Kennebunk’s Main Street on a Friday night in the off-season resembles more a vacant movie set than a tourist town. Shops are closed by 6 p.m., if not earlier, and you’d be lucky to spot a fellow passerby. But in the corner building of 50 Main St., the eponymous restaurant 50 Local isn’t just open, it’s packed with resident foodies eager for a good meal.
Created by husband-and-wife team Merrilee Paul and David Ross five years ago, 50 Local is a bistro-style restaurant that relies on local farms and fisheries. On the website, their motto reads “Eat. Drink. Do Good: Locally Sourced x Crafted with Love.” That “do good” part of the motto comes into play on Wednesday nights for their “local give back” night, which donates 10 percent of the night’s proceeds to a different charity each week. Recently, a therapeutic horseback-riding program was supported, and in the past, wildlife preservation and cancer charities have benefited.
But if there’s one thing 50 Local gives away upon walking through the doors, it’s good vibes. The decor is a charming cross between modern and beach-chic (if there is such a thing), with the word “local” very prominently lit and displayed in marquee letters above the bar, fishbowl light fixtures, dark grays and bright yellows, and five towers of cookbooks stacked in the window to the semi-open kitchen. In the center of the room, a column has been re-purposed as a chalkboard and touts the names of local farms on their menu.
The bar is the focus of the room – thanks to the huge marquee letters – and it’s a popular spot for regulars to sit alone or two by two enjoying handcrafted cocktails, vintage wines or local beers. Oh, and really, really gorgeous food.
General manager Liz Johnson (former manager of Fore Street), collaborates with Paul, Ross and fellow general manager James Ferguson on the wine and cocktail lists. She said that they try to have wines that are a little bit unusual. For example, instead of a standard Riesling on the menu, they opted for the lesser-known varietal Edelzwicker.
The cocktails are creative and seasonal, and most have a funny, inside-joke name, like the “Grow a Pear.” Made with local Bartlett pear brandy, Courvoisier and a splash of bubbles, and garnished with a slice of pear, this drink ($12) is delightfully smooth. Another thing to note is that 50 Local serves generous pours of cocktails. Johnson says she forgets this until she orders a drink somewhere else.
There’s no happy hour at 50 Local, but Tuesday night is $2 tapas with three to four different choices.
If you don’t live in Kennebunk or a nearby town, driving to 50 Local might seem unappealing. However, the drive isn’t as long as you might expect from Portland, and once you’re there, the atmosphere is so inviting and down-to-earth you won’t want to leave. Of course, if Paul and Ross wanted to open a place in, say, Portland, you’d be hard pressed to find naysayers.
50 Main Street
HOURS: 5 to 9 p.m. Monday to Saturday; open year-round
SPECIALS: Tuesday $2 tapas night; Wednesday “local give back” night, 10 percent of proceeds go to new charity every week.
AMENITIES: Great décor, plenty of coat hooks, impeccable bathrooms, warm atmosphere in the winter, good lighting.
PARKING: On street
BOTTOM LINE: 50 Local is a cozy bistro in Kennebunk that supports local farms and on Wednesday nights, 10 percent of proceeds goes to a different local charity. The handcrafted cocktails are seasonal twists on old favorites, some with funny inside joke names, but all are quite a bit bigger than your normal craft cocktail. The wines are unusual and the beer is local. Expect great service and perhaps a new favorite place.
WHEELCHAIR ACCESSIBLE: Yes