You know that Bedford Square Building and Firehouse at 59 Post Road East in Westport that’s been under construction for a while? Well, it’s finally coming to fruition. On March 31, two occupants will crack the doors and open to the public, Anthropologie, and the place we’re here to talk about, Amis Trattoria. Why are we excited about this? Amis is owned by The Vetri Family, with Chef Marc Vetri at the helm, a chef who is widely regarded by his peers as one of the best Italian cooks in the U.S. If the whole women’s clothing and home décor concept and a restaurant opening in the same space seems confusing, well, there’s a story here.
In 2015, Urban Outfitters, headquartered in Philadelphia, (which includes the brands Free People, BHLDN, Anthropologie, and Terrain) acquired the Vetri Family of restaurants, who are also Philly-based. If the name “Vetri” doesn’t ring a bell to a Connecticut audience, here’s a little 411. The Vetri Family of restaurants is a partnership of Jeff Benjamin, and chefs Marc Vetri, Jeff Michaud, and Brad Spence, who we’ll get to in a minute. It’s a safe assumption to say they’re amongst the kingpins when it comes to the Philly food scene, and they’re serving top-notch contemporary Italian cuisine at their multiple restaurants that include their flagship Vetri (not included in the Urban Outfitters deal), Lo Spiedo, Osteria, Pizzeria Vetri, Alla Spina (a craft beer focused gastropub), and Amis Trattoria. In addition, the Vetri team has already taken over the Garden Cafés in the Terrain retail stores, including the one in Westport.
Chef Vetri and his restaurants have been celebrated many times over by various publications, and he took home a James Beard Award for “Best Chef Mid-Atlantic” in 2005. His fellow chefs and partners, Michaud and Spence, have also seen numerous accolades, including a James Beard “Best Chef Mid-Atlantic” win for Michaud in 2010, and Spence himself was a two-time finalist for the same award.
As Amis gets rolling, Executive Chef Spence will take the reins, serving a seasonal, local menu featuring both classic and modern Roman-Italian fare, homemade pasta dishes, and an array of small plates. Diners can look out for dishes like swordfish meatballs, pork Parmigiana, cacio e pepe, bucatini with jalapeno and almond pesto, and scallop pizzaiolo. Amis’ beverage program will focus on global wines, granita cocktails, Italian craft beer, and after dinner digestivi.
Ahead of the opening I caught up with Chef Spence to see how things are going, and to introduce him to you. Connecticut, meet Brad Spence.
So, Connecticut…Have you been to the area previously to getting Amis up and running?
I actually have many childhood friends who now reside in Westport, so I've been going out there quite a bit over the past several years.
Speaking of the opening, March 31 is the definitive date? What are you working on leading up to that?
Yes, we will be opening on March 31! We’ve had our sous chef, chef de cuisine and general manager all out in Westport for the last month. We’ve been preparing for opening day while also going out and meeting new people, eating at local restaurants, and finding exciting ways to get more involved in the community. We are really looking forward to becoming part of the neighborhood.
I’ve personally been a fan of your food for a while now, and have been to every Vetri restaurant in Philly, for those unfamiliar with your food and style, what can they expect?
I would say that my style of cooking is unfussy and straight forward—like most great Italian cooking. The ingredients should be the star of the dish, and as a chef, I try to let the ingredients shine. I also grew up eating Italian-American food, so I try to sneak that vibe into the menu as well. Guests can also always expect that our food offerings are designed to be fresh and light, that way Amis becomes a place guests can visit multiple times a week rather than on rare occasions.
Amis features lots of local, seasonal ingredients and fresh pasta dishes. Will that philosophy be similar like it is at the Philly locations? And do you plan on featuring what the Connecticut coastline has to offer, like a seafood-centric menu?
100%! We have met a lot of great farmers and purveyors. Amis is a restaurant that needs local influence to help shape the menu and the products we use. We’re excited to utilize what the area has to offer in a new and exciting way.
You’ve worked for some big-name chefs including Tom Colicchio, Mario Batali, and George Marrone. What’s it like working for Marc Vetri?
Working with Marc over the years has been amazing. I've learned so much and now it is my goal to do the same thing for my crew. Drew DiTomo, the chef de cuisine at Amis, is one of a kind and we share the same vibe on food. Matt Arcomone, who has also been with me for years, will be moving to Westport and running the show on a daily basis as the chef.
The Vetri Community Partnership is a cool charity (bringing healthier, fresher food into schools, and offering hands-on culinary education) are you planning to work with schools everywhere there is a Vetri restaurant, including Connecticut?
Working with the community is always a priority for the Vetri Family. At the moment, we’ve been getting to know people and learning more about the community –we will be getting involved for sure! We have the Vetri Partnership and I also have a charity of my own that supports veterans. FYI: Fatback Boxing at Joe Hand Gym in the Northern Liberties section of Philadelphia, gives military veterans a place to train for fitness purposes and mental well-being.
When you’re not cooking your own meals, or eating at one of your restaurants, where do you like to eat? And what have you discovered in Westport, or in the surrounding areas?
I love to eat at places that showcase a culture so I’m all about ethnic food. I could eat in Chinatown or hit a taco shop every day. My true love, however, is Italian American food. I have been hitting Westport restaurants as much as possible. We had the most unbelievable lunch at Kawa Ni. The food was perfect.
I know that you’re into Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and boxing. How does it help you in your business and personal life?
Boxing has literally improved every aspect of my life. It has made me a better chef, father, and husband. I'd lost 50 pounds during the process and my energy has been amazing ever since. I try to share boxing with others whenever possible. My oldest child recently started training and I also started Fatback Boxing.
Besides martial arts, what other hobbies and interests do you have?
The biggest focus in my life is my wife and three kids. When I'm not working, I am with them. I love to help my community and I am involved in my kid’s schools. I also manage boxers – which I really enjoy. Life is good!
What else is on the horizon for you in the coming months? (i.e., are you staying in Westport for a while? Commuting back and forth to Jersey?)
Right now it's all about Westport and Amis. Our goal is for Amis to become not just a restaurant, but a part of the community.