Sometimes a restaurant is just as much a feast for the eyes as the stomach — especially when it comes to spaces with a history of something other than a kitchen. From a former police headquarters to an erstwhile church with soaring ceilings, here are top restaurants in converted spaces.
Moshulu, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
The only restaurant on a Tall Ship in the world, Moshulu (pronounced Mo-shu’-lu) has a storied role as a Chilean and Australian cargo ship re-named by Mrs. Woodrow Wilson to honor the native American Seneca tribe (the word means “one who fears nothing”). It makes a lot of sense for a vessel that also played a role in macho movies like Rocky and The Godfather Part II, both filmed along Philadelphia’s scenic waterfront. Today, chef Anthony Bonett makes seafood the superstar on his menu featuring sushi, shrimp, crab cakes, and salmon. Make a reservation at Moshulu.
Grace, Portland, Maine
Push aside the stale communion wafers and unremarkable wine — Portland’s Grace, housed in a former church, is worthy of worship for its creative bar program, dishes spotlighting local specialties like Gulf of Maine halibut and Maine farm rib-eye with truffled breadcrumbs, and a design that pays homage to the space’s original life with stained-glass windows, pews, and a pulpit transformed into a hostess stand. But unlike church, reservations are a must here, and they go fast. Make a reservation at Grace.
The Mill at Simon Pearce, Windsor, Vermont
It may be housed in an old mill, but the food here is anything but run-of-the-mill. Simon Pearce — home to the famed glass-blowing studio — has made another art form out of Vermont’s farm-to-table cuisine featuring dishes like Green Mountain cheddar soup, spiced lamb short rib, and roast duckling with mango chutney. Get there early for lunch or dinner and perhaps you’ll get one of the best views over the rushing current that used to power the mill and savor the scene of the Ottauquechee River waterfall and its covered bridge. Make a reservation at The Mill at Simon Pearce.
Hillside Farmacy, Austin, Texas
If home-style gravy and biscuits or Texas steak and fries are the cure for what ails you, then Hillside Farmacy is your place. Featuring a menu of fresh local favorites sourced from Austin-area farms, the only thing preserved here is the building: the team behind it was honored with a Preservation Austin Award for their efforts. A 2012 spruce-up kept the vibe of the original spot with throwback lighting, funky bottles, and an old-fashioned soda counter offering alcohol- and ice cream-optional liquid elixirs. Make a reservation at Hillside Farmacy.
The Old School, Nashville, Tennessee
Forget the tater tots and chicken fingers served up en masse in fifth grade. At The Old School, chef Kirstie Bidwell uses locally sourced ingredients for a European-inspired menu that changes by micro season depending on what fruits and vegetables are available at Nashville farms. And that space that used to be a playground? Yeah, that’s now a beer garden. The brick 1936 school house features indoor and outside dining, an event barn, and speakeasy-style music room. Make a reservation at The Old School.