Mediterranean Taste

Talking food with Chef Nat Hughes of Kartabar


What is the vibe like at Kartabar? 
Kartabar has been on Thayer Street for over 10 years. I feel a bit silly saying it, but it’s a hip, trendy place. There’s always an eclectic mix of people; it’s like a cross section of Providence, with people of all ages and professions. Thayer has a lot of energy: there’s always something going on day and night. Unlike some other places, we’re just as busy in the summer, especially with our great outdoor seating.

Describe the menu. 
Our menu focuses on Mediterranean food. Lebanese cuisine has a special influence since our owner, Philippe Maatouk, is Lebanese. We feature items such as hummus, baba ganoush, tabouli and kebabs. We have something for everyone – pastas, burgers, wraps, sandwiches, pizza – with specials every day. We have a very serious regular crowd; I’ve seen people come in twice on the same day. Some regulars want the same thing every time and others come for the specials. It’s important for us to please both.

What are some popular dishes at the restaurant?

Definitely the gorgonzola stuffed filet mignon, which is cut open and stuffed with gorgonzola before grilling. It has a red wine glaze and is served with mashed potatoes and vegetables. The hummus appetizer is also a favorite. It comes with tomatoes, cucumbers, olives, homemade pita chips and pita bread. This hummus is amazing. It’s the same recipe that Philippe used back when he owned Hot Pockets on Thayer. It’s the best I’ve ever had, and that’s coming from someone who grew up in the 1970s with a mother who cooked macrobiotic and health food, and who made plenty of hummus at a vegetarian restaurant in California. It’s especially good here and definitely something we’re known for.

Do you have any dishes that are popular in this warmer weather? 
Now that summer is here, our salads are very popular. One favorite is the poached pear salad. The pears are poached with red wine, sugar, cinnamon and cloves. They are served over mesclun greens with a raspberry vinaigrette, golden raisins, walnuts and goat cheese, and topped with fried onion strings. Other favorites are our tomato basil soup, the gnocchi with chicken and a pesto cream sauce, and of course our cocktails.

Where were you before Kartabar? 
I’ve been back on the East Coast for the last 12 years and at Kartabar for a year and-a-half. After attending Johnson and Wales, I was the executive chef at Parkside for a number of years and the executive chef and general manager at Gatehouse (where the Waterman Grille is now). I opened and ran United BBQ in the Fox Point neighborhood for about two years. Right before Kartabar, I was at a restaurant at Twin River casino.

Were you always interested in the food industry?
Yes. My first summer job was as a pushcart vendor for a Mexican restaurant (which was more of a rarity back in the 1980s) in a fishing town outside of Boston. I washed dishes, prepped, and pushed the cart around, selling tacos and other items. The next summer, I worked my way inside the restaurant, being a prep cook, then a line cook. It was always a job I came back to in the summers during school. When I was looking at culinary schools, I chose Johnson and Wales because it’s a great school and also because my family is originally from the Boston area, so it was an opportunity to move back and be closer to my family.

Does your diverse experience in food service help you in your job today? 
Definitely – I’ve been everything from a dishwasher, a prep cook, line cook, general manager, a server, a barback and executive chef. I’ve seen things from every angle, in and out of the kitchen. Being on the floor helps you understand the customer experience, which you don’t really get to see from the kitchen, so you develop an appreciation for meeting the customer’s needs.

What do you like to do when you’re not at the restaurant?
Usually this time of year I’m outside in the garden. I grow a few vegetables, like tomatoes, eggplant and peppers. Carrots don’t last too long with the rabbits around here, but half the fun is planting everything; if you get something, it’s a bonus. I’m married with two children, and love spending time with my family.

Chef Nat Hughes, Kartarbar, Providence Restaurants, Providence Monthly


No comments on this item Please log in to comment by clicking here