There’s a lot to like about the Mohegan Café and Brewery. Pioneers of #skipthestraw, owners Marc and Katie note on their website that “Plastic drinking straws are another top polluter of the environment and as a high volume restaurant we’d be remiss not to try and do our part to further the island’s reputation as a place where the ecology is taken seriously. So please help us take another step towards making Block Island a leader in environmental activism.” There’s also the ambiance of watching the ferries come and go from the windows overlooking Old Harbor.
And then there’s the food, courtesy of executive chef Andrew Brushett and the chef who runs the kitchen at Mohegan, Peter Pietrobono — which, translated from Italian means Peter Good Peter. I was fortunate enough to spend some time with Peter the other afternoon, and we talked about a fateful road trip from Florida to Block Island, his infamous alter ego, and our mutual love of the magnificent chef Anthony Bourdain.
What made you become a chef?
Well, my best friend Joseph Miller and I were working for a pizza place in Florida in 2012, and through a friend’s friend, Joe’s dad asked if we wanted to work on Block Island for a summer. I Googled it and it looked great, so we quit our jobs, loaded up the car, and left Florida at 2 a.m. We drove straight to the ferry, got on the boat and met Andrew Brushett, who is the executive chef at Mohegan and the Harbor Grill. We got jobs making fries at the Grill and now I’m running this restaurant, Joey’s running the Harbor Grill, and we owe it all to Chef Andy.
Who’s been your greatest influence as a chef?
Anthony Bourdain — I read his book “No Reservations” and it was such a good book. He started out just like me, making fries in Provincetown. I think about his career and how well he treated the people he worked with, the respect he has for cooking and food, and it gives me a goal for myself.
What do you like about working on Block Island?
I love the adrenaline rush out here, the speed of the kitchen getting so many meals out in one day. I also love the culture — meeting people from all over the world and learning about how they live and their food.
What’s your favorite food to cook with?
Clams — my dad was a clammer in Florida and I have great memories of him bringing home bushels of clams. We’d fire up the grill, wait till they open, add a little butter and there’s just nothing else like it.
What food would you never eat again?
Fruit. I just don’t like it. Everyone tries to get me to like something — cherries, strawberries, none of it tastes good to me.
Who was your most memorable customer?
I have two answers for this. One is a group of people — the Jamaican people out here are amazing. I’ve learned so much from them about food, culture, and spices. They’re always bringing me stuff to try and I am inspired by the flavors. Right now we have a special Jerk Chicken with Jamaican Slaw and Banana Rum sauce that comes right from their influence.
The other is a guy named Doc Westchesterson. He’s this rapper who always walks in here and acts like he owns the place.
Where do you like to eat and what do you order if you go out?
I never get to see my best friend Joey, the guy I came here with, because he’s always working and so am I. So on my night off I’m going to the Harbor Grill to have the Lamb Shank Bolognese — I hear it’s off-the-hook good.
What’s your favorite dish at Mohegan you wish people would order?
We have a Burmese Tea Leaf Salad with lentils, sunflower seeds, fried garlic and peanuts, that is really good and healthy. The tea leaves are soaked and then made into a pesto. We also have great Tuna Tacos with radishes, wasabi coleslaw, spicy mayo and avocado.
What would you eat for your last meal on earth?
I’d eat a big bowl of three-way (steaming spaghetti covered with a secret recipe chili, topped with a mound of shredded cheddar cheese) from Skyline Chili in Cincinnati, Ohio.
Why are you wearing a sequined headband?
Because Monday is Disco Night at Captain Nick’s, and I will be there appearing as my alter ego — Glitter Boy. He’s a wild-card guy who sports a mullet and wears a fanny pack filled with glitter to “glitter the ladies.”
The two dishes I tried were not dusted with glitter, but certainly were bursting with flavor. The Burmese Tea salad with salmon was delicious — I loved the novelty and taste of the tea leaf pesto which was a nice counterbalance to the blackened salmon, romaine lettuce, peanuts, sunflower seeds, lentils, sliced fried garlic, and lemon that made up the rest of the salad. Mixing the pesto and lemon in with the rest of the salad was a delicious alternative to a traditional salad dressing with the tea leaves adding an extra zip of seasoning. I also tried the day’s special, Jerk Chicken with Jamaica Slaw and Banana Rum Sauce. The chicken was fork-cut tender and the sweetness of the banana rum sauce coupled with the spice in the Jamaican slaw struck a perfect balance. With each taste there was never too much of either flavor, but equal notes of both in every bite.
The menu at Mohegan is reflective of the restaurant’s desire to accommodate today’s patrons, including those with food allergies and aversions. Many food cultures are well-represented — Cajun Louisiana with a Muffuletta sandwich — with salami, capicola, ham provolone, pickled vegetable, olive tapenade, and grilled Asiago focaccia; or a Middle East influenced Arabian Falafel with hummus, banana peppers, tzatziki dressing, lettuce, tomato, and onion. There is the traditional New England Lobster Roll served hot with butter or cold with mayo, celery and onion on a toasted roll.
I’ll leave you with an Anthony Bourdain quote: “I’ve long believed that good food, good eating, is all about risk. Whether we’re talking about unpasteurized Stilton, [or] raw oysters… food, for me, has always been an adventure.” Enjoy your own food adventure at the Mohegan Café.