Montpelier continues to draw exciting new businesses, in spite of the pandemic. Montpelier Alive had the chance to connect with Justin Dain, chef and owner at Oakes & Evelyn, which recently opened at 52 State St. in the former Kismet location in downtown Montpelier (Kismet has relocated to 207 Barre St.).
Montpelier Alive: Tell us about yourself.
Justin Dain: I grew up in Waterbury, and started cooking at the age of 15 at Stowe Mountain Ski Area. Throughout my high school career, I cooked in restaurants at night after school and on weekends. I instantly fell in love with the kitchen “buzz” and was hooked. I started buying cookbooks and decided cooking was what I wanted to spend all my time doing. I went to The Culinary Institute Of America for my associates degree and then onto The New England Culinary Institute for my bachelor’s degree. After NECI, I went to The Boston Harbor Hotel and worked under chef Daniel Bruce and was the Chef De Cuisine at Meritage — one of Boston’s only four-star restaurants at the time. After six years in Boston, I accepted my first executive chef position at The Reluctant Panther in Manchester Vermont. It was in this position where I found my voice in my own personal creations with food and building relationships with the local farmers. In 2010, I went to The Hanover Inn, where I oversaw the entire operation, and opened PINE restaurant in 2013. I live in Grantham, New Hampshire, with my wife Kristen, two children, Connor and Lily, and two dogs, Chimay and Luna. When I’m not cooking I enjoy skiing, baseball, The Boston Red Sox and family vacations.
MA: Tell us about your restaurant. What should people expect?
JD: Oakes & Evelyn is a modern farm to table restaurant using local meats, seafood (from Boston and Maine), produce in the spring, summer and fall, and local foragers when possible. We focus on quality ingredients and executing them in a manner to make the ingredients shine and stand out. People should expect to have a great meal in a very inviting environment. We focus on great food, warm gentle service with an amazing cocktail and wine program. The name is from my maternal grandfather Thomas Oakes and my paternal great Aunt Evelyn Garbe. Both of these individuals were very proud of my cooking endeavors and I wanted to pay tribute to them with this restaurant.
MA: Why did you choose to open in Montpelier? How are you finding the community so far?
JD: I chose Montpelier for a few reasons. I grew up in Waterbury and I’ve always wanted to open my “flagship” restaurant close to home and contribute to the communities that always helped me when growing up. Montpelier has always been special, as I visited it frequently with my family for shopping, dining and seeing friends. The space is what locked in my decision, as I knew this would be an amazing spot to open the style of restaurant I wanted to open. The atmosphere, the warm feeling, and the open kitchen make for a very special place. The community has been amazing. I can’t say enough nice things about all the warm welcomes to town we’ve had. In the first week of opening, I was able to talk to many of our dine-in guests and it meant the world to me to hear how happy everyone is to see this restaurant in Montpelier.
MA: What changes did you make to the space?
JD: We painted the restaurant and added new butcher block tables, banquettes and artwork. The space was very much ready to go and we just put our own finishes on the space.
MA: Tell us about the team that will be working with you.
JD: The team I put together was very important in making the decision to open a restaurant. Amanda Champagne has worked with me since 2011 and was the Executive Sous Chef at The Hanover Inn. She plays a huge part in the culinary magic we produce at Oakes & Evelyn. We both have similar visions with food and concepts in running a restaurant. James Ives is the beverage director and is someone I’ve worked with since 2013. He has created an amazing cocktail program (which is available to go) and wine program at the restaurant. Emily Chism is the Front of House Manager. Emily and I have worked together since 2014. Emily is a very warm, gracious and professional manager who leads her team to give amazing service to our guests. This is the starting team, and we have added some amazing local professionals to join us. We are very lucky to have the work family we have and I can’t wait for the community to meet all of them.
MA: What about things to drink?
JD: The beverage program has been a focus for me from the beginning of the concept of Oakes & Evelyn. James Ives has created an amazing cocktail and mocktail program that is one of the best I’ve seen. He creates some of the best cocktails I’ve ever had thanks to his attention to flavor profiles and his use of unique ingredients. We also have a great wine program with a great selection of wines by the glass and bottle for selecting. Our cocktails and wine are geared to be paired with our food at the restaurant to enhance the dining experience.
MA: What dining options do you offer?
JD: We offer dine-in and take out for food and beverages at the restaurant. Reservations and takeout are through our website at www.oakesandevelyn.com. Our take-out is unique in that we only offer a couple to-go orders every 15 minutes to ensure quality of our products. You can order take-out ahead of time and select when you would like to pick it up.
MA: It’s my first time coming into the restaurant. What do I need to order?
JD: Oysters, Tuna Crudo & Poke, Crispy Octopus, Gnocchi Bolognese, Short Rib Pappardelle and the Chocolate Cinnamon Roll.
MA: What’s your guilty pleasure food?
JD: Salt & Vinegar Cape Cod Potato Chips.
Prepared by Dan Groberg, executive director of Montpelier Alive.