The Stones, a neighbourhood restaurant in the town of Stoneham
Picture two young women, made up for a special occasion, sitting at a table in a parking lot one Sunday afternoon. They order a bottle of champagne, special homemade fries plus dip and ask the waiter to include the ounce of caviar offered on the menu as an add-on. It may look like a perfectly normal scene for a Father’s Day weekend, until the dumpster comes into view – right next to the women’s shiny bottle of the restaurant’s finest champagne.
“People did not care, they just wanted to be out and were happy to not have to cook,” says The Stones’ chef Patrick Campbell of the time after Stoneham’s first lockdown back in April 2020, when the restaurant and bar opened up again. “People were sitting outside in the rain, because they just wanted to be outside their house – it was crazy.”
Like for most people, Covid has been tough on chef Patrick, and on co-owners Lisa and James Beattie, who also happen to be married with three kids. The restaurant is not just a place where they serve food, it’s their life. The kids are there all the time after school, they know half the town – The Stones has become like an extra family member. So when Covid hit, the disruption was large. But once they got the hang of it and saw what people were still interested in buying, it was good for a while, though not sustainable. After the first lockdown it was all about constant change and getting used to that – they have been changing their business plan every few weeks to adapt and pull through.
That’s when the sidewalk (and dumpster) seating made its first appearance, to expand into outside areas considered safer during the pandemic. “Without Covid we probably wouldn’t have gotten the permit to put tables with umbrellas on the front part of the sidewalk, which made us a lot more visible to the people walking by,” says Lisa.
But the permit wasn’t the only positive side-effect from the pandemic. When the bar inside The Stones closed due to regulations, they had to transition from independent work to sharing work, with regards to tips. Lisa smiles talking about it: “It was a little tricky during the first few weeks, but now everyone prefers it, because it involves having faith in your co-workers and everyone pulling their own weight. It’s really nice to see how they’re helping each other out a lot more now – it’s made them a better team all around.”
The Stones is a restaurant and bar that doesn’t just encourage team spirit, but includes its staff in menu creations as well. Younger staff in their 20s and early 30s may come back from a different bar or restaurant with an idea of how to recreate and change up a drink that they tried. Lisa and James always welcome good ideas and that’s when they’ll throw their names in front of it: “Laurie’s Old-Fashioned” or “Marissa’s…”. Many of the bartenders have come from a corporate background with little to no creative movement. Lisa knows exactly what that feels like from her time as assistant bar manager at The Cheesecake Factory.
Despite the lack of opportunities to be creative, she still left The Cheesecake Factory with skills that later proved to be crucial for The Stones. “The Cheesecake Factory is such a large corporation and it’s so well run, it’s military-style, there’s a protocol for everything in that place, there’s a handbook, there’s a diagram, there’s a chart, everything is labelled and it really helped me.” It’s a precise strategy her husband James was sceptical of at first. Coming from a low-key Irish pub where they slung beers and made captain and cokes, it seemed over the top to him. But now it’s a welcome change to his Irish pub days, along with seasonal craft cocktails and craft beers that are a big focus at The Stones.
“We try and support local breweries in terms of their craft beer,” says James. From “Mosaic Marvel” to “Mighty Squirrel Cloud Candy,” the names are as diverse as the beers themselves. And much like staff are involved in the creation of cocktails, so are the regulars when it comes to which beer makes it onto the menu. They share their stories about a specific craft beer they had up in Maine or down in New York and urge the trio to get in touch with the brewery. “A lot of the time the recommendations pan out and we can get the beer and the kegs are gone in a week, the regulars know it’s there, they come in and tell their friends and people just always want to try a new beer,” Lisa explains with a smile.
Appetizing and affordable
It’s not just the beer customers tell their friends about. It’s also the quality of food that is a big focus at The Stones. Chef Patrick started out at fast food places, which is where he first met Lisa – they were only 14. After completing culinary school he did 15 years of fine dining in the city of Boston, most of it at No. 9 Park, which used to be one of the city’s most iconic restaurants. A consultation for Lisa and James’ new restaurant project plus one phone call later, and chef Patrick was on board. No more commuting, no more food creations that have as its first goal to challenge people, no more pressure to compete – only high quality, affordable food made for the community of Stoneham, by one of its members.
