When Brian Van Etten and Jeff Ching visited the Landing at Pultneyville last spring, they immediately saw the potential in the distinctive red building with its lakefront location. Van Etten and Ching co-own the South Wedge burger joint, bar, and video arcade The Playhouse/Swillburger — Ching also owns the Owl House on Marshall Street — and they envisioned two new restaurants in the space.
Working on a tight timeline, Van Etten and Ching launched a Swillburger offshoot, Swilly's Fish and Franks, in early July, and a new Owl House location is slated to open later this summer.
Formerly home to the Pultneyville Grill, the Landing is situated where Salmon Creek empties into the harbor. The Owl House will occupy the bright and airy upstairs dining room — currently the restaurant is waiting for its liquor license, Van Etten says. Swilly's is located on the ground level, where a second, smaller kitchen opens onto a covered patio with casual outdoor seating and views of the sailboats docked at Pultneyville Yacht Club.
While the original plan was to carry over the Swillburger concept to Pultneyville, Van Etten quickly realized the space wasn't large enough to cook burgers the Swillburger way. Instead, drawing on the restaurant's waterfront location, Van Etten and head chef Christian Simeone envisioned a classic seafood shack with a few twists. One of the menu items is a take on a dish Van Etten had on a trip to Cinque Terre, Italy, a couple of years ago. That dish — a mix of fried squid, anchovies, shrimp, and other seafood served in a paper cone with a healthy spritz of lemon — inspired Swilly's own mixed seafood fry.
So far, Swilly's most popular item has been its lobster roll, which is served "Maine-style" — that is, with light mayo, a bit of lemon, and nothing else — in a top-split New England-style roll made especially for Swilly's by Flour City Bread. Each lobster roll contains the meat of about one lobster, Van Etten says — he estimates he can make 90 lobster rolls out of 100 lobsters. That hasn't been nearly enough, he adds: Swilly's is far outstripping the customer volume he expected. Between his first and second week of business, Van Etten tripled his product orders to keep up with demand, but still ended up running out of lobster rolls.
In addition to lobster rolls, Swilly's serves hot dogs sourced from Schrader Farms Meat Market in Romulus as well as a vegetarian dog it calls "not a hot dog." And there's "not a lobster roll," a tofu creation which Van Etten says tastes uncannily like the real thing.
Open just under a month, Van Etten says he and his team are already making changes and adapting quickly. "We've learned what we can and can't do," he says, explaining how he and Simeone slimmed down the menu as they learned which items were most popular.
Currently Swilly's is only open Friday through Sunday for the duration of the summer, but Van Etten says that may change depending on demand. He acknowledges things will get even more hectic once the Owl House opens upstairs.
To prevent people from driving to Pultneyville only to hear that lobster rolls have sold out for the day, Swilly's has set up a "lobster hotline" at 315-904-4138.
EDITOR'S NOTE: This article has been updated. A previous version of this article used the word "barcade," which is a copyrighted term, to describe The Playhouse/Swillburger.