Like many business owners in Bristol, The Bradley Inn and Restaurant’s Tony and Laura Moskwa shutter the windows of their 15 rooms and dedicate themselves to improving the property in preparation for the summer season.
However, in service of those Lincoln County residents who continue to excavate themselves from their homes through the winter months, The Bradley Inn opens its restaurant for themed dinners by reservation every other Saturday, continuing Feb. 12 with a Valentine’s Day menu.
Built around the turn of the 20th century, The Bradley is a full-service inn located on the Pemaquid Peninsula. The Moskwas purchased it in 2017 after over a decade spent in California. Now nearly five years into owning and operating the inn with their son, Chef Ross Moskwa running the kitchen, the family is still learning how to become better inn owners every year.
“It’s a hard business to be in,” Tony Moskwa said on Jan. 31. “You’re always learning how to handle different situations, how to react if there’s a problem. So, for me, it’s ongoing.”
Particularly challenging is balancing the various sides of the business. Between 15 rooms, a restaurant and bar, a spa cottage, and a gift shop, there’s a lot to juggle.
“It’s not like your two-room, three-room B&B,” Tony Moskwa said.
While the inn itself is closed for renovations until mid-May, an important part of the inn’s success in the last two years has been staying connected to the community in the winter months with themed dinners.
The Bradley Inn serves gourmet, from-scratch cuisine in the casual atmosphere of the inn’s cozy dining room and tavern, often accompanied by music courtesy of Joe Lane, co-owner of The Lobster Haul in Damariscotta.
With a background in Caribbean cuisine, Ross Moskwa offers menus unlike anything else one can find on the peninsula, including Mexicali, Caribbean, and Asian.
“We offer people a warm and welcoming place to come where they feel like they’re going out in the middle of the winter and having a good meal and great drinks,” Laura Moskwa said.
“It’s a great way to stay connected to the community,” she added. “I believe that we’ve gotten more regular diners through the season because of it.”
Something else that The Bradley Inn offers is extensive and sometimes exclusively gluten-free menus, a specialty that can be traced back to the chef’s early education.
In high school, Ross Moskwa was diagnosed with celiac disease, an immune reaction to eating gluten that creates inflammation that damages the small intestine’s lining, leading to medical complications.
The only treatment for celiac is a restrictive diet that excludes gluten, which is most commonly found in wheat, rye, and barley. For Ross Moskwa, this meant that eating out with friends was suddenly a challenge. The offerings on menus were so minimal that he began cooking with his mother, who also cannot tolerate gluten, so he could make the food he couldn’t find elsewhere.
For his senior project, the burgeoning culinary professional created a gluten-free cookbook. It was not long before he attended the Art Institute of California in Sacramento for culinary arts, later taking courses at a culinary institute in the Napa Valley and spending time as a sous chef at a Caribbean restaurant.
So far this year, The Bradley Inn has released a Valentine’s Day menu for Feb. 12 and a Caribbean menu for Feb. 26, and both are completely gluten free. This is not a chain restaurant gluten-free menu, rife with ready-made dough or microwave desserts. While the inn’s menu does offer gluten-free bread options, its themed menus often focus on flavorful salads, soups, and meat dishes served with creativity and zest.
This creativity is a product of the collective experience of Ross and Laura Moskwa, who understand the struggle of going out to dinner and finding out the only thing they can eat is a salad.
“When we got out to eat and it’s like, ‘We need to eat gluten free, what can we have on the menu?’ And they say, ‘Well, you can have the salad;’ it’s kind of like, ‘That’s it?’,” she said.
In his kitchen, the chef is especially cognizant of how to cook without cross contamination.
“Many times, people don’t understand that using the same knife or the same cutting board or the same toaster could be detrimental to somebody that can’t eat it,” Laura Moskwa said.
When someone with a severe peanut or shellfish allergy comes to the restaurant, the kitchen staff goes as far as to change their clothes before preparing their meal. The process is demanding and can be stressful when orders come in from multiple customers with allergies, but their dedication has become an example for other members of the hospitality industry.
As a result of their dedication, the Moskwas have a loyal cohort of customers who return to the inn for their attention to their customer’s needs and gluten-free cuisine. They have delivered presentations on cross contamination and food allergies at national hospitality conferences.
“There are some people that have been blown away. They’re like, ‘Oh, my gosh I can’t believe this, I haven’t been sick the whole time,’ and they’ll come back again,” Laura Moskwa said.
The Moskwas also source as many of their ingredients locally as they can, with most of their in-season vegetables coming from High Hopes Farm and their meat from Broad Arrow Farm.
Especially popular, Tony Moskwa said, are Ross’s soups which often have a spicier twist derived from his background in Caribbean cuisine.
On Feb. 12, The Bradley Inn’s kitchen will be serving roasted beet soup topped with crème fraîche, a kind of thicker and creamier sour cream.
Although May is a few months away, the Moskwas have quite a bit of work ahead of them as they prepare to reopen with several newly renovated rooms and a new outdoor seating area. That said, the couple is excited to welcome new and familiar faces back to their adopted home.
“Talking to people in the morning at breakfast with their first cup of coffee (is my favorite part). Once you get your first cup of coffee, that’s the happiest people are in the morning,” Tony Moskwa said.
“What I really appreciate is how welcoming this community has been,” Laura Moskwa added.