“Where I worked before in fine dining,” says chef Patrick, “we’d manipulate vegetables into shapes that they didn’t have to be in – at this point in my career I’m not interested in doing that. This restaurant is not at all like that. It’s based on the kind of place that I’d want to go to three or four times a week and could afford to do so. We’re here for the better good of the community.” That’s also why The Stones has a new selection of fresh and seasonal specials every day, so people come in and try something new each time. Within the last three years they’ve been building people’s trust. Once it was there and there was a menu people felt comfortable with, they slowly became more adventurous, introducing things they thought were great and people would enjoy.
At this point I ask chef Patrick what he would order, were he to sit down and eat at the restaurant. He’d start with oysters, which they get from Island Creek Oyster Farm in Duxbury, a world-renowned oyster farm but especially popular in the US. “Then I’d probably get one of our composed fries that we make every day. It’s just a French fry, but the potatoes are specific, they’re prepped by hand every day, they’re nice and crispy on the outside, fluffy on the inside and we throw a bunch of random stuff on it.” To my eyes it doesn’t seem random at all, and they’re probably more thought out than chef Patrick humbly omits mentioning. In fact, there’s a whole section on the menu dedicated only to fries.
He describes the French fry as a versatile vehicle for other good stuff. And it’s this mouthwatering and affordable menu item that is also super profitable, allowing them to put other things on the menu for a reasonable price. Those specials that the regulars have come to appreciate, like a dover sole or a Turbo from Europe, even oysters and salads with a range of unusual ingredients. It’s the griciero French fry that is currently chef Patrick’s favourite: “So there’s a Greek salad and a couple of condiments and so it’s like you’re eating a plate of fries but it also eats kind of light because it’s like a salad and there’s a lot of vegetables. For me that would be perfect and then I would probably drink three martinis and go home and go to bed.” I tell him that sounds like a good plan and he nods and smiles.
Flamboyant fries, craft beer and cocktails, owners born and bred in the community they serve – it makes a pretty solid recipe for a thriving, widely-loved neighbourhood restaurant. So is the fact that chef Patrick keeps it local with his produce. Continuing to work with vendors who had delivered to him during his time at No. 9 Park, means that he’ll get specialty items like mushrooms from one local company and others, like potatoes, from another, when other restaurants in the area tend to get most of their produce from a single wholesale, place. It’s a big part of what makes The Stones special.
And cult favourites? That would be the already mentioned French fries with comical names like “Franky says relax and eat some fries” or “El scorcho”, a brussels sprout and kale salad, and a massive, thick-layered, old-school lasagna, the kind that chef Patrick’s wife’s grandma would make. “Since it’s been on this local TV show, we can’t make enough of it. People love to be able to box something up and bring it home and eat it cold out of the fridge or throw it in the microwave,” explains chef Patrick.
Support during the pandemic
King size meals is something The Stones focused on especially during the first Covid lockdown, when indoor dining was shut down. They offered family-style meals such as “Buttermilk Fried Chicken” or “Brazilian BBQ” for pick-up or delivery for 3-4 people and changed it every night. “That went really well,” says Lisa, as did the do-it-yourself drink kits with everything except the alcohol, including instructions on how to make your own cocktails at home. They have gone ahead full speed innovating and making it work during these trying times. Chef Patrick is in charge of their Instagram account, making sure to upload a hot picture of the dishes of the day. “If the picture is hot, things go like that, people won’t even know what it is but they’ll point to their phone and be like ‘I want that.’ It’s crazy how much that can change your business!”, he says.
Lisa, James and chef Patrick have been doing everything they can to keep things going and to continue serving quality food and drink in a time when it’s the little things that matter most. But without loyal regulars to support them, this would not have been possible. Lisa is extremely grateful: “I really appreciate the support of our regulars and it’s been amazing getting to know all the people who are really concerned about having a normal to go back to once this all wraps itself up. It’s nice to know that they’re actually thinking about the fact we’re not a big chain and that we’re not just going to automatically survive this without them.”
