From whale steaks then to sous vide lobster tail and grits today, a family tradition has reincarnated itself in a new restaurant at 320 Water Street.
Evan Bursey, former head chef and co-owner of The Social House, is now sole proprietor of the Fort Amherst Pub. Bursey, only 25, already has a long resume in the restaurant industry. He started washing dishes at 13 and cooking at 15 for his father at their family’s restaurants The Flake House and The Hungry Fisherman. “I had to like it or lump it; so good thing I liked it.”
The family has been in the food business for generations. Bursey says his great grandfather was one of the first purveyors of fresh fish in St. John’s. He had a shop in Fort Amherst selling, among other things, whale steaks and smoked kippers.
When Fort Amherst became a strategic military outpost in World War II, the shop moved to George Street, less than a block from Bursey’s current location. Oh how different things would be if only Smallwood had stuck with the family boot business.
First envisioned as a brewpub (the basement brewery is on hold until the city approves it), the menu is what Bursey calls, “classic American pub food.” Listening to him describe a hotdog made of “duck breast and foie gras with house made hot sauce and pickled caviar,” I suggested “classic” may not be the best word for it. But he laughed and insisted it’s still a hotdog. “It will be approachable; no pretension in the presentation, no swirl of cranberries here and four different cubes scattered over the plate.”
His kitchen team is a small, tight trifecta with himself, Jen Cross (formerly of The Social House/Fifth Ticket) and Kyle McKenna (Hitchen the Kitchen) working together as “three cooks with no titles.”
In his last position, he had a staff of roughly 15 in the kitchen, so his role was more management and less hands on prep; “more butchery and big picture” as Bursey puts it. He is looking forward to having more control, but he will still be doing the butchery. The burgers that brought a tear to my eye at the soft opening of The Social House were his creation, and he is even more excited about the Fort Amherst version. Starting with a whole chuck and grinding in house allows him to build his ideal base and cook the burgers to order.
Though the in-house brewery is on hold, on tap there will be local beer (Quidi Vidi), and some quasi-craft offshoots of Molson and Coors. Add to that specialty bottled beers, a “decent wine selection,” and 16 cocktails put together by Bursey and his bar manager (brother Gabe Bursey) and there should be enough to tide everyone over while he works with the city on permits for the basement brewery.
Bursey has partnered with the Young Adult Cancer Canada (YACC) charity for a two night, invitation only, soft open where patrons will donate 20$ to YACC for their meals. The first 7 days, open to the public, will feature special appetizers and drinks, the proceeds from which will go to YACC.