If you’ve ever stepped off the Hy-Line ferry or strolled downtown Nantucket’s Straight Wharf, you’ve likely come across CRU, the island’s see-and-be-seen waterfront oyster bar that seamlessly blends a relaxed ambience (think: indoor/outdoor seating with fresh music and a lobster roll) and culinary prowess (locally sourced seafood with an established chef in the kitchen) into an elevated island experience.
If you’ve eaten there? You’ve tasted what all the seafood hype — from a fresh raw bar to lobster bisque and striped bass crudo — is about. And soon, you can try your hand at whipping up some of the island restaurant’s eats yourself. On May 21, CRU’s executive chef and partner Erin Zircher and managing partner Jane Stoddard are releasing the eatery’s first cookbook, CRU Oyster Bar Nantucket Cookbook: Savoring Four Seasons of the Good Life.
Ahead of the book’s release, we caught up with the duo to hear about the restaurant, life on Nantucket, following your passion, and — of course — how to make your own summer seafood delight, because isn’t that what the season’s all about, anyway?
It is empowering to see two ladies at the helm of one of Nantucket’s most successful restaurants. What are the biggest ‘girl boss’ lessons you’ve learned along the way?
Erin Zircher (EZ): I’ve always loved working with men, because, in my mind, they are so cut and dry. I initially thought that I could always be blunt and matter of fact when communicating with the men in CRU’s kitchen. Then, one day, I realized men have feelings, too (obviously!). Now I make it a point to circle back after a conversation to make sure everyone is good, and we are all on the same page. It’s important as a boss to be mindful of that with all your employees.
Jane Stoddard (JS): I have learned you have to love what you do. Hard work is sometimes its own reward, so embrace it and be sure to have some fun. Also, embrace the people you work with, openly and consistently. Surround yourself with smart, driven people who you can learn from and make you want to be better.
Any advice for young women out there looking to follow their passions — whether it’s cooking or something entirely different?
Zircher: Whatever it is, go for it. There will always be challenges, but that’s part of life. If you let everything that gets in your way stop you, you will never get anywhere.
Stoddard: Work hard for what you want, be kind to those around you, and be open to creative ways to get ahead. Be comfortable reaching out to those who are excelling in the industry you are hoping to be a part of and ask them what makes them strive. I learn so much from our staff and our customers on how to be a better restaurant and a better boss every day.
What drew you to Nantucket?
Zircher: In 2003, I had just finished working in the north of France, but wasn’t ready to move back to the city. Nantucket seemed like a great place to cook for the summer and make a game plan. I was immediately drawn to the small-town feeling of the island combined with the eclectic restaurant scene as the two don’t usually go hand-in-hand. Add beautiful beaches and fresh seafood, and I was sold. Sixteen years later, I am so proud to call Nantucket my home.
Stoddard: Nantucket steals your heart the very first day. The light on this island is unlike anything I have ever seen. Gorgeous windswept beaches, abundant open space, and amazing restaurants make it the perfect island destination. The natural beauty coupled with an incredibly supportive community makes it an amazing place to own a business. I have the best office in the world at 1 Straight Wharf.
What’s the most underrated, must-visit spot on the island?
Zircher: I love sneaking down to Sayle’s seafood for fried clams. The Greydon House is super cozy and romantic for a glass of champagne. Pi Pizzeria is always my go-to for pizza.
Stoddard: Great Point may seem far from town, but packing the perfect picnic lunch, some bottles of rosé, and a handful of friends into a 4WD car to drive out to the lighthouse is a day unlike anywhere else on island. We love to stop at the Wauwinet, on the way home, for a Pain Killer at sunset.
How do you want people to use this book?
Zircher: First off, it’s really pretty. If you are ever missing Nantucket, vacation, or just summer in general, pour yourself a glass of rosé and flip through its glossy pages. And if you love cooking seasonally, it will be a great guide for planning a meal for whenever and wherever you are.
Stoddard: We hope this book is a way for guests to connect with the taste and feel of CRU and the island of Nantucket, no matter where they are or the time of year — to bring a little bit of the lifestyle of their favorite island home.
What’s the best way to enjoy CRU?
Stoddard: CRU is special at so many different times of the day. I love a late lunch that lingers into early evening with a nice breeze off the water, looking over the harbor enjoying oysters from the local waters, a crisp glass of champagne. [Also], the night of the Fourth of July fireworks is always a special time at CRU, as you can see the fireworks of Jetties Beach light up the sky from the docks of the wharf.
What’s the biggest secret to cooking up a great seafood meal at home?
Zircher: For me, it would be doing all of it outside! Cooking everything on the grill and eating outside as the sun sets. Fresh clams, fish, lobster — it all takes really well to being grilled and your home will never smell like seafood.
What’s on your summer menu?
Zircher: It will typically be whatever my husband picks up from the farm on the way home from work. Zucchini and summer squashes are great grilled and make fantastic vegetarian tacos. We will usually have sliced tomatoes and baby potatoes boiled and tossed with butter, good olive oil, fresh herbs, and whatever fish I can grab on my way down the dock from my fishermen friends.
Most under-rated seafood to order out?
Zircher: Nantucket has a lot of lesser-used seafood treasures. If you’re lucky enough to spot them, give them a shot. We have delicious fresh mackerel in the spring that you might see on restaurant menus, as well as whelks, which are a large sea snail. Whelks are fantastic blanched, chilled, and served with a little fresh lemon and mayonnaise. And please don’t forget about the bluefish! It’s one of my absolute favorites, and it gets a bad rap. We share our signature bluefish dip recipe in the book so people don’t have to ask our secret. It’s so important to continue to explore lesser-known fish and shellfish so that we preserve the diversity of our oceans.
Some people say CRU has the best lobster roll on the island. What’s your secret?
Zircher: Fresh lobster! We cook lobster every single day, sometimes twice. The other thing I love about our lobster roll is the buttered, toasted roll. It has to be warm, toasty and buttery. Other than that, we keep it very simple. At lunch, the lobster is simply tossed with mayonnaise, lemon zest, and fresh lemon juice. At dinner, the lobster is warmed with melted butter — nothing too crazy, but so, so good.