Light bulbs hang from the ceiling on black wires, chestnut-colored wooden tables sit in wait, a matching brown bookcase curves along the back wall. Hidden in plain sight, a golden door handle highlights a break in what looks to be a continuous body of bookshelves. This is restaurateur Ben Freiser’s latest venture, Beginnings—a literature-themed establishment.
Located in a stand-alone building just past the Atlantic Beach toll bridge, Beginnings, is the opposite of the nightclub scene. It’s a sophisticated place for grownups to gather, but family-friendly where the children’s menu is the most creative one around. The concept is the product of months of research, antiquing and construction.
Ben’s wife, Heather, who works as a senior editor for Contently, had long been trying to sell Ben on a literary-themed restaurant.
“I still remember how it felt when my sister read me Judy Blume books before bed, the passion I felt for Catcher in the Rye as an adolescent, or the way Joan Didion made me feel after losing my father in college,” Heather said. “I think books and food have a lot in common in the way they can inspire and transform people and reflect how they are feeling at the moment they experience them.”
The couple has two children and a third on the way, which inspired the pair to create a place where children would feel welcome and encouraged to read and write. There will be Sunday morning story time with characters, among other children’s events.
Bookshelves are dotted with framed first pages of famous novels and the theme carries through to the food.
Executive Chef Dave Bryer’s menu, divided into sections like “prologue,” “the plot twist” and “the climax,” features foods Freiser considers “fun” and “eclectic.” Beverage Director Steve Magliano makes all of the bitters.
“You could come here four nights in a row and get four different meals,” Ben said of the cuisine he describes as “American with a twist.”
There is octopus. There are raw bar items. There are the burgers and foie gras.
Prologue items include a slice of Caviar Pie, and Beef Marrow & Oxtail Marmalade.
Burgers at Beginnings are modified. “The Gatsby” is topped with truffle crème fraiche, triple cream brie, arugula, vine ripe tomato and foie gras.
But for Ben, Beginnings is about more than food; it is about atmosphere.
“I think people are looking for that place where they can come and hear blues, hear live music, be able to go have great drinks at nighttime but not get the normal club feel,” he said.
On the third Wednesday of each month, Beginnings will host book-themed dinners. The first, on April 20, immersed guests in the world of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby.
“Think mint juleps, champagne, oysters, deviled eggs, lemon cake,” Heather said.
One night in May, attendees will experience southern-style cooking inspired by Alice Walker’s The Color Purple; in June, summer seafood inspired by Ernest Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea.
“You can come to the beach, on Long Island, and still have a Brooklyn-slash-Manhattan dining experience,” Fresier said. “And then go swimming.”