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Colleen Katana

Colleen Katana is a romance novelist by day and a cocktail reviewer by night. She lives in Portland where she can usually be found hunched over her laptop, wearing fabulous (albeit sometimes impractical) shoes. Instagram: katanacollins

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Posted: November 28, 2017

For a break from the scene, go to Ocean Gardens’s old-school tavern

Written by: Colleen Katana
Exterior of Ocean Gardens Restaurant and Tavern in Gorham Photos by Colleen Katana

Exterior of Ocean Gardens Restaurant and Tavern in Gorham
Photos by Colleen Katana

Mondays are the worst; I’m pretty sure we all know this already. So, to help ease the pain of the workweek starting, my husband and I usually go out after work, even if just for one drink. This week, we headed to Gorham to Ocean Gardens Restaurant and Tavern with an emphasis on the “tavern.”

This place isn’t trendy. It doesn’t have a sleek, minimalist modern design or even a voguish rustic chic. The carpets are outdated with multi-colored swirling ’80s patterns. The walls are two-toned with forest green and white. The table and chairs are simple and look like something we had in my parents’ kitchen. The bottom line is that this isn’t the place you go with your New York City friends who are in town looking for a “scene.”

The bartender sufficiently endeared herself by carding the reviewer.

The bartender sufficiently endeared herself by carding the reviewer.

However, if you’re looking for lovely, local people, a good, hot meal and a cold beer after work, this is the place for you. We were greeted by our bartender with a big smile as we sat down at the bar and unsheathed ourselves from our winter coats. She stood in front of us for minutes (literally, I’m from the South and I layer like crazy whenever the weather is below 50 degrees), then promptly asked me for my ID (not my husband’s though, take that).

Already, this place was making me feel good. (Note to bartenders: If you want to make a 34-year-old patron feel good, card her.)

There was a fully stocked bar, but no cocktail list. As I’ve mentioned in the Bar Guide before, when I’m not presented with a list of preconceived cocktails, I usually panic and order something stupid that I don’t even like. Plus, let’s be honest, I’m not sure Ocean Gardens is the place you go to get a Cosmopolitan.

Pint of New Belgium Fat Tire amber ale ($4.25)

Pint of New Belgium Fat Tire amber ale ($4.25)

I rolled with the vibe of the place and ordered a New Belgium Fat Tire amber ale ($4.25) that was on draft. I love a crisp Belgian white beer, and when I asked the bartender what she had that tasted like Allagash White, this was her recommendation. Despite Fat Tire being an amber ale (not a white), it was a good recommendation. It was cold and frothy with a similar crispness you find in Allagash White and ended on a wheat finish that was delicious.

My husband ordered a can of Natural Light, or as he affectionately called it, Natty Light ($2.50), and specifically asked for no glass (he’s all about fitting in). It was, well, “good” doesn’t feel like the right adjective for Natty Light, but it was what he expected it to be.

Until 4 p.m. daily, Ocean Gardens offer its Tavern Menu, which is essentially a killer happy hour food menu. Nothing listed is over $6.99 with most items costing around $3. Sadly, we missed the tavern menu by one hour, but with options such as lobster sliders, fish tacos, lobster mac and cheese, and a sweet Italian sausage, we would have ordered the whole thing.

However, the full menu is equally diverse and exciting, and even sitting at the bar, we were able to order everything that’s offered in the dining room. With the full menu at our disposal and Ocean Gardens reputation of being known for its seafood, we splurged a bit and ordered the Baked Stuffed Scallops ($26.99). They were delicious and buttery and crunchy — the perfect, hot comfort food of the sea. It is a little pricey for the dish, but it also came with a side of your choice and the unlimited soup and salad bar.

Lobster stew at Ocean Gardens Restaurant and Tavern

Lobster stew at Ocean Gardens Restaurant and Tavern

I ordered a cup of the lobster stew ($7.99) and added the salad bar onto my order ($4.99). I don’t know many places that offer the salad bar anymore, but I have to say the throwback launched me into memories of going out to eat with my family and getting scolding for not getting our money’s worth out of the all-you-can-eat option.

The salad bar at Ocean Gardens is simple, but most importantly, fresh. And the lobster stew was creamy and buttery with large pieces of lobster. Pretty much all you can ask for in a lobster stew.

When I researched the restaurant a little more, I discovered that one of the owners has wanted to own a restaurant his whole life — specifically since he was 2 years old, standing in his parents’ garden, eating raw onions. Raw onions aside, that passion and love for the community shines through, and while I don’t think Ocean Gardens is going to hit any sort of trendy list, my impression is that’s not the goal. And who knows? Give it a few more years and that multi-colored carpet could come back as retro.

Ocean Gardens Restaurant and Tavern

WHERE: 390 Main St., Gorham
PHONE: 839-7651
HOURS: 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 7 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. Friday through Saturday, 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sunday
AMENITIES: TVs (lots of them), breakfast, lunch, dinner, happy hour tavern menu (until 4 p.m.), salad bar (free with every entrée)
BOTTOM LINE: Very popular with locals, this seafood tavern is homey and charming. Your grandfather would love it, and your hipster niece might like it ironically for its unassuming ’80s décor. Basically, the food is good and the beer is cold. If you’re a local looking for a neighborhood watering hole, Ocean Gardens might just be the place for you.

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