posted on: Thursday October 26, 2017
by Ryan Cox ’18
Blink, and you will miss it. On the corner of Ship and Dyer Streets in downtown Providence is a little red trailer serving local seafood with big flavor. Dune Brothers Seafood, nicknamed “The Shack,” is located in the I-195 district, which has been a major point of discussion for development in Rhode Island for several years. The opening of a new restaurant is a positive sign for the area’s physical and cultural development.
The Shack is run by chefs Nick Gillespie and Jason Hegedus, culinary school classmates and born New Englanders. “We met in culinary school. After graduating, Jason went to New York and I went to Boston, but somehow we met again in Portland, Oregon,” said Gillespie. There, inspired by their homesickness, they opened a pop-up restaurant with a New England flair to its cuisine. “We both wanted to move back home, and Providence seemed like a great up-and-coming place with a great food scene.”
As for why Gillespie and Hegedus chose the largely undeveloped I-195 land, Gillespie said it held promise. “It’s an underutilized spot in the Jewelry District,” Gillespie added, “It’s a great opportunity for us to showcase what we do and give back to Rhode Island.” The pair plan to stay at their current location for at least two years before looking into other brick-and-mortar options in downtown Providence.
The initiative surrounding The Shack is “Eating with the Ecosystem,” which stresses the use of locally-caught fish species, many of which are not typically used in seafood restaurants. The restaurant is a “sustainable, local, unconventional food shack,” according to Gillespie. “We use a lot of underutilized fish species,” he explained, noting that many of these are typically shipped to the United Kingdom or China instead of being kept stateside.
The unconventional element includes these different fish species, but also the way they are prepared. “Not everything’s fried,” said Gillespie. “We always have a market fish of the day, a lot of local and healthier options. It’s not your mom-and-pop seafood shack. It’s chef-driven and has an air of sensibility to it.” The pair works closely with local fishermen in Narragansett to source all the fish.
The “not your average seafood shack” line is incredibly accurate for the Dune Brothers. When arriving at The Shack, one is immediately greeted with crushed shells and flagstones, marking off a set of wooden picnic tables, a wood palate fence acting as a garden for peppers, cauliflower, and an array of herbs. A giant Connect Four game resides in a smaller, grassy area.
Between Connect Four, the bright-red trailer, and the chalkboard menu, the atmosphere was relaxing and inviting. “They’re definitely doing something right here. I like how it doesn’t feel like you’re in the middle of the city,” said Michael Izzo ’18. While the prices may be a little high for a college budget, it is easily worth the splurge to experience the rush of flavor the Dune Brothers’ unique take on seafood provides.
The most unique item on the menu was “fin and haddie toast,” made with smoked haddock and aged cheddar, served on a thick piece of sourdough toast. The haddock was prepared almost like tuna salad, but was very mild.
The smokiness from the fish and cheddar was balanced by two slices of radish that separated the toast from the fish, adding a bit of sweetness and freshness to the dish. The market fish that night was a whole scup, seasoned and served with peppers and potatoes. While packed with flavor and very tender, most would agree it is a bit difficult to eat around the thin bones.
What sells The Shack is their take on fish and chips and their chowder. It is one thing to do something unique and do it well, but to excel at something so commonly featured in restaurants is another feat. For example, the fish and chips are made with shark caught on Cape Cod. The batter is light and does not feel greasy, compared to most recipes. The shark is also light and will surely melt in your mouth.
The chowder tastes fresh and it is clear that Gillespie and Hegedus spend hours perfecting their recipe. Many native Rhode Islanders that are picky about their clam chowder will find it easy to finish a bowl; there is a lot of strong clam flavor that does not overpower the chowder, and the addition of bacon and dill adds a couple of extra dimensions to the dish.
The Shack provides a fresh take on classic seafood dishes, with Gillespie and Hegedus adding their own trained influences to the meal. The food is delicious, the atmosphere makes one feel at home, and with its spot in the city and close to the Providence College campus, it is difficult to pass up the chance to come back for more. You can follow the Dune Brothers and The Shack on Instagram for more information.