From Shady Lady to Portly Grape

06/17/2010 12:00 AM |


Denise Burke will open The Portly Grape – the former Shady Lady Inn and Restaurant – on Route 25 in Greenport as soon as expedited permits are in hand. She promises fine dining, but a more casual atmosphere and pricing that will offer something for everyone.

The former Shady Lady restaurant and inn in Greenport will soon reopen its doors as The Portly Grape. New owners Michael Liegey Sr. and Denise Burke purchased the business for an undisclosed amount this year and are awaiting final permits that will allow them to open.

Gone are the Victorian dolls that adorned the Shady Lady when sisters Carol LaMonte and Bobbie Zorn opened the restaurant and inn in 2002. Modern art will grace the rooms, including guest accommodations on the second floor.

While much of the property’s original opulence remains, including an impressive chandelier in the foyer and antiques in the guest rooms, Ms. Burke and Mr. Liegey are determined to offer a different dining experience.

“We could never replicate what they were,” Ms. Burke said of the previous owners. What they do want to offer is a varied experience — everything from fine dining for special occasions to casual fare for those who want to stop in after work and just relax.

“I want this to be the kind of place I’d want to hang out in,” Ms. Burke said. That means “vibrant” and “casual” with music more lively than was the case in the past.

They new owners chose The Portly Grape because they wanted something “tongue in cheek” to express their goal of offering a fun place for the entire community to gather, Ms. Burke said.

“We will always have a fine dining experience here,” she said. But they’ll also offer a more casual dining experience in the bar area and on the front porch and a back patio they plan to expand for outdoor dining. A large tent in back will accommodate a bar and casual dining.

The menu is still being developed but will feature North Fork produce and gourmet continental cuisine.

What was once the cigar room has been converted to the Martini Room, wherediners can have before- or after-dinner drinks or dessert.

“I’d love an atmosphere where people really do move around,” Ms. Burke said. In the former bar area, the partners plan to offer small plates and appetizers that can be shared, making the dining experience varied and less expensive, she said.

“Anybody will be able to find food that’s affordable,” Ms. Burke said of the goal she and Mr. Liegey have set for The Portly Grape.

A small room added to the building by the interim owner, Larry Blessinger of Leonard’s of Great Neck, will still be available for private parties, Ms. Burke said.

Mr. Blessinger ran a steak house when he took over the Shady Lady in 2005. He paid $2 million for the complex, according to real estate records. It had been closed for months following Ms. Zorn’s death in the winter of 2003. Ms. LaMonte kept it going for a short time after her sister’s death but finally closed the doors, saying it was too painful to continue because everything about the place reminded her of the work she had done with her sister in creating the eatery.

Tied down by his responsibilities at Leonard’s of Great Neck, Mr. Blessinger hired a management company to run the restaurant, and that’s something he advised the new owners not to do, Ms. Burke said.

Mr. Liegey has years of experience, including catering President John F. Kennedy’s birthday party at Madison Square Garden, at which actress Marilyn Monroe sang that famous rendition of “Happy Birthday,” Ms. Burke said. Mr. Liegey wanted one more challenge when he decided to hunt for a restaurant to run on the North Fork. He has operated many seafood restaurants in New York City and catered at Woodstock, Ms. Burke said. He could easily be included among the “Who’s Who of culinary figures,” she said of Mr. Liegey.

Chef John Nordin trained at the Culinary Institute of America in New York and comes to The Portly Grape from Mohegan Sun in Connecticut. His resume includes Le Cirque at the Bellagio Hotel in Las Vegas; the Metropolitan Opera’s Belmont Room; and Hotel Goldener Hirsch in Austria.

Ms. Burke’s background is in design and construction management in New York City. Her assignments were for investment and real estate firms, she said.

She has been overseeing repainting and redecoration of the eight guest rooms upstairs, where the original furniture the sisters chose remains but the colors are more subdued.

Long-term plans call for installation of a swimming pool on the four-acre site and maybe rooms in a back house that could be rented out for less than it would cost to stay at the inn, she said.

“This felt like home right away,” Ms. Burke said. “It’s like going to your grandmother’s,” she said about many of the Victorian touches still part of the decor. “But you can still have a great party here,” she said, describing Greenport as “the next happening place. We love it out here,” she said.

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