by Gail Ciampa
PROVIDENCE JOURNAL / JOHN FREIDAH
George’s of Galilee recently renovated its first-floor dining room and added a fireplace and outdoor patio. Photos of local boats and fishermen still adorn the walls.
NARRAGANSETT — George’s of Galilee is an icon on Salty Brine Beach. For more than 60 years, seafood has been on the menu in this family spot with the Durfee family at the helm.
The recipes may go back to his grandmother Edna, but Kevin Durfee, the third generation to run George’s, recognized that even an icon needs updating every once in a while. Over the past few years the kitchens were modernized and the exterior renovated. Now the first floor dining room has had an elegant but comfortable makeover. It includes a fireplace and extends to a new outdoor patio, complete with fire pit for those nights with cool ocean breezes.
Galilee’s place as a fishing port is also a big part of the story, both in the kitchen and dining room.
Durfee is committed to a menu with fresh local fish such as scup and fluke, underutilized species that are high volume and low cost, yet have an almost invisible profile in the marketplace. He buys from local fishermen, including Wild Rhody that employs Trace and Trust technology to identify the origins of the catch.
“The world’s oceans are being overfished for a few species and I don’t want to play a part in their extinction,” said Durfee, of his commitment to local fish.
Executive chef, Yulia Sampson, will also have the opportunity to cook butterfish, sea robin and other unfamiliar fish found in nearby waters. Durfee says fishermen are used to bringing these fish home for dinner, but not selling them. He wants to be part of a change.
Wild Narragansett oysters are served on the half shell any time Durfee can buy them from those scouring local waters.
Diners needn’t worry about their favorites, though; fried clams and clam cakes are still on the menu. Sampson, who arrived as an international student from Russia, is very comfortable with the old and the new.
Durfee is also expanding his partnerships with nearby farms for seasonal produce and dairy products.
But mostly this restaurant is about the sea. In the dining room, photos tell the story of the men and boats that are based there in Galilee. The work of local photographer Dan Dunne hangs on the walls.
“We are a museum for the commercial fishing fleet,” said Durfee.
Many of those photos are framed in driftwood from nearby beaches, also fashioned by Dunne, said Libby Slader, an interior designer based in Pawtucket who created the dining room’s new look.
Her design was respectful of the past. The original booths from 1948 are still in the dining room, as is a mural at the entrance. But nearly everything else is new, from blue and white banquette covers with a nautical stripe to bright walls. The rocks around the new fireplace were all gathered from South County beaches, she said.
There’s an eye-catching new bar, with a single flat-screen television. There’s also a new, expanded selection of liquors including the local whiskey Uprising by the Sons of Liberty in Wakefield. Supporting neighbors isn’t limited to fishermen.
French doors are new, leading from the dining room to the new patio. The space used to be part of the parking lot. It’s now picturesque, with Adirondack chairs around the fire pit, and tables and chairs filling out the space. Clear panels provide a barrier from the street.
Back inside the new space, the light streams in right through sunset with perfect views of the Block Island Ferry going by.
About the view, Slader said, “You get a different experience depending on where you sit.”
George’s is in several ways a restaurant with a split personality. It goes from 20 employees to 120 in the summer, said Durfee, admitting that it is a challenge to get staff up and running when the summer crowd arrives. With casual dining and music upstairs, and take-out windows that serve those in bathing suits, the restaurant is almost three places in one. “We are a lot of things to a lot of people,” said Durfee. No makeover will change that.