by a Yankee diner
There are two stories here: the restoration of the historic Delahanty Building, and the genesis of Fins and Tales, a wonderful upscale restaurant specializing in seafood. You can't help but be impressed with both.
Located at 858 Main Street in Southbridge, the brick building is in the Gothic Victorian style and dates from 1878. It served first as the Alden dry goods business and then as the Delahanty furniture store. The first floor with its large windows was the showroom for furniture and bedding.
Fifteen years ago the building was vacant and up for sale. Peter and Deborah Desforges, residents of neighboring Sturbridge, purchased it. Deborah did not want to see the old building demolished, though it needed a lot of work, having sustained water damage and needing a new roof.
Deborah operned her interior design and fabric business in the new location and called it Frangelique, after their daughters Francesca and Angelique. Then, in 2008, they decided to open a restaurant, a long-time dream of Peter's. Frangelique moved to the second floor.
The interior renovation for the new restaurant was extensive, and elegantly done. The rooms are open and spacious with extra high ceilings; on one side is an attractive lounge with a beautiful wooden bar and four oversized, leather booths that seat four or five people. The bar was custom-built by cabinet and furniture maker Paul Girouard of Fine Lines in Fiskdale. Peter said it was patterned with flooring slats similar to a bar that Deborah had seen and liked.
Bricks from razed interior walls were reused to make decorative panels on the dining room wall.
New dark wood interior walls that separate the dining room and bar feature antique glass windows that once belonged in an old bank building. Bartender Andrea used leftover glass panes, some with grout still attached, to make a wonderful display of stenciled fish paintings.
Deborah designed and sewed the tables linens and window treatments, all in deep, warm colors to give the rooms a relaxing an elegant ambience. She fabricated the brown and black leather booths in the lounge as well. She is “into antiques” and searched for vintage lights and wall décor, frequenting the Brimfield Antique Show and fleamarkets to find just the right items.
The walls of a separate large function room that seats 64 people had walls covered with horsehair plaster, which had to be chiseled off to expose the brick underneath.
The Desforges have done justice to a building that is now on the National Register of Historic Places.
Now, on to the restaurant part of the story. Peter explains: “I spent my whole life in the restaurant business, at Roms Restaurant, starting with washing the dishes to full time manager. It was a family business; Rom and my mother were siblings.”
The Fins & Tales name came with help from the Smith & Jones ad agency in Sturbridge. The restaurant would focus on fish, and the stories would be told at the bar.
Peter hired a well-known chef and together they devised a menu that combined “middle-of-the-road” popular items with more upscale items like lamb shanks and paella. “Our menu satisfies people looking for upscale casual,” he said. Prices are moderate to high for the area, as seafood is getting more and more expensive, Peter explained. But there are plenty of mid-priced items too.
The regular menu offers a selection of starters that includes standard items such as shrimp cocktail and crab cakes, but also features baked brie ($8.95), PEI Mussels ($9.95), and crispy duck confit ($12.00).
My dining partner and I skipped the appetizers and started with a shared mixed green salad ($5.95). It consisted of baby greens, red onions, sliced apples, feta cheese, with a sherry vinaigrette. We deemed it a combination that worked well together.
For one of our entrees we chose a grilled lobster and crab flat bread pizzetta ($12.99), a very tasty thin- crust pizza loaded with huge chunks of lobster and colorful roasted red peppers. Our second choice was the pan-seared salmon, which was creatively served with fingerling potatoes and root vegetables ($17.95). The fish was prepared just right to be moist and flavorful with an herbed compound butter.
Other main course selections on the standard menu include baked stuffed haddock ($20.95), chicken Parmesan ($15.95), and eggplant Parmesan ($14.95), and New York strip steak ($21.95), and seafood paella ($15.95). Pasta choices include spaghetti and meatballs ($10.95), baked lobster macaroni & cheese ($18.95), and penne chicken al forno ($15.95). Nightly specials provide additional entree choices.
Desserts – crème brulee, bread pudding, brownies, tiramizu - are made inhouse, Peter told us. He outsources the cheesecake.
The wine list is extensive, with some selections available only by the bottle, others by the glass. There's a Huntington Chardonnay from California ($6/glass), A to Z Pinot Gris from Oregon ($28), a Lunetta Prosecco Brut from Italy ($7/24), a Callia Alta Malbec from Argentina ($6/22), and a Josh Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon from California ($10/35), among many others. Specialty cocktails include raspberry mint mojitos and lemon blueberry martinis.
Like Roms was, Fins & Tales is a family affair. Peter spends much of his time as the chef. Angelique is the dining room manager, and sons Garrett and Harrisson work in the kitchen. Deborah helps out with the restaurant too, as Frangelique has closed. Daughter Francesca is in college in Boston.
The Fins & Tales menu and its ambience complement each other very well. It's a place we will keep on our list of destination restaurants. It is at 858 Main Street, Southbridge, 508-764-3342, www.finsandtales858.com. Hours are Tuesday-Sunday from 4:00 p.m. Closed Mondays.