents circulated in that world, with dad Billy Gilroy achieving great success in a number of high-end New York City eateries.
“With my dad, whenever I would to visit him in the city, we were always going to restaurants,” Gilroy recalls. He also remembers getting a job at a West Village café to earn some money to attend the School of Visual Arts, when he was 19. The chef and the work he did there stuck, he didn’t go to SVA, and now he says of his decision to become a chef, “I really feel like it chose me.” He went on to work in several New York restaurants, including the highly regarded Chanterelle.
While the menu at the Central House relies on fresh, seasonal ingredients and therefore changes constantly with what is available, there is always a range of appetizers to suit your appetite and mood. Cape Cod shellfish that is literally off-the-boat fresh, (not processed in Boston and brought back to the Cape), is a staple of the menu. Try the Wellfleet oysters with lemon and vodka granita for a cool, sweet taste. The icy granita crunch combines with the silky texture of the oyster, and if you pair it with something dry and sparkling like the Gruet Brut Rose, you will be in heaven.
If shellfish is not what you’re interested in, there are salads, classic New England Clam Chowder, and other heartier appetizers, like the chicken liver mousse. This is not your grandmother’s “chopped liver”; it is a creamy, rich chicken liver mousse paired with crispy pork, a roasted apple puree, and sunchokes (when in season). Served with toast, you can spread the mousse on thick, top it with a piece of pork and sunchokes, and dip in the apple puree for a very decadent starter.
Moving on to dinner, there are many choices. A restaurant specialty is the ricotta gnocchi. While usually gnocchi is merely potato-filled pasta, here the flavor of the dish comes from roasted beets, shitake mushrooms, and ricotta salata cheese. Vibrant in color, this dish combines a number of textures with a very bold flavor that goes well with the Bonny Doon Vineyard Contra wine recommended by wine steward and manager Peter Miscikoski. The red wine, which is only available at three restaurants in the country, features a variety of organic grapes, and is nice and dry.
Something Gilroy is particularly proud of is the restaurant’s meat. Just as their fish comes from the only local purveyor, guaranteeing the freshest fish, Gilroy works directly with people he knows and trusts for their pork and beef, as well.
Gilroy designs the menu to always include several different cuts of beef, which come from Kinderhook as whole, grass-fed steers. The cows’ diet is important to Gilroy both for its flavor and the life that the animal is able to have. But grass-fed beef can be an adjustment for most of us who are raised on corn-fed cows, something that is completely unnatural. Gilroy wants us to experience what beef really should taste like when cows are not pumped full of antibiotics to ward off the illnesses they get from eating corn, a food he says cows cannot digest. The result is a slightly chewier, earthy taste.
But the highlight of the dinner menu may just be the thyme & white wine steamed halibut served with radishes, spring onions, and either English peas or fresh edamame, on a flavorful soubise. The delicate fish is infused with a light flavor and the accompanying vegetables make this dish the perfect spring entrée. The soubise, a deep, hearty onion purée adds just enough boldness to complement the more subtle flavors of the rest on the plate, creating a balanced flavor profile.
“I tend to like the intensity of flavors – it’s not about having many ingredients. So for example, if you’re having something with fennel, it [should be] the most intense fennel experience you’ve ever had,” Gilroy explains.
As carefully prepared and thought-out as the menu is, the Central House is also about the whole dining experience. Located on bustling Commercial Street, where even in early spring a cast of local characters are always walking about, and a view of the Pilgrim Monument is just across the way, it’s perfect for people-watching. The open-air deck is light and comfortable and the atmosphere is always casual. Summer evenings, dinner is complemented by piano bar talent like Bobby Wetherbee who has been performing in town for 50 years now.
After a dinner that is fulfilling on a variety of levels, there’s only one thing left: dessert. The specialty here is about as decadent as you can get, with a dense chocolate tart you need a knife to cut, paired with chocolate gelato doused in chocolate cookie crumbs. The intense chocolate is matched by the slight bittersweetness of burnt caramel, made more complex and delicious by a hint of sea salt.
The Central House also has a lunch menu that features a lot of local favorites like crispy calamari, chicken wings, burgers, and lobster mac n’ cheese, but with Gilroy’s spin on it: instead of chunks of lobster mixed into the dish, he gives you a whole butter poached lobster right on top. This is a good example of Gilroy’s ability to adapt to popular tastes without compromising on quality.
The Central House Restaurant is located in the Crown & Anchor complex at 247 Commercial St., Provincetown. They are open daily except Wednesday for lunch (11 a.m. – 4 p.m.) and dinner (5 p.m. – close). Dinner patrons also get preferred seating for Crown & Anchor shows. For information or reservations, call 508.487.1430 or visit www.onlyatthecrown.com/centralhouse.