Bon Anniversaire! -August 2016

Languedoc turns 40

by: Marianne R. Stanton

photography by: Terry Pommett

In the ever-changing restaurant landscape on Nantucket, few places can boast the high level of consistency and quality found at a French bistro that has dominated the dining scene on Broad Street for the past 40 years.

Since Alan Cunha and brothers Neil and Ed Grennan bought the Languedoc from Leon and Rose Marty back in 1976, on the eve of this country’s bicentennial, they have developed it into a restaurant that is known as much for its personality and high level of friendly service as its outstanding food. Only a handful of restaurants on-island can honestly make that claim.

Having worked together at The Warren Tavern in Charlestown, Mass. in the 1970s, the trio decided they wanted to go into business together. Ed Grennan already owned a guest house on Hussey Street, and he and his family had been coming to Nantucket for years. Cunha had never set foot on the island. When the opportunity to buy the Languedoc from the Marty family arose, they jumped at the chance.

Neil Grennan, trained at the Popponesset Inn on Cape Cod, became the executive chef, a position he continues to hold. Cunha ran the front of the house, and Ed Grennan exercised his financial and business acumen as general partner. The secret to the success of Languedoc has been the involvement of all three men, who show up to work at the restaurant every day.

“It’s about consistency,” Cunha said. “That’s our main emphasis. You know when you come in that the dish you order is always going to taste the same.”

He pointed to the longevity of the executive chef and subsequent chefs de cuisine in the kitchen. Peter Jannelle, who later went on to open Fifty-Six Union, was the first chef de cuisine, followed by Mark Yelle, now owner of Nantucket Catering Company, then Patrick Ridge, owner of Island Kitchen, then Jason Albus, who went on to work in Boston at Menton for noted chef Barbara Lynch.

Now Neil works with Tony Nastus, chef de cuisine for the past nine years, to plan the menus and oversee the kitchen. Languedoc has a number of classics on the menu which haven’t changed in years. The beet tartar salad, the Languedoc cheeseburger with garlic frites, the chopped salad and steak frites are favorites.

The baked stuffed lobster with polenta and the lobster bisque, a deep, rich soup made with stock from lobster bodies, have been on the menu forever, as has the chicken-liver salad.

“We keep enough on the menu that’s traditional, but each year we also embellish some of the dishes to keep them contemporary,” Cunha said.

Consistency in kitchen staff, from the top down to the sous chefs, keeps the dishes meeting diners' expectations every time.

That’s why the Languedoc is closed Mondays, even in July and August. Everyone needs a day off, and the closing ensures that everyone who needs to be on duty is when the restaurant is open.

The bartenders and servers at Languedoc are people everyone knows: friendly faces who live on the island, know their customers and know what they like. Walking into the downstairs café is like entering the embrace of a warm family gathering.

Cunha is at the reservation desk, next to a small placard on the wall that reads “Remember February,” a sign from August of their first year when things got super busy and everyone was stressed out, reminding them of the bleak months ahead. This year, for the 40th anniversary, good friend and winemaker Jed Steele, of Steele Wines, made them a magnum of pinot noir labeled “Remember February.”

In the summer, Alan’s outside at the podium facing the sidewalk, answering questions and checking in diners.

Cygie Tran – formerly of the old Brotherhood – is behind the bar, unless Jimmy Jaksic is. Full of fun and sharp-witted, Jimmy ran the old Jared Coffin House food and beverage program under Phil Read. When management changed at the hotel, Jaksic came across the street. Judy Janelli and Theresa Droz round out the regular frontof-the-house staff, making every customer feel right at home.

The Languedoc has three dining spaces: the upstairs formal dining rooms, the downstairs bar and café and the patio. Seats at the bar in the Languedoc are coveted, as is a table in the cozy downstairs café. But the patio’s pretty nice too, especially in the heat of summer. Upstairs dining rooms are beautiful in candlelight and date-night worthy.

While 2016 is a milestone celebration for the Languedoc, the owners have no plans for closing out their chapter on the restaurant anytime soon. Good news for me. Book me a table for two in the café. I’ll have the beet salad, followed by the escargots with the pot de crème for dessert. Oh, and another glass of Sauvignon Blanc, please. ///

Marianne Stanton is the editor and publisher of Nantucket Today and The Inquirer and Mirror, Nantucket’s newspaper since 1821. She often writes about food, wine and travel for the magazine and the “Let’s Eat” column in The Inquirer and Mirror.

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