The Island’s fledgling Italian eatery, Isola, celebrated its one-year anniversary in early July after a long winter where owner Brad Kitkowski and Chef Seth Nathan bravely decided to keep the doors open full-time.
The decision was two-fold, according to Mr. Kitkowski: Islanders would have a place to eat while nearly all other restaurants closed for the season, and Isola’s crew would have a chance to get to know the community. For Mr. Kitkowski, it’s all about the people who come into Isola and the stories they share.
“I didn’t want to disconnect from the community for the winter,” Mr. Kitkowski said. “And since there’s nearly nowhere to eat during the winter, I wanted to provide a welcoming atmosphere for Islanders to have fun while eating great food.”
Mr. Kitkowski finds that Isola’s success isn’t just because of Chef Nathan’s “new” Italian menu offering locally sourced ingredients from East End farms and fisheries. He feels that friendships with guests, established both within and outside of Isola’s walls, give the restaurant the home-away-from-home feeling he wanted.
“What I love most is the people,” said Mr. Kitkowski, who spends many mornings catching up with Islanders from Isola’s porch over a cup of coffee. “We just have so much fun in here. I just love talking to people when they come in and getting to know everyone.” The laid back atmosphere makes it a go-to for families as well, with a children’s menu for “Bambini.”
Furthering Mr. Kitkowski’s relationship with the Island community are his beyond-the-menu efforts, such as sitting on the Shelter Island Historical Society’s events committee, supporting the Perlman Music Program and Shelter Island Fireworks Inc., hosting pop-up events with local products and wine, and providing food for Shelter Island Fire Department trainings.
His love affair with Shelter Island began 12 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. Although Mr. Kitkowski’s day job is in insurance, he’s had other restaurant endeavors, an interest stemming from a childhood spent in his grandparents’ restaurants in Florida and Ohio.
Meanwhile, Mr. Nathan took a leap of faith, moving here to open Isola — which means Island in Italian — after making arrangements with Mr. Kitkowski by phone. Since then he’s been a year-round resident and has no plans to change that. Born in Southern California, Mr. Nathan has worked in restaurants throughout his home state and in Europe. His menu utilizes locally sourced fresh fish, produce from Sylvester Manor, and recipes he’s learned and created, influenced by food in Calabria in Sicily.
“Our seasonal dishes feature the freshest ingredients the East End has to offer, giving guests a true taste of Shelter Island living. Locally sourcing our menu is an incredible way to discover and celebrate the local fare of the East End, as well as offering our guests the culinary experience of farm-to-table with every dish,” said Mr. Nathan, who also adds nuances from his culinary background in Spain and California’s Wine Country to Isola’s menus.
When creating the cuisine, Chef Nathan said he’s inspired by “a healthy balance of adherence to tradition and pushing the boundaries, utilizing the best ingredients available.”
This summer, Isola offered additional outdoor seating and a new cocktail and wine list featuring Italian and local wines. Several times a week, the bar offers live music featuring local favorites such as Sara Mundy and Bobbi Tersi.
“It feels so good to have made it through the first year and I’m excited for the future. I love this place,” Mr. Kitkowski said.