“I grew up here,” says Jimmy Tsimikas, as he moves energetically through his restaurant, Uptown Food & Spirits. “My parents had this property as a diner. All throughout the ‘80s, I was here working after high school. It was a busy diner. Typical, Greek-style diner.”
Then Tsimikas left Warren to seek his fortune – for 19 years. He worked mostly for Orient Express hotels, bouncing among kitchens in Italy, France, Denmark, and Australia. After a globe-trotting culinary career, Tsimikas returned to Rhode Island, where he decided to revive the family restaurant, this time as an upscale brunch experience. Thus, Uptown was born, opening in November 2019.
“Now we’re a farm-to-table, scratch cooking [establishment],” says Tsimikas. “Everything is done in-house. We went into it just looking to do brunch. We cater to diets – so vegan, vegetarian, gluten-free. Do we have surf-and-turf? Yes, we do. We have a surf-and-turf burger.”
When COVID-19 started closing restaurants in March, Uptown was already in full swing. The restaurant had 15 employees hosting a constant influx of customers. “It was slammed,” says Tsimikas. The conversion to takeout was marginally successful, but Tsimikas has been looking forward to this new phase: He put down a handsome teak floor on the front patio, which is decorated with lamps and flowers and offers a fine view of Main Street. Outdoor dining is preferred, but Uptown will also host indoor dining at 50 percent capacity, either by request or during inclement weather.
“We’re a couple months behind schedule,” concedes Tsimikas, “but we’re planning to do dinner service Thursday, Friday, and Saturday as well.”
At a glance, Uptown shows off “simple elegance,” with rustic decor, handmade tables built from butcher boards, and rotating chalkboards that declare the brands of locally sourced products. The old breakfast counter has been raised into a sleek new bar, and an original mural has been hand-drawn into the wall. The brunch menu lists favorites like Belgian Waffles and Eggs Florentine, and the eponymous spirits include mimosas, Irish coffee, and the French Toast Martini.
The renovated patio harks back to the European bistros of Tsimikas’s decades abroad. To ensure social distancing, Tsimikas is also placing screens between indoor tables. While these screens will be reinforced with Plexiglas, they have the latticed look of an Italianate garden.
“Safety is most important – we’re really conscious about that,” says Tsimikas, adding, “The look is a big part of what we do. Whether it’s on the patio or on the plate. It’s the plates. It’s the staff. It’s the color of their uniforms. It’s how you present. You know that saying: ‘You eat with your eyes first.’”