Nantucket Just Kind of Latches On To You
Tom Fusaro's Dream Restaurant
Tom Fusaro spent his college summers working on fishing boats out of Kodiak, Alaska. That first summer, desperate to get a job fishing on one of the salmon-fishing boats, he haunted the docks each morning, asking everyone “need help today?” After numerous turn-downs, one day a captain said “My cook just broke his leg. Can you cook?” Of course he could cook. This was a lie, but it got him on the boat, and by the time the captain figured out Tom had no experience cooking they were four hours out of port and not turning back. And Tom figured out how to feed the crew that summer and afterwards. Tells you a lot about determination, doesn't it?
Tom grew up in New Britain, Connecticut, a town outside Hartford. His mom was Irish, whose cooking was acceptable but not exciting. His dad was Italian, and every Sunday involved church, followed by going to Gram’s house for her special meatballs in a long-simmering meat sauce. Sunday meals were a big deal, and when Tom’s father took over the kitchen at home as well, food became a guy thing as well as a grandma thing.
But even if you are passionate about food, as Tom is, it took years to get from the Sundays at Gram’s to owning an Italian restaurant on Nantucket. How did that happen?
As a young kid just out of college Tom came to Nantucket one summer to help a friend paint a house (does this sound like the beginning of a familiar story?). He helped that friend and, as he says, the island just kind of latched on to him, so he never left. He worked for his friend’s painting company for a while and then started his own, branching into different construction trades and making a good living at them. For twenty-five years he had his own painting business, employing lots of people, supporting his family (he’d married Stacy Toombs, a third-generation Nantucketer and artist--they have a son who’s a sophomore at Nantucket High School) and enjoying the years of the building boom.
But all along Tom kept thinking he’d rather be cooking, and one summer, in 1990, he had the opportunity to open a sandwich shop downtown--but that winter the building burned down and didn’t get rebuilt right away. The idea was put on hold again.
During that time Tom knew what kind of restaurant the island needed. For years he put the word out that he was looking for a good space, seeing and rejecting a number of alternatives, until the space that had been the Black Angus Grille became available and he was finally in the right spot at the right time. Fusaro’s Restaurant opened in 2011 and has been going strong ever since.
Fusaro’s came out of Tom’s imagining an average day for an average island family: three kids, finishing up Little League practice and not wanting to go home and cook. They’ve got options, of course but all similar cuisines: burgers, ribs and steaks. That family needs a friendly place for affordable home cooking, Italian-style. And that family is a regular sight at Fusaro’s today--dad, mom and the kids all eating healthy, nourishing home-made Italian food for a reasonable sum of money. Often with some extra team members tagging along.
Extending the family metaphor, Tom’s menus and recipes are his own, although a few are from his grandmother (if you eat at Fusaro’s around Christmas you’ll get a taste of her pizzelle, the delicate deep-fried pastries that look like snowflakes), and the chef is his niece Karen Thureson, a Johnson & Wales graduate who gained her experience in restaurants out here during her college summers. And many evenings Stacy will be on the spot too, joining Tom in greeting friends and patrons and making everyone feel at home.
Tom and Stacy and Karen go to food trade shows that showcase ingredients at the far edge of cookery: fish from all over the world, special ingredients of exotic origin or flavor, all of which is fun and exciting. But Tom’s motto stays the same: Keep it simple: a decent product at a good price. Judging by his success over the last two years, Nantucketers agree with that motto.
Visit Fusaro's at 17 Old South Road, Nantucket 02554 and on Facebook. Tel: 508-228-4100. Open for dinner now Tuesday through Sunday from 5 - 9pm daily; after Memorial Day it wlll be 7 days a week, adding lunch at 11:30am. No reservations.