A historic building and genial staff intersect at Edison Kitchen.
When J. Lawrence Downtown listed the Bethel Opera House for sale two years ago, seasoned chef and restaurateur Chris Bruno decided to buy it and open a restaurant in his hometown.
He completed renovations that honor the occupants of the historic 1800s building that is probably the downtown's most recognizable structure. Bruno officially opened Edison Kitchen on Dec. 22, 2021.
The ever-changing menu highlights New American cuisine with an emphasis on oysters, a full raw bar, Angus beef steaks, chops, chicken, and pasta. There are craft cocktails and happy hour specials, including half price oysters. Happy hour is Monday through Saturday from 3 to 5 p.m.
When asked about the restaurant’s upcoming second anniversary, Bruno said this Dec. 22 will be like any other day at the restaurant. “They’re all special,” he said.
Bruno presides over his kitchen emphasizing the importance of fine, fresh ingredients. Seafood dishes in the hands of this chef marry flavor with subtlety to allow the delicate taste of fresh coastal catch to shine.
Bruno has assembled a team of friendly people whose personalities exemplify what he considers most important in a restaurant team. “We don’t hire for experience. We hire smilers and will teach them the rest,” he said.
The restaurant’s idyllic location makes it easy for foot traffic and passersby to spot it on the corner of Greenwood Avenue and Library Place. It’s, "a definite draw" for Bethel resident Marietta Homayonpour.
"That’s especially true in the warm months,” she said, “when I can eat outside with friends or my son and enjoy the good vibe of the area. Also, being in the old Opera House adds [to the experience]. I sometimes imagine what the building must have been like in past times when operas were performed there. And whether eating inside or outside, I've always enjoyed the good service and delicious drinks and food--sometimes a seafood dish, sometimes a meat or pasta dish. I know the restaurant touts its oysters—and I like oysters—but I've yet to try them. One day,” she said.
The building was first called Fisher’s Hall (built by Augustus A. Fisher) and used for public meetings. The Opera House was a commercial proposition. John F. Nichols acquired the building in the late 1800s, and ran his entertainment complex until after the First World War, according to the Bethel Historical Society.
Minstrel singers, vaudeville performers, and the community chorus performed in the Old Opera House with a tavern downstairs that served root beer. In its heyday, the building was known as a combination of opera house, roller skating rink, and billiard hall.
Bruno worked at Chuck’s Steakhouse as a teenager. He graduated from Johnson & Wales University and opened his first restaurant, Fiddlers on Federal Road in Brookfield, at age 24. Career highlights include training under renowned Austrian chef Fritz Harbedl at L’Europe Restaurant in South Salem, NY, and being the chef/owner of Foundry Kitchen & Tavern in Newtown. Bruno has also worked in Canada and run a couple of restaurants in the Virgin Islands.
Bruno considers his main function at the restaurant to be one of guidance and creativity. “It has a fun vibe with a great mix of very social people," he said.
He especially likes preparing seafood and said when it is prepared creatively you should barely know what’s in it.
“There’s a thousand different types of seafood you can use as the focal point and that lends to the ability to draw on the creative side and piece together things. We are minimalistic and it’s great to get fish with a good flavor profile and a few ingredients and let it stand on its own.”
Bruno describes his customers as a discerning clientele. Some go in for a casual experience, for the bar and snack atmosphere, and to dine in on, “something unique and special,” said Bruno.
“People want a night out. Our menu is not that big but we do have a good span of styles.”
Check it out sometime!