For months, area foodies tracked and kept up on the news tidbits Matt Jennings would release in advance of the much-anticipated opening of Townsman, his “New England-style brasserie” on the ground floor of the new Radius building on the borderland between the Financial District and Chinatown.
And if the crowd on a Wednesday night last week was any indication, the wait was well worth it. Jennings and his team are already pumping out the kind of expressive farm-to-table food that anyone who’s gotten down to Farmstead, their former Providence, RI, spot has come to expect. And for Jennings, it all comes down to the experiences he can create for diners.
“I was killing myself on the plate,” he says when discussing his early years of name establishing. “But at this point I hope I’ve developed enough of an identity through the food we create so that now it’s about making sure people are having a good experience with delicious food, using great ingredients and combining them in interesting way. That’s what I’m put on the planet for now. This project brings all that to the table.”
As a project, Jennings says that Townsman is the most expressive of his cumulative culinary history, and he wants the venture to be an expression of everything that’s happened to him and the way he has looked at food since starting in the industry. If that means that sourcing lamb from people he knows who also happen to raise great livestock (note: Townsman will be doing whole-animal dinners down the line), then so much the better. Notably, the charcuterie offerings (bresaola, coppa, salami) come from friend and celebrated meat maestro Josh Smith’s house-made long-cure meats. If it means being influenced by and incorporating fresh ingredients from his new neighbors in Chinatown, or even putting a classic Portuguese fisherman’s stew on menu, that’s all in play here (as are different vibes between the bar and dining room, as well as the 20-seat crudo bar where you can watch the chef action from the front row). But the challenge, he says, was to land a spot that could bring all those concepts together and work. And in the kitchen, that means as many mistakes as successes.
“We’re first to admit that the kitchen is as much a place of failure as success,” he says with a laugh. “That’s an important part of what we do. We take those failures and re-engineer them and make them better every day. We work hard to find an intersection of all these parts that end up on the plate that’s reflective of our different experiences as a team.”
And speaking of intersections, Jennings said his selection of location for Townsman came at the expense of others who passed before him. “I know a lot of people who looked at this area and passed it over, as it’s on the fray,” he says. “But for me there’s nothing more exciting. It’s at the apex of six amazing neighborhoods, and there’s so much happening here. It’s the middle of everywhere, as opposed to middle of nowhere.”