MIDDLEBURY — There are definite signs of life at the longtime restaurant space at 22 Merchants Row after more than a year-and-a-half of dormancy.
Those signs of life are evidenced by the sounds of hammers and skill saws being wielded by workers who are transforming the 2,343-square-foot space into a new Thai restaurant scheduled to open early next month.
It will be called “Sabai Sabai,” Thai words that translate to “comfortable,” noted Art Jilandharn, who with his wife, Claire, will operate the new restaurant.
“I had been looking to open a restaurant in this town for six or seven years, but I wasn’t able to get in here,” a jovial Art Jilandharn said last Wednesday as he and Claire worked with contractors to fashion a space that will seat up to 50 or 55 customers.
But the Jilandharns’ luck changed when they noticed the “for lease” sign in the window of the Battell Block during a drive through Middlebury earlier this year and were able to negotiate a lease with the building owners about two months ago. The space had previously hosted Amigos Cantina and most recently Doria’s Restaurant, which closed in April of 2010 after a two-year run.
The couple is making some major renovations of the space. The most prominent change that previous customers will notice is the demolition of the wall that once separated two distinct dining areas. A bar will remain in the center of the now-united spaces, though Sabai Sabai will only serve beer and wine, no spirits.
Once inside, diners will be presented with a menu featuring what the Jilandharns called “authentic Thai food with a western look.” It is a formula that has worked very well at the couple’s other two Vermont restaurants — the Royal Orchid in Montpelier and the Ocha Thai in Waterbury. The couple hails from the former Thai capital of Ayudhaya.
A menu provided by the Jilandharns features a series of appetizers, salads, entrees, vegetarian dishes and house specials. They include Tom Kha, a spicy coconut milk soup; Sabai salad with fried tofu and peanut dressing; green, red, yellow or Mussaman curry; Pad Thai; Pra Ram; duck served with tamarind sauce; and garlic shrimp.
Another featured item on the menu: Sushi.
The couple makes regular trips to Boston to keep stocked up on Thai spices and other authentic products.
Prices for entrees top out at around $22; most are in the $10 to $15 range. The menu will also feature lunch specials in the $8 to $10 range, with take-out available, the Jilandharns said.
Art Jilandharn said he is optimistic Sabai Sabai will prosper in Middlebury, a community with international flair and adventurous palates.
“It is a college town,” he added, noting a potential strong turnout from students, faculty and staff.
Sabai Sabai will be open six days per week, with the off day still to be determined. Lunch will be served from 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., with dinner slated for 5 to 9/9:30 p.m.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected]