I assumed the euphoria surrounding the opening of a hip, new brewpub would have dissipated, and the lunch crowds would have thinned by now. But, boy, was I wrong.
I walked into the spacious and inviting Nonesuch River Brewing off Gorham Road on a recent weekday and was met by several large groups of people who were already waiting for tables. Through the crowds, I spied an empty barstool and made my way. I felt so smart and smug, and a little guilty, settling into the metal chair at the bar as others waited for a table and their chance to sample food and beer from one of the hottest new breweries in southern Maine.
Nonesuch has been open since the fall and is located between Route 1 and the Maine Turnpike in one of the few quiet spots that hasn’t been overrun by commerce. It’s a handsome A-frame building that looks something like a ski lodge, with wood floors and exposed wooden beams overhead.
As I sat at the bar and looked out the windows at the snow-covered spruce trees across the street, I somehow felt transported to another place. The traffic just outside those windows reminded me that I was sitting in a restaurant next to a heavily traveled road and very near the mall, but it didn’t feel like it at all. The architecture of the place and its overall ambiance made me feel very far away.
It’s a fabulous atmosphere, and I appreciated the relative anonymity of sitting quietly at the bar —which appeared to be made out of finely finished concrete — and watching all the activity. Even before noon, it was a whirlwind. The kitchen was hopping, and the bartender worked earnestly but without panic to pour taps, as diners came and went, peeling off hats, mittens and coats while others bundled up in preparation for heading outside.
The kitchen is open to the dining area, and large tanks where the beer is brewed are exposed behind a wall of glass. Elsewhere, the wooden walls are covered with photos from Maine that highlight the state’s rugged outdoors.
The bartender set me up with a beverage soon after I arrived, and it was a solid 10 minutes before she returned to take my order. I say that without complaint. I was not in a hurry and was happy to wait and observe. With three menus to peruse, I also needed the time. I was thankful to be able to chill.
I opted for the Smokehouse burger, in part to satisfy a craving for beef. It comes with smoked cheddar, bacon, an egg and arugula, as well as fries. At $16, it’s more than I am usually willing to spend for lunch, but I didn’t resist after watching the kitchen staff plate a bunch of burgers for another order. They came out of the kitchen looking splendid, with a large golden hamburger bun and overflowing beef and bacon.
The visual image of those plates coming out of the kitchen into the dining room was enough to cause me to eschew my first choice, the NRB Cubano ($14). I also considered the battered fish sandwich ($17).
The menu isn’t huge, but is full of variety. The brewery offers interesting bar snacks, like poutine, white bean chicken chili and seasonally picked vegetables.
The family seated next to me asked for two orders of chicken wings as appetizers as they waited for a table, and the wings looked fabulous. They picked all the meat off those bones.
There are oysters, mussels, chili-crusted squid and lamb meatballs. For large plates, diners can choose among Maine salmon, braised mojo pork and seared miso tofu, among many options. Kids’ plates include tenders, pasta and mini burgers. It struck me as an unusually adventurous menu for a brewery.
I loved my burger, which was deceivingly simple. The bacon was charred to a crisp, as I like it, and the burger was cooked medium, as I requested. But what made it stand out was the sear that the chef achieved. The outer skin of the burger was slightly hard and charred, but the burger itself was pink and juicy. Those juices were full of smoky flavors, and they mingled with all the other elements to create a variety of flavors in each bite. The bun was grilled (or toasted) ever so slightly.
Initially, I thought Nonesuch was being skimpy on the fries. They were placed on the plate as if an afterthought, an uneven pile of frail, thin potato strings that looked unappealing. But they tasted very good; they were crisp, not at all greasy and reasonably salted.
Nonesuch is expensive, especially for lunch, and because of its popularity, it’s not exactly quick. It was slightly more than an hour from the time I took my seat until I paid my bill. But the food and atmosphere are worth it, and there’s plenty of beer to drink while you wait.
WHERE: 201 Gorham Road, Scarborough; 219-8948, nonesuchriverbrewing.com
HOURS: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday
WAIT: On a busy day, a solid 20 minutes between ordering and being served
WHEELCHAIR ACCESS: Yes