by: Marianne R. Stanton

photography by: Terry Pommett

For decades, the restaurant at the very end of Straight Wharf was known as a casual seafood and burger shack. Back in the 1960s it was Susie’s Snack Bar, run by the Boyd family who served up clam rolls, burgers and hot dogs to be consumed at picnic tables on the wharf. It was where families went to get a quick bite and watch the waterfront activity while seagulls perched on the pilings hoping for a stray crumb of uneaten food.

Later, under the ownership of Walter Beinecke’s Sherburne Associates, which owned Straight Wharf, it transitioned into The Sail Loft, run by Daniel Ponton, who also operated The Tavern. Under Ponton the space was expanded into a true sit-down restaurant with a full menu. After that, at one point it was The Water Club, run by a colorful Cape Cod businessman, Billy Snowden. He only lasted a few years in the spot, but when he was there brought in entertainers like Tom Rush.

Sitting at the end of Straight Wharf, Cru gives diners views of the waterfront from every table.

But most islanders remember this spot as The Ropewalk, run by Joe Pantorno of The Club Car for the past decade, and named after a popular Main Street haunt of the 1950s and ’60s.

Under Pantorno, The Ropewalk became a place where sailors and fishermen stopped by for a bite, where Jimmy Buffett – a fishing buddy of Pantorno’s – was known to swing by and sit at the back bar and relax. It continued for years like that as a casual waterfront restaurant, until this year.

Nantucket Island Resorts, which owns almost all the real estate on Straight Wharf, was looking for a more upscale feel to this waterfront location that would maximize its potential and better mesh with Nantucket’s growing reputation as a world-class resort. They got it with Cru, which opened in mid-May after a whirlwind renovation of the property by Tommy Lee Halford’s Blue Star Construction and the Boston design firm of Gauthier-Stacy.

Jane Stoddard, Carlos Hidalgo and Erin Zircher, alums of Seth and Angela Raynor’s restaurants (The Boarding House, The Pearl and Corazon del Mar), gathered investors and approached NIR with a proposal to turn the property into an upscale waterfront seafood restaurant serving lunch, weekend brunch and dinner from mid-May through Columbus Day. The transformation has been nothing short of remarkable.

In late winter the entire building was gutted and redesigned with a nautical and beachy theme worthy of any Miami marina. Driftwood paneling was chosen for the walls and flooring. Navy-blue banquettes, adorned with yellow and blue striped pillows, allow for comfortable semi-circular seating at several large tables, with views to the boat basin and harbor beyond. In fact, every table has a view of the waterfront activity. Sitting at Cru, one feels as if they are on a big, luxurious yacht.

Stoddard had run the front of the house at The Boarding House and The Pearl. Hidalgo had a business background and had run restaurants in Cambridge as well as for the Raynors. Zircher was the chef de cuisine at The Boarding House for the past seven years, and had worked with top chefs such as Ana Sortun at Cambridge’s Oleana, and in Normandy after she graduated from the New England Culinary Institute. The trio brings a wealth of expertise to Cru.

The first thing you notice as you approach the building is that the outdoor patio seating is gone. Step inside, though, and the front room features an expanded granite bar where the raw bar, drinks and meals are served. In between the bar and the tables dockside are two high-top tables for eight where the party usually starts late-night. This is the room to see and be seen. Fabulous views of Brant Point and the channel are visible, as are the beautiful people.

Walk through to the rear of the restaurant where the popular “back bar” was at The Ropewalk, and you pass through a smaller, more intimate dining space, defined by dark colors and a gas fireplace flanked by two coolers where wine is stored. This is a nice room for a quiet dinner. An elegant driftwood chandelier hangs from the ceiling, created by the designer, Gauthier-Stacy, at Cru’s request.

On to the back bar and the transformation is complete. The bar has been downsized to accommodate a private seating area to the right of the bar. Fifteen people can fit here comfortably and a curtain can be drawn for privacy. At the other end of the room is more banquette seating backing up to the waterside, while comfy yellow and white striped armchairs flank wooden-topped tables. It’s a different vibe from what came before: more sophisticated and elegant to match the food that’s being served.

Zircher is an enormously talented chef, but has chosen to focus on simple seafood at Cru, where a few elements, well-executed, add up to a satisfying dining experience.

Drop in for lunch and start with the clam chowder. This is a creamy lion’s-head bowl chock full of potatoes, some clams and herbs and served with homemade oyster crackers topped with fennel and sesame seeds. This could be satisfying as-is, or a starter for a very hungry diner. The lobster roll showcases the sweet meat of the lobster and can be ordered hot, served with drawn butter for dipping, or cold, with a light mayonnaise. For summer, the traditional chilled roll is the way to go and features so much lobster – large, tender chunks – atop a house-made brioche bun, that you likely won’t have room for much else. It’s served with a generous side of house-made French fries fried with herbs including rosemary and sage. The fried sage leaves are tasty and the brioche bun makes this a not-your-average lobster roll. An oyster poor boy comes on panini bread, also with fries and features two large fried oysters. Lunch items range from $16 for a fish sandwich to $28 for the lobster roll. Salads range from $11 for a simple green salad to $18 for a Cobb salad.

At lunch and dinner there’s a good selection of oysters from the raw bar, ranging from $3 per piece for Cape oysters to $3.50 for Nantucket Pocomo oysters and $3.75 for P.EI.’s. Cru prides itself on its oyster selection, which changes with availability and includes oysters from the Pacific, not usually served in New England. A nice elegant snack at Cru is their split of bubbly with a dozen oysters, all for $100.

The dinner menu focuses largely on seafood with line-caught swordfish, served with warm faro salad, spinach, pomegranate and almonds being one of the better dishes. Local black bass, served meunière-style, is another popular dish that sells out quickly. There’s a different twist on surf and turf here with butter-poached lobster served with the heart of a ribeye steak. An herb- grilled organic chicken is also available.

A favorite starter is the blue crab cocktail, which is sweet crab meat served with a piquant cocktail sauce. And then there are the oysters.

If you are still hungry, there are a couple of old-fashioned New England desserts to fill you up. Go for the traditional strawberry shortcake, or try the mini whoopie pies, chocolate cakes with a creamy filling. One bite and you are transported back to your childhood. The key lime pie served in a small Mason jar is another tart-sweet winner.

Dinner dishes range from $28 for a vegetable gratin to $35 for seared sea scallops and the low $50s for the surf and turf.

Cru is Nantucket’s new hot sport for dinner, so reservations are recommended. Lunch is served from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., and dinner from 5 p.m. until 11 p.m.

CRU is at One Straight Wharf • (508) 228-9278

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