European experience, local ingredients
Republic brings the classic bistro approach to downtown Manchester
By Linda A. Thompson-Odum firstname.lastname@example.org
Food. Wine. Coffee. Community. Those are the primary elements behind the creation of the new Republic café and bar in Manchester. However, there is one more factor to the vision of owners Ed Aloise and Claudia Rippee: they wanted a place where they would be comfortable hanging out.
The restaurant was created in the style of a European bar — a gathering place with a casual atmosphere, lots of conversation, and food for all times of the day. Aloise and Rippee wanted it to have an antique feel. The space, a former jewelry store, had the long narrow look with high ceilings they wanted. Wooden wall panels now make up the marble-topped bar, which is lit with replicas of old gas lamps. Demolition of the old store uncovered the original uneven maple floors. (They even found a small diamond, which will be displayed instead of the restaurant’s first dollar.) Rippee said the builders “wanted to make the floor perfect. We told them ‘Don’t touch the floor.’”
“In Europe, people expect to go to a place that’s been there forever. That’s the feel we wanted here. Not trendy. Just classic bistro,” Aloise said.
Rippee and Aloise each have more than 30 years experience in the restaurant world. In the 1990s they owned Café Pavone in Manchester, and they currently own the Milltowne Grille in the Manchester-Boston Regional Airport. In the past few years they’ve also explored individual business interests. Rippee became a photographic artist and teacher (her work, as well as pieces from other area artists, will be displayed in Republic). Aloise set up shop as a restaurant consultant.
“My time was my own. But I have a real problem with down time. I’ve spent my lifetime as an athlete. It’s in my genes to keep moving forward,” Aloise said.
The couple has traveled extensively around the world, and those adventures are evident in the restaurant’s menu. Its focus is two-fold. First is the Mediterranean influence, a style that is Aloise’s food background.
“Mediterranean food is all about the ingredients. Don’t use more than three at a time and don’t cloud up the flavors,” Aloise said.
Of course, the Mediterranean is a large region. Chef Keith Rennie, who also has 30 years of experience in restaurant kitchens, helped with the menu’s creation.
“The toughest part was editing what to put on. It is such a big area geographically; it was hard to decide what to put on and what to take off,” Rennie said.
The second key element to the menu is the local focus. All the dairy and protein items are regional. The restaurant is what Aloise describes as out of the corn economy — the sodas are the only items with high-fructose corn syrup. The coffee is free-trade Java Tree. Since Rippee is a vegetarian, she insisted that Rennie visit every farm that supplies the restaurant’s meats to ensure the animals were humanely treated.
“We’ve been very fortunate. There’s no way we could have put together the local distribution chain we needed without him,” Aloise said of Rennie. “He probably put 1,000 miles on his car in three months driving to all the farms to visually inspect the animals’ living conditions.”
Some of the menu’s highlights include a filed mushroom Bolognese with grilled polenta and whipped ricotta, which is a dish Aloise has made at home for years. The North African spiced pickled vegetables are Rippee’s recipe, and the tuna and egg panini is a Roman breakfast dish. Aloise describes the flat breads as real flat breads, not pizza.
For late-night diners, the antipasti and panini can be made behind the bar once the kitchen is closed. The bar serves a wide selection of wines by the taste, glass, half carafe and bottle, and there is a selection of Washington State wines on tap. There is also what Aloise calls a real espresso machine — no automation.
Everything is portioned to keep the prices affordable. The least expensive dishes start at $4, and the most expensive is $22. Most items fall in the $6 to $9 range.
“We wanted a situation where we could hang out in a place that lives up to our standards with people who keep us honest,” Aloise said. “I’ve always felt that doing things correctly brings things back to you. We are always striving to do the right thing.”