Saying Farewell to Hamersley’s Bistro
A very specific chain of events unfolds in the kitchen when someone orders the roast chicken at Hamersley’s Bistro. The birds–which have already been rubbed with a shallot-mustard-herb marinade, par-roasted, and broken down into parts–are neatly arranged in a giant sheet tray over chicken stock. They’re then topped with slices of fresh lemon and popped into the oven to finish. Quartered onions, roasted in their papery skins until jammy, are tossed into a smaller skillet with a knob of butter along with garlic cloves and crisp potato wedges. Two pieces of poultry are laid beside them on a white oblong plate, drizzled with pan drippings, and crowned with a giant sprig of parsley.
It’s a process that meat cook Alli Berkey knows all too well–she’s been cooking over 100 orders of the restaurant’s most iconic dish each night since Gordon Hamersley announced in August that the restaurant would close after 27 years. Before then, a big chicken night for the restaurant would mean 75 covers. On Monday night, for the restaurant’s final service to the public, they prepped for 150 orders–and sold through all of them. Tonight, two private parties will dine at the restaurant. Both are only ordering one thing: the chicken. Hamersley expects to go through about 180 orders.
Of course, Hamersley’s Bistro is about much more than the chicken. There’s also the duck confit, a dish Ken Oringer, Lydia Shire, and Christopher Kimball–all of whom dined at the restaurant for its final night of service–call the best in the city. Decade-long regular Scott Huttig came for the grilled beef tenderloin served with red wine-black truffle butter and a warmed marrow bone.
Rialto’s Jody Adams arrived at 8:30 and lingered past midnight to soak in the final moments. As Hamersley’s opening sous-chef, she helped develop that famous chicken recipe. “I made so many of those fucking chickens, that I couldn’t eat a chicken for two years after I stopped working there,” she says of the experience.
So instead, she had the spice-crusted halibut with clams, braised greens, bacon lardons, and white beans. “I’ve had enough chicken,” she says.
Not so for local music producer Rick Harte, of Ace of Heart records, who has dined on Hamersley’s chicken every Monday night for over a dozen years. Devotion of this level has earned him perks–an extra piece of bird here, an extra handful of roasted garlic cloves there, a couple of extra potato and onion wedges thrown in for good measure. He often eats the leftovers for breakfast on Tuesday or Wednesday morning. From his perch at the bar, Harte says that he’s seen Hillary Clinton, a sulking Deval Patrick, and a happy Mayor Menino. When this has been your routine for the better part of a decade, what comes next? “I’m going to order my dinner, eat it, and life goes on,” Harte says. “I’ll lose a little weight.”
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“I’m ready to do this, but it’s going to be hard,” Hamersley says as service begins on Monday evening. He has a full line of cooks tonight–12 where there are usually nine. Pastry chef Kasee Robinson and pastry intern Taylor Clerkin are prepping apple, almond, and oat crumble served with scoops of ginger ice cream. Berkey has her station all set for the pork chops, beef tenderloin, and chicken. Garde Manger cooks Arielle Black, Andrew Webster, and Ian Bracken put the final touches on the mise en place for first courses: quart containers packed with chopped chives and nubs of lobster; tubs of rich roasted garlic paste and pink pickled onions.
At 5:29 p.m., just before the doors open to the public for the last time, a line stretches across the brick plaza outside of the restaurant. The bistro’s general manager Sophia Scheuler, who has been with the restaurant for two decades, stands at the host stand in a fitted black dress, elegant bracelet, and heels. “You look sharp,” Hamersley tells her as he heads downstairs to unlock the doors.
Nearly eight hours later, the lights go dark in the emptied-out dining room. Hamersley takes a seat at the bar, sips on a Gosling’s ginger beer poured over ice, and takes stock of the evening. “I’m not sure I can articulate this with any kind of grace, or whatever, what I’m really feeling. But I do know, I do realize now, that after this period, that Fiona and I–we started something,” he says. “We didn’t know what it was when we started it, but whatever we ended with was a good thing.”
Here’s a glimpse of the staffers, both past and present, devoted regulars, and some of the action that happened during the storied restaurant’s final night of service.
Gordon Hamersley chats with radio personality Christopher Lydon during the first seating of the evening.
The warm mushroom sandwich with roasted garlic, one of the bistro’s classic appetizers.
“It’s an art form beyond an art form,” Ken Oringer says of the duck confit, which he ordered alongside the mushroom sandwich, pork chops, chicken, and pate for his final meal (which lasted until beyond midnight). “You have to have something deep inside of you to cook food that tastes like this.”
