April 14, 2002 Walking under the familiar flamboyant tree guarding the brick walkway, a few steps into the Old Mill, it's suddenly different. Once again. For one thing, it's not the Old Mill it's the Sugar Mill.
It is brimming with new life. One of the island's historical treasures, the property has surfaced from time to time in different guises, new incarnations, but this time will be completely changed. Chef Ric Ade has big plans which include two restaurants, a museum and an ice cream shop, for openers.
Ade came to the island about a year ago, hired by one of Frenchtown's premier restaurants from the Washington, D.C.'s posh Inn at Brookeville Farms where he presided as executive chef. The move worked. "It's my home now," he smiles.
Ade's enthusiasm for his new home and his new endeavor spills over. "Look here. This will be the '3 Cool Kids Ice Cream,'" he says, indicating a corner hidden off the bar, the downstairs bar, that is. There's an elegant bar upstairs, but we will come to that later.
Ade said his two teenagers along with a friend will be running the shop "so they can learn about how business works," he says. At first they will use St. Thomas Dairies ice cream, but Ade sees his own ice cream maker in his future. It would seem teenagers running an ice cream shop would be like having a rabbit guard the carrot patch, but Ade doesn't see it that way. "It will be good experience for them," he stressed.
Ade and his general manager, Jackie Reynolds, give a thoughtful guided tour, abbreviated by many stops and observations. Though opening is only a few days away, neither is fazed by the prospect. "We know what we're doing, and it's so much fun," laughs Reynolds, who is no stranger to the local restaurant business. Starting at Arby's in the late eighties, Reynolds had her own following at Hook, Line and Sinker for about six years, and for the past couple years at Craig and Sally's in Frenchtown.
The Courtyard Café, the downstairs outdoor dining room, opens Monday. It is outdoor, but there's an orange tarp overhead just in case. And, then there's the signs. Anyone who has lived on the island for a while will immediately get nostalgic. There's the V. I. Hotel, Fairweathers' Café, The Mook Shop and Java Wraps, but the prize is easily "Rusty's Roost Recommended by Beauregard."
Sandy Halliday, who owns the property, beams as he talks about the signs he's been collecting for years. "Most of them were donated to me, except for a couple that floated up from the ocean." He won't reveal how he got hold of Rusty's sign, however. Halliday, who bought the Old Mill in 1993, says, "This is the first time ever the mill has done this the museum, the two dining rooms." This is as it should be, Halliday says.
And for history with a little more age to it, Ade has 34 handsomely matted prints from Michael Paiewonsky's new Art Gallery in the Grand Hotel. Ade holds out one of the Charlotte Amalie waterfront by what is now the Coast Guard dock, probably from around 1930. "Aren't these wonderful?" he says, "We want to add an island feel." With the foliage, brickwork, the nooks and crannies, that feel is a given.
Wandering upstairs, Ade becomes more animated as he goes on. "We're going to have tours of the mill; it's a museum." The mill was built in 1790 and actually made sugar. It's in pristine condition today. Ade will use the mill and the surrounding lower area as a fine dining venue, for dinner only, opening Mothers' Day, May 12. "We're calling it the 'Sugar Cane'," he says. "Some people objected, but I like it." The Sugar Cane will feature three prix fixe menus priced from $36 for three courses to $63 for seven courses, with wines extra. Several of the historical prints will enhance the mill and the dining room.
Then, there's another area, one that has housed many nightclubs over the years, most recently in 1998 when Halliday ran it. "We took the bar out," Ade says, "and we hope to put in a dinner theater. See, there's the stage." This won't open tomorrow, however. Ade has his hands more than full now. He points to a small walled off area downstairs, "Here's where the gift shop will be."
Walking back down, we stop by the already gleaming kitchen which chef Lloyd Banks is busily scrubbing down. "I brought Lloyd from Washington, too," Ade explains, looking around. "I wonder if we should put a few tables in here so people can watch us work," he muses. This is not a thought most restaurant owners would entertain, but Ade has his own ideas. A glance at the menus confirms this.
Though new to the island, Ade has incorporated local foods into the most of his offerings. The Sunday brunch features eggs benedict on johnny cakes topped with a crispy conch cake. Instead of hash browns, he has island root hash browns made with taro root, casava, sweet and regular potatoes. And all brunches come with Louisiana style beignets, powdered sugar deep-fried treats.
The kitchen has its own bakery where Ade will produce his signature sunflower seed bread, baked in flower pot and served with a sweet tarragon butter. The bread pops up out of the flower pot, he explains, "It really looks neat." That's not all. Ciabbatta bread, herbed flatbreads, mocha jumbi chocolate cake, carmelized pineapple pizza, a macadamia nut tart and Ric's bread pudding also come from the bake shop.
For that awkward time between lunch and dinner, Ade has a complete raw bar with the usual suspects and a make-your-own cocktail sauce.
He is keeping the menus moderately priced weekday blue plate specials at $7.50 with much of the lunch menu less than $10. The soups are imaginative, a conch chowder topped with a conch fritter and a chilled mangazpacho with mango, cucumbers and veggies for $3.50. The appetizers are $7.50 including a charred rare tuna with black sesame slaw and wasabi crema. And there's salads, pastas, and, of course, a burger.
Ade has an extensive culinary background, including being chef at Washington's exclusive University Club of Washington, D. C., one of the top 10 private clubs in the U. S. Was that a great place to get insider political gossip? "I really don't know," says Ade, "I don't know anything about politics."
Ade knows about food. "It's all I've ever done, from the time I was 17," he says, "It's what I like to do." Thinking about it he says with obvious enjoyment, "And I get paid for what I like to do."
Ade has taught culinary arts at a small college, and he graduated from Johnson Wales Culinary School in Norfolk, Va. But he likes to be in the kitchen, not at the podium. In the future, he says he would like to get some "externs" from Johnson and Wales to get their hands on experience.
Phones start ringing from the office, somebody is working on the bar cooler, someone is calling Ade to take a look at something in the courtyard. Reynolds runs to take care of business, Ade answers a call. The day has begun. "See you Monday," Ade says.