Back in April, Adam McGinnis told Seven Days he hoped to open Uncle Pop Pop's Sandwich & Tapas Shop in Essex by late spring. But restaurants being restaurants — invariably delayed — the date got pushed back until ... now.
The storefront restaurant, located in the Essex Towne Marketplace, soft-opened late last week with an abridged menu and will welcome guests for the first night of full service this Saturday, July 5.
Chef-owner McGinnis says he hopes the tapas joint — northern Vermont's only — will become an early-evening social hub. "I'd like to bring the [Spanish] tradition of going out after work for a couple cocktails, maybe some light snacks, to this area."
McGinnis says he likes Spanish food for its comparative lightness. "I didn't feel like I was anchored to the ground every time I ate a Spanish cheese," he says, his voice humming with hardscrabble Jersey inflection. McGinnis' gait is a tough-guy swagger, but when chatting about food, he's all friendly smiles. He's clearly excited to bring fine Spanish cheese and charcuterie — manchego and iberico cheeses, dry-cured smoked chorizo and Serrano ham — to Vermont. (He'll also serve a selection of local cheeses.)
In addition to meat and cheese, Pop Pop's menu will offer a rotating cast of bocadillos (sandwiches), pinxtos (finger snacks) and à la carte small plates. The chef-owner, a South Jersey native, says he got into Spanish cooking while working at a school for youth offenders doing time in adult prison. "It was a pretty notorious school for a lot of the things that happened there. It was notoriously — hair-raising," he says. "Jersey's tough." But the kitchen was a great place to unwind. "I'd come home and spend a couple hours cooking dinner," McGinnis says.
In Essex, the small space is set up for convivial dining and punctuated by fun details that give it a sense of place. Diners can gather around a broken U-shaped bar for rum tastings and Spanish wines and cocktails (at press time, the liquor license is pending) or stand and snack at a long, high ledge. McGinnis is excited about Basque-language signage on a Coca-Cola cooler: "It looks fly, and no one else is doing that, you know? That's Basque and you're eating Basque food," he says.
McGinnis wants to keep prices low: A meatloaf sandwich on challah packs a full-size portion for $5.95, and many dishes ring up under $5, a price point he plans to maintain by sourcing food locally. "Certain things I can't get locally," McGinnis acknowledges. "You're not going to find avocado here. But with everything else, I'm going to do everything I can to buy local and cut the middle-man prices out."
And, though he says he hasn't found the right local charcuterie supplier just yet, he is undeterred: "Oh, I'll get it. I will find that charcuterie."