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Susan Cover

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Posted: March 12, 2018

Newcastle Publick House serves tasty cocktails in an old-school setting

Written by: Susan Cover

The Newcastle Publick House has an old-school New England vibe.
Photos by Susan Cover

When you walk into the Newcastle Publick House, you feel like you are somewhere important.

Although the restaurant’s only been around since 2008, the historic 1912 brick building at a prominent intersection stands out. You imagine important papers being signed, vigorous debates between men on barstools, and maybe a harrowing story from a fisherman who just landed a big haul.

That’s the New England-style pub vibe owners Alex and Rachel Nevens were going for when they opened the place a decade ago. The Islesboro natives left their corporate lives behind to get back into restaurants after both having grown up in the business, Alex Nevens said.

With an emphasis on local food, especially oysters, the couple has continued to evolve with changing food and drink trends, “growing with the beer culture” to now include 20 rotating beers on tap, including many from Maine, he said.

There’s also an extensive wine list and cocktail specials, including the Maine Manhattan, which features house-infused fig bourbon, Maine maple syrup and a dash of orange bitters. A local who joined my party for dinner suggested giving it a try, but on a recent Tuesday night, the bar was out of some of the special ingredients.

So we went to Plan B, opting for the vodka-based Ruby K ($10) and a tequila-based Paloma, with tangy grapefruit juice and grapefruit bitters. The Ruby K, made with Absolute Ruby Red, pomegranate juice and elderflower liqueur, was a gorgeous drink served in a martini glass. A bright red mood-booster on a chilly weeknight, for sure.

We arrived about 5 p.m., and within 30 minutes, the bar area of the restaurant was full. Many of those at the bar looked like regulars, with dozens of mugs hanging above them, a TV in one corner and a lit-up Narragansett sign in the other. After a few sips of our cocktails, it was time for some appetizers.

We ordered crab cakes which come two to an order, with a little lettuce on the side, a lemon wedge and citrus aioli for $13. The hand-picked Maine crabmeat was a treat.

Tempura cauliflower ($9) comes with buffalo or Thai chili sauce – or both.

For another appetizer, we tried the tempura cauliflower ($9), which was fried cauliflower crowns with a side of buffalo or Thai sweet-spicy chili sauce. When we hesitated about which sauce to choose, our server suggested getting both. Since we got the buffalo sauce, the order also came with ranch dressing and a few celery and carrot sticks. Tasty and fried just right, the vegan cauliflower dish was the hit of the table, with all three of us digging in.

About now, it was time to think about another cocktail before ordering a main course. This time I went with the Stormy Bicycle ($9), a rum-based drink with orange and pineapple juices and strawberry puree served on the rocks with a lime. So. Good.

In addition to a nice selection of appetizers, the Publick House serves pizza, burgers, seafood and entrees, such as a pub steak ($25) and shepherd’s pie, which features New Zealand lamb shanks slow braised in Jameson’s Irish whiskey and Guinness gravy, with all the other stuff you’d expect, for $23. The aforementioned oysters, harvested from the nearby Damariscotta River, go for $15 a half-dozen or get four jumbo oysters baked for $16.

One of my dining companions opted for the traditional fish and chips ($19), with fresh haddock and fries. Another ordered the haddock sandwich ($14), which comes with a side of fries or slaw. And I decided on The Impossible Veggie Burger, described on the menu as “a plant protein vegan burger served with all vegan toppings.” For $16, it came with sautéed onions, BBQ sauce, special sauce and cole slaw with a side of fries.

The veggie burger with fries at Newcastle Publick House

The veggie burger was definitely the surprise of the night. If I didn’t know better, I would have thought I was biting into a beef burger. There were no black beans sticking out of the patty. It wasn’t dry and tasteless. It was delicious and filling.

That brings me to a note about portions at the Publick House. They are huge. Half of the fish and chips went home, along with half of the veggie burger.

As we finished our cocktails after about two hours of eating, drinking and visiting, I noticed a sign above our table. We were sitting at what’s called The Common Table, which had a few games sitting in the windowsill. The sign read: “Welcome to the Newcastle Publick House ‘Common Table.’ As the name implies, this table is open to anyone at any time. Our hope is that this table encourages our friends, neighbors, and those from away to socialize, debate and most importantly have a great time.” Wish granted.

Newcastle Publick House

WHERE: 52 Main St., Newcastle; 563-3434, on Facebook
HOURS: 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday; 11:30 a.m. to midnight Friday and Saturday
AMENITIES: Outdoor seating for summer dining, casual atmosphere with upscale food options
BOTTOM LINE: You might be a stranger your first time in, but don’t hesitate to sample all the Publick House has to offer, including the fresh local oysters and the Maine Manhattan.

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