MANCHESTER, NH – Before the world started looking eerily like a Charles Dickens throwback, Ed Aloise and Claudia Rippee, of Republic Care, 1069 Elm St., were reveling in their best year yet. Their tenth, in fact; a nod to the couple’s complete commitment to elevating the farm-to-table concept to a thoroughly flavorful, gourmet experience where even the prices were easy to swallow.
I was among their devotees; always eager to scan the fabled blackboard of farm vendors from the region whose bounty would be used instead of produce/dairy/protein from unknown industrial farms hundreds of miles away.
Chef/owner Aloise’s Spanish meatballs, falafel, hand-cut frites (fries), flatbreads, grain bowls, daily fish specials, chicken confit, and local-sourced beef burgers kept me coming.
But Republic was about more than food. The tiny, cramped interior with tables-for-two so close you often rubbed elbows with strangers didn’t bother most of us. We kept coming.
The equally tiny bar reminded one of quaint, European haunts where neighbors share a story and a panini over a glass of wine. They kept coming too.
In a word, Republic was about community.
Turns out its greatest asset was its greatest liability.
“Republic is not COVID compatible,” says Aloise.
But after some initial emotional hand-wringing, the couple joined mental forces with their operations manager, Peter Macone, and “began taking control,” said Aloise.
As many local culinary enthusiasts know, Aloise and Rippee own another food magnet down the street: Campo Enoteca at 969 Elm St., an up-scale Italian restaurant established in 2004 with the same farm-to-table ethos as Republic.
And, it had much more outdoor sitting space as well as the social distance requirements for indoor dining.
“With some creative logistics,” says Macone, “and a loyal clientele from both restaurants who want to continue to enjoy what we offer and, in so doing, continue to support us, we are rising to the challenge of offering two menus from one kitchen.”
Wait. Did I just hear what I thought I heard?
Aloise confirms it.
“Look, we have incredible strengths. We have two great concepts in Republic and Campo Enoteca. We have a great staff. And most importantly, we have a customer base in the thousands who want us to succeed for all our benefit. These are cards we were dealt; we are going to make it work.”
I can’t imagine it over the phone so I don a mask and take a tour on a beautiful Friday afternoon before a 4 p.m. opening.
Aloise points out how the Campo Enoteca kitchen will be modified to incorporate two distinct chef areas for himself preparing meals for Republic, while Justin Novitch will continue as head chef for Campo. There’s a dual but distinct menu.
Clearly, the kitchen is bigger than the one at Republic. I can’t help but drop the line about too many cooks in the kitchen.
“It’s going to be great!” counters Aloise, “I’ve known Justin since he was 18-years-old and have mentored him for years. It’s going to work out just fine.”
It suddenly dawns on the wannabe gourmet in me that this is a golden opportunity to get some clandestine mentoring of my own from a revered artist. I multi-task as food writer/photographer/student as Aloise elaborates about the sophisticated flavor profiles in the long-simmering broth for the chicken confit, a house favorite. Next, he’s onto breading handsome hunks of cod fillet brought in today by Sal Bramante of Sal’s Fresh Seafood. Flick of the wrist, bread crumbs rise from the bowl like the iconic wave by Hokusai.
Sal’s Fresh Seafood has long-partnered with Aloise, delivering daily catches from the northern waters of the Atlantic to both restaurants where Aloise and Novitch aspire to create classic and memorable dishes. With the onset of COVID-19 and the restaurant business in free-fall, it didn’t take long for Aloise and Bramante to hatch a different kind of partnership that serves the times.
Fish Fridays – and now Fish Wednesdays – enable a limited number of first come/first serve customers to order a hybrid take-out fish dinner with all the fixings. Bramante tells Aloise what fish/seafood will be the best deal from the docks that day and Aloise gets to work preparing a meal around the special. He whips up the delicious sides – completely prepared – and includes the raw cut of fish/seafood in special packaging with all the ingredients and directions and BAM! You’ve got a Chef Aloise dinner on your table at home! (To learn more, ask for Chef Aloise’s twice a week blog at: firstname.lastname@example.org)
The clock strikes 4 so I head out to patio seating to see if there’s any action yet. Sisters Marie, Angelique, and Danielle – all beautiful, stylish, and food-forward – are there right on the dot. Marie tells me she’s visiting her family from Texas and wouldn’t think of coming home without going to Republic.
“Oh my gosh! Such good food; so many memories there!” she says, “I’d follow them anywhere.”
That’s exactly what Aloise and Rippee are hoping for.
Long live Republic.
Tues – Fri: 4 to 9 p.m.
Saturday: 3 to 9 pm
Sunday & Monday: Closed
Reservations advised: 603-625-0256
Take-Out Orders Online: www.toasttab.com