by Lannan M. O’Brien
Let’s face it: the pandemic summer wasn’t much of a vacation, and as a result, many of us weren’t ready for fall. If even Dunkin’s Pumpkin Spice coffee isn’t giving you the warm-and-cozy vibes you were hoping for this season, then a creative fall cocktail might do the trick.
Enter The West End’s Ambrosia Negroni. A twist on the traditional Italian drink, it blends gin, vermouth, and Don Ciccio and Figli’s Ambrosia—a bittersweet aperitivo made with natural ingredients like carrots, blood orange, and cantaloupe. A single large cube and a charred orange twist make for a lovely presentation.
The recipe is one of several spinoffs on classic cocktails by co-owners Blane Toedt and Jen Villa for each season’s bar menu, crafted to pair with new American dishes that receive “seasonal updates,” says Villa. Toedt, who was previously the food and beverage director at Mashpee’s Willowbend joined the restaurant’s team early this year.
The two were married this summer and are now partners in life and business. When it comes to the latter, their drive has always been offering diners an escape from the present moment—in particular, a window into the past, through the restaurant’s vintage feel and the rich history of the building. Since Villa reopened the former Paddock restaurant (initially with former co-owner David Noble), the restaurant has developed a steady crowd of regulars, who have been enjoying dinner as well as the Sunday jazz brunch.
The changing regulations since March have presented challenges, but Villa and Toedt met them with gusto. After closing for a few weeks, they offered takeout options that included beer, wine, and even cocktail-mix kits. When the news came that restaurants could offer outdoor dining, they obtained permits to build a stone patio beside the restaurant. Complete with palms and ornamental grasses and backed by a beautiful stone wall, the garden terrace transforms a simple dinner out into a beach vacation.
“It lets people check out,” says Villa, adding, “To be able to do what we do best at a time when the world feels upside down and to have people come in and be like, ‘I had the most beautiful time here, thank you,’ it feels like [a reminder that] this is why we do it.”
Since the restaurant has limited indoor seating, Villa and Toedt plan to keep the garden terrace open as late as possible this fall (with heaters to keep guests warm). The restaurant is currently open for dinner Wednesday through Saturday, from 5 to 9 p.m. Jazz brunch continues every Sunday, from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., with a two- to three-piece band playing instrumental music, which allows guests to sit back and relax as they enjoy a seasonal cocktail, or two.