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Mary Pols

Mary Pols is a staff writer for the Portland Press Herald.

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Posted: June 27, 2017

Lunchbox in Brunswick is sparse in decor and menu offerings

Written by: Mary Pols
In the former home of Trattoria Athena, Lunchbox hopes to serve artists with studios in Fort Andross across the street. Staff photos by Mary Pols

In the former home of Trattoria Athena, Lunchbox hopes to serve artists with studios in Fort Andross across the street.
Staff photos by Mary Pols

Lunchbox, Brunswick’s newest eatery, is so spare and pretty and soothing that, as soon as I walked in, I was less interested in having lunch then moving in. Formerly the home of Trattoria Athena (now operating nearby on Maine Street with its sister restaurant, Enoteca), the space has been thoroughly transformed with not much more than a coat of the palest blue paint and some blocky, Swedish-looking furniture.

The menu is sparse as well, a few sandwiches and salads and, up on the counter, an assortment of appealing baked goods, including some tiny chocolate cupcakes ($1) and some very small ones ($2). I nixed the quinoa salad as a choice; my beet greens smoothie for breakfast had been virtuous enough. There was a Nordic sandwich involving rye bread and salmon, which seemed like a fit with the aesthetic of the place, but I was won over by the sirloin sandwich, which came with a tarragon shallot aioli.

Lunchbox's minimalist interior.

Lunchbox’s minimalist interior.

At the counter, I placed my order with a young man who was very polite but uncertain about what he was doing. I’d paid $12.13 for the sandwich ($7.75), an iced coffee and the daintiest of the cupcakes. He made change from an envelope, then poured my ice coffee into a glass over ice cubes made with coffee (nice touch), added the barest smidge of cream from a dainty cow pitcher. I asked for more. He put a bit more in, saying he didn’t know anything about coffee. I suggested he let the customers put in the cream. He handed me the glass a good inch shy of filled and still way too dark, but he seemed to have drained his milk supply. “Do you want the spoon I used?” he called after me, and when I turned he was holding it away from him like a dirty diaper. He looked baffled by the spoon. I felt baffled. I wanted a straw, but if the spoon was this confusing?

There was one other customer in the place, working away at a laptop in the corner. I didn’t see any food in front of him. The tidiness of the place started to seem less soothing, like if maybe the Rapture had hit hard at an Ikea and I hadn’t made the cut. But Lunchbox has been open less than two months, so I wanted to cut it some slack. When I put my cupcake on the table for a portrait, I thought it looked very fine. I ate it in two bites, and it was delicious.

The woman who brought me my sandwich turned out to be the young man’s mother and the owner of Lunchbox, Kathryn McCoig.

“This might be a little dry,” she said, putting a plate in front of me. “If it is, let me know and I’ll bring some more aioli.”

I come from a family of chronic pre-meal apologizers, so this felt just like home, except for the price tag. The sirloin was cut thick and beautifully tender, laid out on focaccia with some lettuce. It was indeed dry. The extra aioli arrived in a cupcake liner, on a plate, which was intriguing and somewhat inefficient. The sandwich also needed salt. I found the salt on a table in the opposite corner and while I was, there, scanned for straws. No luck. (Later, I spotted them on a shelf behind the counter.)

A friend had eaten at Lunchbox earlier in the week, and while I waited for the sandwich, I texted her to ask how her lunch was. “Kinda weird,” she wrote back. Small selection, perplexed server, expensive for what it was. “I wouldn’t go back,” she wrote.

The sirloin sandwich ($7.75) came on focaccia with a tarragon shallot aioli.

The sirloin sandwich ($7.75) came on focaccia with a tarragon shallot aioli.

The sandwich was delicious once I’d salted it and layered on the decadent aioli, but it did seem like a small portion for $7.75, especially since the only other thing on the plate was a medley of fresh fruit – kiwi, strawberry and a few blueberries – that was more like a garnish than a side. McCoig and I got to talking while I ate. The Lunchbox has only been open seven weeks, she said. She told me she’d wanted to make it just like the kind of place she wanted to eat, and hoped to cater to the artists and such who have studios across the street at Fort Andross. She orders her bread from Standard Baking Co. and her produce from Native Maine. The minimalism (no cans, no paper cups) was about sustainability, she said, and the menu was about healthy choices, like the kind you would make for yourself at home, if you were aiming for fresh and natural.

I asked about her limited hours; she’s only open for breakfast and lunch Monday through Friday from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. How come? She said she didn’t want to work that hard and believed that, on the weekends, people should be outdoors and/or with their families. Unable to stop myself, I pointed out that it was challenging to make money on just breakfast and lunch. She seemed unconcerned. Which I think is wonderful. I might go back. Or I might just make that aioli at home.

THE LUNCHBOX

WHERE: 25 Mill St., Brunswick, 725-0525, lunchboxbrunswick.com
HOURS: 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday
WAIT: About 5 minutes with no line
PARKING: On street
WHEELCHAIR ACCESS: Yes

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