When Scampo at the Liberty Hotel reopened Tuesday, Sept. 1, after a nearly six-month respite due to the pandemic, Lydia Shire, the James Beard award-winning celebrity chef and owner, could be found working the dessert station as a pastry chef.
“I’m going back to my old time,” said Shire, who will remain working at this post for the foreseeable future. “People can come up to the dessert station and say ‘hi’ to me. We’re going back to our roots, like we’re opening up the restaurant up new.”
Scampo’s staff spent two weeks “cleaning every inch of the restaurant,” Shire said, before she sat down with them all last Friday to give them a tutorial on the new menu in what resembles a classroom setting. The menu, which changes four times each year with the seasons, offers 31 returning and new dishes this time, as opposed to the 55 different dishes it typically boasts.
“Some restaurants are offering 15 or 16 menu items, but we can’t do that at Scampo,” Shire said. “We’re a place that has always served fabulous pizza, and we have a spaghetti menu that I think is Number One in the city, along with our homemade pastas.”
Along with signature dishes like the lobster and lamb pizzas, the Scampo duck with red cabbage pierogi and cider syrup is one new standout seasonal dish on the current menu.
“We made the filling yesterday, and it has a little cranberry,” Shire said, “and it has cider syrup we reduced, spiced up and poured around the duck, which is fall-ish.”
And for dessert, Shire said, “We’re making an insane pecan cake with brown-butter toffee frosting.”
Maria Podaza is also back two or three times a week preparing the restaurant’s homemade pasta, including a sugar pumpkin agnolotti in white truffle pasta with candied chestnuts and toasted sage.
“As we’re ramping up, we’ll have her in more often,” Shire said. “We’re being very cautious, and we’re going to do this right and bring people back as needed, which is the smart business decision.”
Like the rest of the restaurant’s employees, Jay Baker, Scampo’s general manger, said Friday he too was eager to return to work.
“We have a great staff, and we’re blessed that we didn’t have to look any for any [new employees],” Baker said. “Our staff is willing, ready and able to get back to work.”
Scampo has always been a popular destination to “escape,” Baker said, as well as to celebrate noteworthy occasions such as birthdays, anniversaries and graduations. But things are different now, though, as evidenced by Friday’s staff meeting, which in addition to the tutorial on the new menu, also included a briefing on the new safety regulations that the restaurant has adopted in response to the pandemic.
“It’s going to be an adjustment,” Baker said. “I’ve always hugged the guests and given them a kiss on the cheek, and I can’t do that now. It’s not easy being in hospitality business when your job is to be welcoming with a smile on your face, and you’re wearing a mask.”
Moreover, Baker said, “I know a lot of our guests personally. We have huge following because of Lydia, and because of the restaurant itself, and that comes with service, food and ambience.”
Scampo is now open offering dinner every night except Sunday from 5 to 10 p.m., although it will be closed Monday, Sept. 7, in observance of Labor Day.
To make reservations at Scampo, visit scampoboston.com or call the restaurant at 857-241-1150.