GALES FERRY – A few steps away from the rebuild of Fireside Brick Oven, owners of the popular pizza restaurant are winning over customers with pancakes at the newly opened Sunnyside Diner.
A fire forced Fireside Brick Oven to close in February, but while it is being rebuilt, the Arpin family was able to open the diner they’ve been planning for more than a year, serving breakfast and lunch every day from 5:30 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Since opening three weeks ago, co-owner Brandi Arpin said the public support has been great, and she’s seen a mix of the regulars from Fireside and new customers coming in to try out the new spot.
The Arpins’ two restaurants now bookend the plaza between Military Highway and Hurlbutt Road – Fireside on the north end, and Sunnyside now on the south end just a few doors away. Like Fireside, Sunnyside is a family affair.
Brandi Arpin said she has basically been living at the restaurant, and her husband Adam and their two daughters, Dillan and Kaydance, are also working constantly at the new diner.
The southern space had been vacant since the Arpins took over Fireside three years ago. And Arpin said they started working towards opening Sunnyside about a year and a half ago.
The family had been asking customers at Fireside what kind of restaurant they would want to see open in Gales Ferry, and the resounding answer was: breakfast. Aside from quick-service drive throughs Baker’s Dozen, Dunkin Donuts and McDonald’s, the community is short on breakfast options.
“Everybody keeps saying the same thing,” Arpin said. “‘We needed this.’”
Open every day at 5:30 a.m., Arpin said Sunnyside wants to draw in some of those commuters who would usually opt for a drive thru option looking for a quick bite on their way to work – which is why she’s selling three-egg, bacon and sausage sandwiches on seven-inch hoagie rolls, wrapped up to go and sold with a coffee for $9.
“It’s wrapped up in insulated foil, so it’s gonna stay warm for you, and it’s a sandwich that will keep you full through lunch,” Arpin said. “You’re not gonna be hungry.”
While some customers have picked up on the to-go options, much of Arpin’s business has come later in the morning from people looking to sit down and eat their pancakes or eggs benedict.
Its booths adorned in distinctive red triangles, the interior is intended to have the feel of a retro diner, with clean lines and cool grays, but modern and fresh. With its big, open windows facing east, Sunnyside seems an appropriate name for the diner when it is flooded with warm light as the sun rises above the shopping plaza across Route 12.
The menu consists mostly of classic diner cooking – omelets, benedicts and egg sandwiches. There are also lighter options like yogurt bowls, and brewed coffee from Norwich-based Craftsman Cliff Roasters.
For Arpin, the star of the menu is the sweet cream pancakes — slightly sweet even without syrup and filling without being dense. Arpin said they’re the result of experimenting with many different base mixes to find the right recipe.
“They have a sweetness to them that you don’t find in a lot of other places,” Arpin said. “Just the smell of the dry ingredients is unbelievable.”
There are also menu items that are a little more unusual, at least in this part of the country. The shrimp and grits are smooth and buttery with the balance of spice and shrimp.
Blackened shrimp were originally included for the lunch menu, but the shrimp benedict has been a popular option for the breakfast crowd, Arpin said.
As for Fireside, Arpin said she isn’t sure when the restaurant will open again, but repairs are moving along quickly. The roof has been replaced, and the ovens are being built now, Arpin said.
Wearing a shirt from Dance Country, a Gales Ferry dance studio, Arpin said she wants people to remember that there are businesses in town to support without having to drive to nearby Groton or Norwich.
“We’re here, and we’d love for everybody to come in and give us a try,” Arpin said.