LANDING A KEEPER

Written By: Robert Cocuzzo | Photography By: Kit Noble

Mid-Island scores another top-notch restaurant.

In recent years, mid-island restaurants have not only served up alternatives to the downtown staples but become legitimate dining destinations in their own right. New to the lineup this summer is Keepers, which took up residence in the former space of Cinco’s. After Mark and Anne Dawson of Fog Island Café purchased the space in 2012, the restaurant on 5 Amelia Drive — then known as Fog Island Grill — had a couple of false starts. But now under the management of the Dawsons’ daughter, Sabrina, and her boyfriend, Gaven Norton, the newly named Keepers has landed a boatload of happy diners.

“I grew up at Fog Island Café,” says Dawson. “I was there my whole childhood, working my way up from bussing tables to waiting, and then managing during college.” After graduating last year, Dawson took the next big step by running Keepers on behalf of her parents. Living above the restaurant, she and Norton are quite literally on top of every detail that’s made Keepers a success this summer. Indeed, they run a tight ship despite being only in their twenties. “I’m twenty-six,” says Norton, “so I’m kind of the old man of the bunch.” The collective youth of Keepers managers, kitchen crew, and wait staff injects a lively energy to the space. “We’re running at 400 percent at all times,” Dawson says.

Keepers’ fairly priced menu is user friendly and doesn’t overthink tried-and-true favorites. Chef Doug Ferrell is a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America who came up working the line at Fog Island Café for three years. The skills he developed at the café now shine through in his menu at Keepers. Ferrell works alongside his girlfriend and sous chef, Gina Russo, in whipping up delicious entrées of boneless chicken under a brick, mustard-crusted salmon, grilled flat-iron steak, lobster salad sliders, and a veggie bowl. Of all their offerings, Keepers’ chicken wings, which are brined, spiced, smoked, and then grilled to order (not fried), have become the biggest fan favorite.

The Keepers space has a warm, casual feel, with three dining areas, a bar, and a sprawling patio that helps distribute its clientele. “The space has worked to our advantage,” says Norton. “If it’s slow we can close off rooms. Or if it’s really busy, we can rent out rooms… Even though we pack the place, because it’s divided between multiple rooms it’s never overly loud.”

Having grown up in and around mid-island, Norton and Dawson have watched this out-of-town dining scene take shape. “Ten years ago, when Cinco’s first opened, it was the start to it,” Norton says. “But it was almost too early.” Today, there are the Sea Grille, Fusaro’s, Atlas, Island Kitchen, Lola Burger, and Pi Pizzeria all within casting distance of Keepers. The continued success of these restaurants will further solidify mid-island as a mainstay dining destination. As for Keepers, this year-round restaurant will no doubt continue to hook people for years to come.