Tracy Spooner tends to his kitchen at T. Spooner’s in Elizabethtown.
For the past 17 months, Tracy Spooner has been quietly sawing, hammering, painting, polishing and prepping the old pharmacy building on Court Street in Elizabethtown for the next phase of its existence.
He’s been experimenting, devising, testing, trying and tasting a cornucopia of potential menu items in the small, tidy kitchen with freshly-painted white walls.
On Monday, March 17, he was ready.
Shortly before dawn on St. Patrick’s Day, tables were set, coffee was brewed and a chalkboard was hung, onto which the day’s specials were penned in a neat cursive script.
The lights were turned on and the red sign on the front window was finally flipped over:
“Come on in,” it said. “We’re open.”
By the end of the week, a chattering lunchtime crowd snaked over the polished wooden floors from the counter into a brightly-lit dining area.
A phone rang incessantly and calls between the counter and chef — “Order up! What’s the status on that ham on rye? The salad’s in the cooler!” — ping-ponged back and forth and blended into the midday sunlight that filtered in and splashed over the earth-colored brickwork.
T. Spooner’s was now open for business.
“I wanted to give folks a quality product and give them enough choices to keep them coming back,” said Spooner, the man responsible for breathing a fresh springtime blast into this tiny town’s culinary landscape.
Spooner, a North Country native who has spent 40 years in the food business, said his new restaurant is a culmination of the years he spent honing his kitchen skills, from his graduation from the “school of hard knocks” in April 1974 to lengthy tenures at numerous fine dining establishments within the Blue Line, including a stint at the Whiteface Inn during the 1980s that had national reporters for Gourmet magazine scampering for his shrimp scampi recipe.
“I didn’t tell them,” he winked. “It was a wonderful flavor that you just couldn’t copy.”
T. Spooner’s bills itself as a restaurant that serves fresh, homemade food. Their menu offerings, mainly soup, salad and sandwiches, reflect comfort classics upgraded to reflect contemporary trends.
The sandwich menu, for example, boasts mainstays like ham, turkey and grilled chicken on a selection of sourdough, tortilla or Bavarian pretzel rolls paired with a choice of red pepper hummus, Thai peanut mayo or cranberry honey, among others.
Spooner took on a fatherly pride in his soups as he ushered a reporter into the kitchen.
“If you put your heart into what you do, you’ve got to do it right,” he said while inspecting the trio of soups gently bubbling on the stovetop: broccoli cheddar chowder, Philly cheesesteak and hamburger macaroni, the latter of which, he said, is a popular North Country staple.
Spooner said business has been good and despite several minor hiccups throughout the first week, namely when it came to expediting orders and accommodating the rush of hungry patrons, the response from the community has been overwhelming and he thanked everyone for their support.
“We have high expectations and we’re going to do our best to fill them,” he said. “We’re constantly evolving and making immediate changes based on input from the community.”
The menu, which also boasts a sizable breakfast spread with a distinctive southwestern flair, is also in a state of fluidity.
Spooner said he plans on adjusting his offerings based on shifting customer, seasonal and culinary demands. That could mean a spread of cooler soups in the summertime designed to neutralize the heat, for example, or tweaks here and there to the salad menu to accommodate the ebbs and tides of produce availability.
Once the weather breaks, Spooner envisions the summertime inclusion of picnic tables beneath an arbor canopy that naturally forms in the backyard.
Spooner smiled as he again enthused about the community.
“This is why I could never live anywhere else.”
T. Spooner’s, 7567 Court Street, Elizabethtown. Open Monday-Friday, 6 a.m to 5 p.m. Visit them on Facebook or call 873-3299 for take-out; 637-4567 for the specials hotline. Menu changes daily.