It becomes clear from my conversation with the three owners, that they’re the kind who are actively involved in every service that they have. There’s always an owner there, if not two, constantly interacting with guests and trying to manage one or two staffs and trying to make sure that the restaurant is operating to the best of their capability – to the extent that it’s strange to go in there and not see either Lisa, Patrick or James. Along with the front of house service and the quality of ingredients, it’s also the aesthetics that makes The Stones a special place in Stoneham. While blacked-out windows are the norm, The Stones has huge, operable windows open to the street that are left open during the summer time and go out onto the patio. It’s a bright and lively place, usually with live entertainment on Thursdays and Sundays, which Lisa is keen to start up again as soon as the state allows it.
“Anything else that’s in the pipeline?,” I ask. Lisa laughs, “At the moment we’re setting the bar very low. But we do have a longer term goal of getting a food truck to go to events with and to cater people’s events.” They know a good few people who have done christenings, birthdays, small weddings, anniversary parties, who would like them to cater the event and have the same food and drink experience as at The Stones, “but it’s in their house and they have control over who’s coming and what they’re doing.” The food truck will also allow them to gauge the potential for opening another restaurant in the immediate area, with the idea of eventually opening a group of small restaurants all offering a different concept.
It’s something to look forward to and work towards to in a time where any goal and aspiration brings hope and purpose. But for now James simply hopes that they’ll still be open once Covid-19 has run its course. Chef Patrick univocally agrees: “If we make it to spring 2021 and open back up with guests in our restaurants, that’ll be enough for me, that’s my goal.” He ends our conversation with a message of appreciation: “If it wasn’t for our core base of people we would’ve closed, we would not currently be open. Thank you and we appreciate it and hopefully you enjoy the food as much as we enjoy serving it.”
As we’ve all said at the beginning of this year, 2021 can only be better than 2020. Whether it’s just coming in for appetizers to share, for a “Stones Whiskey Punch” or for an old-school lasagna, The Stones can brighten up any gloomy winter day with its competent staff, bright space and ever-present owners. There was much confusion and uncertainty at the start of this pandemic, but the chaos all over the world, in Stoneham and at this well-received neighbourhood restaurant has brought communities together. Nothing can replace a hearty meal with a group of family and friends – and for that, The Stones remains the perfect place.
The interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Address: The Stones, 380 Main St, Stoneham, MA 02180, United States
The Thyme for Bourbon – Recipe
The Thyme for Bourbon is a craft cocktail favourite at The Stones. Lisa has shared the recipe, so we can all make it at home to enjoy while watching Netflix’s The Queen’s Gambit for the third (and fourth) time.
2 ½ ounces Rough Ryder Whiskey (a Long Island bourbon)
1 ounce fresh lemon sour that they make in the house
1 dash of Peychaud’s Bitters
¾ ounce honey water
½ ounce simple syrup
Shaken and strained into a martini glass with a piece of thyme across the top. Enjoy!
The lowdown – 8 reasons to visit The Stones:
The fries. Hand-cut.
Chef Patrick describes the French fry as a vehicle for other delicious foods. Whether it’s “Frankie Says Relax & Eat Some Fries” or “Toasted Italian Fries”, your order is bound to be an unforgettable potato bonanza experience.
The community feel.
Owners James, Lisa and chef Patrick have put their heart and soul into the restaurant and it’s no surprise the community keeps coming back for more – more craft cocktails, more quality food, more friendly banter.
Craft cocktails and craft beer, that’s the deal at this neighbourhood restaurant. Regulars suggest the latest beer from a craft brewery and The Stones will conjure it up onto the menu for all to enjoy.
A visit to The Stones is a must for anyone craving grandma-style rich, thick-layered, delicious lasagna. It’s so huge, you’re guaranteed left-overs to take back home for your continued indulgement.
Young, charming and friendly, service at The Stones is not an afterthought. Servers will happily suggest dishes and bartenders showcase their creativity with novel cocktail concoctions.
The regular menu is well thought-through and includes some all-time favourites. But the specials keep things fresh and exciting. From ? to ?, there’s much to discover.
The live entertainment.
Pre- and post-pandemic, Thursdays and Sundays are reserved for live entertainment from local musicians. There’s nothing quite like the combination of quality comfort food, original drinks and live music.
The outside seating.
During warmer days, seating outside makes The Stones an even more magical place. It’s the added touch of warm sunshine that turns the atmosphere from great to amazing.