Cook Andrew Webster puts an order of mushroom sandwiches up on the pass.
Hamersley shares a moment with cook Arielle Black, who runs the garde manger (or: cold dishes and appetizers) station.
Creamy lobster sauce is plated around oven-crisped corn puddings and finished with Asiago cheese and chives.
A grilled pork chop topped with bacon is plated over a warm potato salad with a side of pickled vegetables.
Chef Lydia Shire, who came in for a 5:30 seating with Arthur Winn (who opened the Bostonian Hotel) drew Hamersley a picture to commemorate the occasion. Back when Hamersley was Shire’s sous-chef at Seasons restaurant in the Bostonian in the early 1980s, he says, Shire used to draw him cryptic instructions on her tall, white chef’s toque, and leave it at his station.
When ordering Monday night, Shire requested that Hamersley hand-select the three fattiest pork chops in the kitchen, and asked for a small bowl of caramel sauce sprinkled with sea salt for dessert.
On Sunday, the restaurant will host a brunch as a thank you and final farewell for the staff.
Above, pastry chef Kasee Robinson plates espresso-chocolate ice cream sandwiches. At her left is pastry intern Taylor Clerkin.
Hamersley (and his daughter, Sophie Hamersley, in the black-and-white jacket at far right) chats with a table of beloved regulars: the Schorr family. “Marvelous” Marv Schorr (far left) and his wife, Lee (second from right), have had a standing reservation every Friday night for the restaurant’s entire 27 years. Once, “Julia Child was sitting right next us. She complained about the chicken–she didn’t think that it was free range,” Marv Schorr remembers. “The next time she was next to us, she was raving about it.”
“I feel very proud to have been able to be part of this kind of feeling and be able to kind of be part of this group of people that have done such a great job over 20 years or more,” Hamersley says. “It’s a very humbling thing. You don’t think about it when you just have your head down and work every day. But when you decide to do something like this, and you decide to close, suddenly it all kind of comes to the surface in people’s minds. It’s really an amazing feeling.”
One of the final tables of the night was a group of 11 former Hamersley’s staffers. From left: Andrea Tent, Leah Nadel, Stephanie Finigian, Shauna Galante, and Jarvis Coffin. Not pictured: former sous chef Dan Noonan, now the chef de cuisine at Bistro 5 in Medford, who brought the kitchen a six-pack of beer. His first night on the line with Hamersley, he remembers, was a Saturday night with Julia Child in the dining room. He had to make her cassoulet. He was so nervous that “I got sick downstairs before service,” he says.
Left: bartender Tim Hardin, who has tended bar here for close to 20 years. Right: Server Michelle Bradley, who has been at Hamersley’s for seven years.
When Oringer dropped by to “pay his respects,” he brought a sweet gift along with him: a bottle of 1998 Palmes d’Or Champagne.
Among the noted VIPS were Cooks Illustrated‘s Christopher Kimball, who brought along the New York Times‘s David Carr for his very first (and last) Hamersley’s meal. “We both were looking at him standing up there…and I thought, ‘I wonder what it’s like to be him right now. You are looking at your life’s work before you, your crowning achievement, and you’ve decided for your own reasons to put a period on it. It’s still going to stop, and that’s breathtaking,” Carr says. “When they shove out the last halibut, it’s like, 86 halibut, 86 everything. It’s done.”
Chef de cuisine Jason Hanelt, far right, has been with the restaurant for 16 years. His next move? To open a place of his own. Over the past couple of months, however, he’s been running a crazed ship at the restaurant, doing the amount of covers of a big Saturday night every single night of the week. “It’s like a team sport,” he says of the dynamic behind the line.
Additional roast chickens, prepped by sous chef Chris Drown in case the restaurant sold through its estimated 150 orders. Unsurprisingly, they did.
Toward the end of the evening, Hamersley made an impromptu toast. “I think I’ve said it a number of times and a number of different ways, but restaurants bring people together in ways that I never really quite understood until we decided to close, and people started explaining to me why this restaurant was important to them,” Hamersley said later in the evening. “Tonight was kind of the culmination of all of those weeks previous to this.”
Hamersley’s opening sous-chef, Rialto’s Jody Adams, pays her respects to the kitchen.
Chef Gordon Hamersley’s iconic Red Sox cap, with a pile of gifts brought in from regulars and friends.