The Ram’s Head Inn on Shelter Island may be on the market — for nearly $10 million, in case you have the spare cash — but that doesn’t mean that this established spot is throwing in the towel. The 4.3-acre property, outfitted with a 22-room inn and 110-seat restaurant, is still planning to face the summer season by planting its best foot forward.
This iconic property dates back to 1929. The 90-year-old building also boasts a tennis court, bocce ball court, and space large enough to host weddings and private events. A three-story Colonial manor house has an additional 5000 square feet of unfinished basement space (a likely draw for whomever will inevitably buy the pricey property).
There are, too, eight moorings, deep water docks, and 800 feet of west-facing water frontage on Coecles Harbor. In 1979, James and Linda Eklund opened the current version of the Ram’s Head Inn, and although it has gone through numerous incarnations in those intervening years, it remains committed to thoughtful dining and accommodation. This year, as the Inn celebrates its 40th anniversary, the restaurant will welcome back Chef Joe Smith.
As a teenager, Smith washed dishes at the Ram’s Head Inn, under the tutelage of the Eklunds. He was promoted to sous chef and, later, chef de cuisine. But ambition drew Chef Smith off the Island, both to the north and south (he landed jobs at Sag Harbor’s Wölffer Kitchen and at Robby Beaver’s Greenport eatery, The Frisky Oyster). He now returns to his old stomping grounds with a new title: executive chef. With the space itself in flux, it remains to be seen whether or not Smith will flex creative muscles or keep a reliable menu true to its origin. If the food continues along the same trajectory, diners have much to look forward to.
The restaurant encompasses dual spaces: the main dining room and the Harbor Hall lounge. Both boast fireplaces that date back to 1929. The menu hits popular notes; diners are likely to find a beet salad with goat cheese, bacon, and roasted pistachios; a Caesar with brioche croutons; oysters on the half shell; and a crabmeat cocktail with a Dijon aioli to begin.
Entrees run the full gamut, appealing both to the land- and sea-lover. The fish obsessive can revel in sea scallops with cauliflower puree, green beans, and a lobster beurre blanc, or shrimp fra diavolo with torn burrata, while meat eaters will have a hard time passing up the local Crescent Farm duck, served with duck confit, smoked purple cabbage, and pomegranate molasses. The wine list is balanced between international selections and local wines (Macari, Wölffer Estate Vineyard, Lieb Cellars, Lenz Winery, Sparkling Pointe, and Bedell represent Long Island on this list).
During the off-season, the Ram’s Head Inn offers patrons the opportunity to try out all 22 rooms, which would make for an incredible reunion, of sorts, assuming you had enough people to fill the rooms. For weddings, the inn has space enough for 200 people, and events can be hosted both indoors and out.
Given the historic significance of the building, and the successful run that the Ram’s Head Inn has had up until now, it’s impossible to think that a savvy buyer would pass up this waterfront property. So, if trying out Chef Smith’s menu, and the class of the current configuration, doesn’t give you an excuse to get out to Shelter Island immediately, I don’t know what will.