With shallots and garlic sautéing in a pan, Chef Pete Jaynes could have reached for a nice white wine for his sauce. But Valentine’s Day is coming. So instead he reached for the champagne to deglaze his pan.
The alcohol of the champagne cooked off in a blaze of fire; Jaynes added homemade stock and a little heavy cream. While that simmered and reduced, he got some shrimp on the grill and prepped mashed potatoes with heavy cream, sour cream, and as he said, “Lots of shallot butter.”
“All sauces are made in house,” Jaynes said. “No cans or bottled sauce ever.”
Affectionately known as “Chef Pete,” Jaynes hails from New Haven. He just moved back after living in North Carolina for four years. He has put on the apron to cook the specialties at a new restaurant that has opened at East and Humphrey streets in Jocelyn Square, called Park Place East.
If you’ve ever been to an event at City Hall, you’ve probably sampled Chef Pete’s food. In addition to being the top man in the Park Place East kitchen he runs a catering business called Pete’s Eats.
His time down South is reflected in the menu of Park Place East. While the champagne sauce will be part of special brunch menu Jaynes is cooking up for a special private Valentine’s Day crowd the restaurant is hosting, the new regular menu features Southern favorites like shrimp and grits, catfish and grits and chicken and waffles.
Jaynes and owner Dana Griffin Sr. have been friends for a while. They always promised each other that if one of them opened a restaurant, the other would come help the other out. Now, as they prepare for their official grand opening on Feb. 22 at what used to be Humphrey’s East, Jaynes said, “It’s the right place at the right time.”
Old Humphrey’s, New Park Place
Dana Griffin Sr. (pictured) remembers a time when Humphrey’s East was a great place to get a bite to eat, have a drink and listen to New Haven native Rohn Lawrence play guitar.
“That was maybe 15 years ago,” Griffin said. “Everything that has come in here since then has never really measured up to the old Humphrey’s.”
Since the 1980s and ‘90s, Humphrey’s has gone through a series of owners. In 2012, a retired Hamden fire marshal and his wife reopened the Jocelyn Square fixture as Carissa’s Cafe. At some point, the Jocelyn Square fixture was reborn as Madden’s Gastropub. Griffin said it was vacant for about eight months before he decided to give the space new life as Park Place East.
Open just two weeks, Griffin said he has big plans. He wants to attract a professional crowd. He envisions a time where Park Place East will be a destination in Jocelyn Square that people can come for poetry, comedy and even karaoke. With the additional space in the back of the restaurant—the previous owners closed in a patio space—Griffin is already providing a private space for catered events. The space has an additional bar and access to the kitchen.
But why not restore the Humphrey’s name? Griffin said that when he was getting the bar and restaurant registered with the city, it was suggested that he consider calling it “Old Humphrey’s,” since people call it that anyway. But he said given that it’s a new era for the business, it was time for another new name.
Back On The Sauce
If Jaynes’s plate were a beautiful lagoon, the mashed potatoes would be the cliffs for jumping and the champagne sauce would be the calm waters that you should dive into and swim.
While wine can sometimes taste a little heavy in a sauce, the champagne in Jaynes’s sauce was subtle. It complemented the sweet, succulent grilled shrimp and the hardy mashed potatoes. All set off with a bright, stuffed and roasted plum tomato, which was not for show, but for eating.
Jaynes described his cuisine as “contemporary American” and said cooking is what he loves. “I’ve always done this,” he said. “No other side jobs working in factories, or anything like that. Just cooking.”