It's easy to drive by 80 Thoreau, but its staff strives to ensure that the blue-doored restaurant is hard to forget after your first visit.
"For us, the plan was the same whether we opened up on the Upper East Side, California, or here," said Vincent Vela, who owns the restaurant with pal Ian Calhoun. "Our vision has always been the same -- always wanted to provide great food, wonderful cuisine, and professional, warm, hospitable service."
Calhoun and Vela's eatery, named after its Concord street address -- and, by association, the town's prodigal son, Henry David Thoreau -- opened in April 2011 at the Depot Shoppes alongside the commuter rail tracks. Diners can watch from a row of windows as the trains pass by every two hours, and every 30 minutes during rush hour.
The Cornell graduates met while studying at the University's School of Hotel Administration; they were only sophomores when the pair set their sights on opening a restaurant together. Vela now serves as the maître d' at 80 Thoreau, Calhoun as the general manager.
"It inspires us," Vela said. "It's something we're excited to go to work for, wake up every day to do."
The dining room at 80 Thoreau is as simple as the menu. It seats 90, including nine at its semi-circle bar and four at the chef's counter that lines one end of the eatery's open-concept kitchen.
Dark wooden chairs are set around square tables adorned with white tablecloths in the restaurant's two dining rooms. Some tables are also hugged by gray leather booths.
A wood-framed chalkboard greets diners with a list of farms in Concord and Carlisle where much of the food is sourced, and the cheeses of the day.
Chef Carolyn Johnson had a hand in creating the menu at 80 Thoreau since its inception. She did not attend culinary school but instead got her degree in economics and did the things she was "expected to do" before deciding to work her way into kitchens at some top notch restaurants in Boston. She took the reins at 80 Thoreau after working for seven years as the Chef de Cuisine at Rialto. Johnson is joined in the kitchen by the restaurant's new pastry chef, Katherine Hamilburg, a graduate of the Cambridge School of Culinary Arts.
"I've sort of always been fascinated by food," Johnson said, adding that she was only 15 when she got her first subscription to Bon Appétit magazine.
The menu at 80 Thoreau changes frequently, but gradually. "It's always evolving," Johnson noted. Also found on the menu are, for starters, Spiced Zucchini Soup (pepper, almond and paprika), Crisp Gnocchi (smoked eggplant, fennel and prosciutto) and Fluke Crudo (pickled rhubarb, tarragon and sea salt). Stuffed Heirloom Tomatoes (grains, herbs, cucumber fondue), Grilled Swordfish (eggplant, chickpeas, capers) and Grilled Sirloin (honeyed beets, slaw and crème fraiche) are among the entrée selections.
The Lobster Tagliatelle (in-house made sage tagliatelle noodles served with cubed pumpkin, escarole, sage and roe butter) is this year's first fall dish at the eatery. The entire menu will take two to four weeks to fully transition to autumn offerings.
"People come here once or twice a week and it's rare when there isn't something new on the menu for them," Johnson said.
Nearly all of the herbs used in the kitchen at 80 Thoreau are sourced from local farms, as is the produce. The seafood is also caught locally.
"I think it really builds a sense of community," Johnson said of buying local. "We're out here amongst all of these farms ... the quality of the vegetables -- they're picked the same day, or a day before, they're perfectly ripe.
"The quality is so much better," she said. "I feel it means more knowing the person that grew the food. It adds a level of respect to the ingredients."
80 Thoreau, 80 Thoreau St., Concord, 318-0008, 80thoreau.com
- Hours: Monday-Thursday, 5:30-10:30 p.m., Friday-Saturday, 5:30-11:30 p.m. Closed Sunday.
- Parking: The restaurant shares a lot with the other Depot Shoppes on Thoreau Street, but there is plenty of street parking.
- Reservations: Accepted. The restaurant also reserves tables through OpenTable.com.
- Atmosphere: Upscale without the stuffiness -- simple, warm, and inviting.
- Menu: New England cuisine with a French influence.
- Price range: Entrees typically run from $18-31.
- Try this: Lobster Tagliatelle, Smoked Bluefish Pate, Marscapone Mousse with Fig. For those looking for something smaller, the restaurant offers a Bar Bites menu (check out the Marinated Olives, Fried Eggplant, Pan Fried Skate, and 80 Thoreau Burger & Fries).
- Beer: The eatery supports New England brewers and boasts offerings from Cisco, Mayflower and Berkshire Brewing on its beer list.
- Cocktails: Sip on a Soul Bossa Nova (in-house made rum blend with pineapple juice and apry), Milano Del Sol (Plymouth gin with littet blanc, Campari, lemon and bitters), or Currant Affaire (Ketel One, Cassis and lime juice).
- Wine: The list at 80 Thoreau boasts 140 selections from the majority of both new and old world wine producing regions, with only seven by the glass. The reserve wine list is filled with sought after bottles of Rhone, Bordeaux and Pinot Noir.