Biting into fresh corn off The Place’s house barbeque is an experience reminiscent of childhood summer days. Slathered in butter, paper plates buckling with grease, the corn arrives stripped naked, husks hanging like a ragged handle, which, on grabbing, cover your fingertips with char. And then comes the first bite…at first, you try to remain civilized – a dainty nibble, neck stretched out away from your clean clothes, cob balanced between timid fingers. But the juicy kernels begin to burst under pressure, sending hot spray across the table. Another bite sees you raining butter onto your dining companion. At that point you release all inhibition, biting in with vigor, oil smearing the corners of your mouth, kernels stuck between teeth. Each bite around the table elicits grins of pleasure, glistening with grease. It’s a juicy, buttery, crunchy mess and it doesn’t matter a bit that you are surrounded by tens of other diners, you are all doing the same – tucking in with childish glee to a good ole cookout by the flames of the barbeque.
As a youngster, Vaughn and Gary Knowles worked at The Place, which was then known as Whitey’s, but once the owner decided to give the place up in 1971, Vaughn and his wife, Judy, thought they would give it a go themselves. Forty-one years on, Vaughn and Gary are still running the place and most remains the same, including the tree stump chairs and the barbeque menu. On a clear summer evening you can find Judy arranging fresh picked flowers in old sherry bottles for the tables, Vaughn stoking the fire and juggling the foil parcels sizzling on racks and diners getting their hands dirty sharing a meal and a few laughs.
The beauty of The Place’s menu is in its simplicity. Pick your choice of seafood – locally caught lobster, bluefish or clams, along with shrimp, mussels or salmon – or land food like rib-eye steak or corn, then bring the extras along. One can spot the locals and regulars by their BYO tablecloths, bottles of wine, and Tupperware filled with sides. While barbequing is far removed from his previous career as a math teacher, Vaughn tells me that as simple as the food is, there is a science to it all. “See the bars in the fire?” he asks. “They help tilt the wood in just the right direction.” Just one bite of his freshly barbequed fare is proof of that.
The Place is as much about good simple food as it is about creating a space for people to get together and make the most of the warm weather. The restaurant, which is all outdoors (although has a retractable marquee overhead), feels as though you are in the Knowles’ backyard enjoying a communal barbeque. While the northeast sports dozens of clam and lobster shacks, The Place is certainly distinct in its homeliness and relaxed ambience. In some ways it’s less a restaurant and more a place – The Place – get a little messy, feast with your friends and savor summer.
901 Boston Post Road
Guilford CT 06437
(203) 453 9276
Open from the end of April until the end of October, Monday to Friday from 5pm and Saturday and Sunday from midday and 1pm respectively.