“The food’s good and it’s fun,” Brad Kitkowski said about his recently opened Isola — Italian for Island — in the space once occupied by Sweet Tomato’s space in the Heights. “If you’re having fun, people sense it,” he said.
While he has spent much of his life in the insurance business, Mr. Kitkowski is hardly new to restaurants, schooled by his grandparents who had restaurants in Florida and Ohio.
His love affair with Shelter Island began 11 years ago when he was introduced to the area by a friend. It wasn’t long before he realized this was the place he wanted to open his own restaurant. While Mr. Kitkowski has made changes from Sweet Tomato’s, Isola retains the charm and comfort it always had, he said.
What’s special about operating a restaurant here is the people, Mr. Kitkowski said. As he makes his way around the dining room greeting customers, he loves hearing their stories and learning about their lives.
“How fortunate I am to get to talk to them,” he said. “There are so many great stories under this roof.”
Mr. Kitkowski splits his time between his insurance business in New York City and the restaurant here, but acknowledges on many summer mornings he’s on the deck at the restaurant with paperwork and cell phone dealing with the insurance business. That he can do both is a credit to the staff he has at Isola, he said.
That starts with chef Seth Nathan, who specializes in preparing what he describes as “new” Italian cuisine. Born in southern California, Mr. Nathan has worked in restaurants throughout his home state and in Europe. His menu reflects the fresh fish that can be had from local waters and local produce from Sylvester Manor, and he features recipes he’s learned and others he’s created, influenced by food in Calabria in Sicily.
What took him to Europe was a backpacking trip when he was 18. In what he describes as taking “a wrong turn,” he ended up in San Sebastian in Spain, tore up his plane ticket back to the states and stayed for five years.
Similarly, when a mutual friend put him and a Mr. Kitkowski in touch, Mr. Nathan was on a plane to New York, figuring it might just be a summer gig.
He was sparked by the opportunity and his knowledge of the East End wine industry, especially his love of rosé, which has some excellent vintages made here, he said. Since moving to Shelter Island, the spirit of the community has enchanted him, he said, and he has no plans to leave.
As for Isola and the Island, Mr. Kitkowski said, “This is the beginning of a long relationship here. I love this place.”