Gracie’s, a new restaurant in downtown Middletown, is a key part of an effort launched last year by Ami Vitori to create a “destination corner” for dining, retail and entertainment.
The Journal-News talked with co-owners and partners Vitori and Max Comisar. Here are five things to know about the new eatery at 1131 Central Ave.
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1) Dining is geared toward ‘big city comfort food’
The modest, focused menu features Pork Belly Shrimp & Grits, Deviled Eggs and The (Charcuterie) Board among its starters, as well as Half Roasted Chicken, The Burger, a Berkshire Pork Chop, Seared Salmon, Crispy Skin Branzino (a sea bass) and Braised Short Rib Mac among its main dishes.
A massive blackboard above the kitchen highlights specials for every night of the week: meatloaf (Monday), pork shank (Tuesday), fried chicken (Wednesday), pasta night (Thursday), fresh catch (Friday) and steak night (Saturday).
“We feel like that really makes each day unique,” Comisar said. “All the items fit into that comfort food mentality.”
There’s also a selection of wine, beer, top-shelf liquor and craft cocktails.
2) The name is a tribute to a beloved Middletown woman
Vitori’s grandparents owned a grocery store Vitori’s Market, which was started by her great-grandfather and lasted 80 years until 2006, but because her grandmother Gracie Vitori worked up front “everyone called it ‘Gracie’s.’”
“They represent what’s so great about Middletown,” she said. “They were children of immigrants, they worked hard … they took care of the community before that was the thing to do. They really understood what it was to create this center for everyone to come and be together and take care of each other and that’s what’s at the heart of Gracie’s. Food does that … in a community, especially a revitalizing community.”
3) There’s also a reason ‘Comisar’ might sound familiar
Co-owner Max Comisar is part of the family that ran downtown Cincinnati’s Maisonette and La Normandie, Lebanon’s Golden Lamb and Montgomery’s Chester’s Road House for decades.
“Whereas Ami was helping sell candy at her grandma’s counter, I was doing the same thing down at La Normandie, rolling my sleeves up and washing dishes at a young age and learning that through family and learning the importance of a good work ethic,” he said.
4) There’s more than meet the eye to the space
The dining room of Gracie’s connects via a wide staircase to the building’s basement. That’s where Vitori and Comisar are working to complete a catering space with its own kitchen and bat that will allow for private dining for up to 40 guests.
“We put in a catering kitchen just to better service down there because we didn’t want to overtax this kitchen,” Vitori said.
In addition, a room across the hallway from the restaurant will offer kids meals and childcare supervised by early education professionals, allowing parents to enjoy date night or girls night out.
5) The restaurant is a crucial part of Torchlight Pass
The 38,000-square-foot building, which cost $500,000 to renovate, has already seen the opening of MC Hair Salon and yoga business Haven Studio Middletown. However, Gracie’s, which cost $750,000 to renovate, is “absolutely the cornerstone of the building,” Vitori said.
“I didn’t decide to buy the building until I felt confident I could put a restaurant in here because I knew that’s what’s going to attract people,” she said. “That’s what’s going to get them to drive the 20 minutes and then once they’re here, they’ll see the hair salon, the yoga studio and get more involved in the rest of the downtown elements.”
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