Christmas in the Kennebunks is a curious time.
The warm-weather crowds have left, including those who “summer” in the area. Once, this meant businesses would all close their doors, hibernating until the tourists returned.
These days, more and more places are staying open all year, even while their tables are half-empty and their clientele is “wintering” elsewhere.
But that doesn’t stop the locals from pulling out all the stops and embracing the holiday season with the dedicated fervor of a honey badger searching for grubs.
On a recent visit to the Kennebunks, I found myself driving erratically as I stared out at the twinkling lights. When I arrived at Federal Jack’s, the festival of lights continued, twining up the stairs to the entrance of the waterside restaurant and into the main dining area, where boughs of living greenery hung from every rafter. It was the most charming and festive brewpub I’ve ever visited.
But like the Kennebunks, the restaurant was sparsely populated. The last time I visited this watering hole was in the summer for a post-Kennebunkport Festival party. Then, the crowds were so thick I couldn’t get a feel for the décor.
This time, however, I could really enjoy the holiday cheer and the charm of this picturesque pub. Established in 1992, it’s one of Maine’s first brewpubs (though honestly, if you told me it was much older, I would have believed you).
There’s a classic Maine vibe to Federal Jack’s, from the gleaming wood tables to the paintings of the jolly (fictional) proprietor.
The menu adheres to this theme, too, offering up seafood standards like baked haddock and fish and chips. I opted for the fish tacos, which were an excellent example of the American dish — crispy, fresh and slightly summery. My husband had a Reuben, which was made with the ideal ratio of sauerkraut to corned beef.
However, while the food was good, the brews were better. Handcrafted on site, Federal Jack’s offers many Shipyard favorites (it’s where the craft brewery was founded, though Shipyard headquarters have moved elsewhere) and some exclusive pours.
In the past, I’ve enjoyed the Bluefin Stout (a dry Irish stout), the Raspberry Wheat (a fruity, summery drink) and the traditional Brown Ale (a malty English brown). This time, I went for the Prelude Ale, which was fragrant, rich and nutty. It also packed a wallop, with a higher-than-average 7 percent alcohol.
I had two, and my husband had to drive us home, which just gave me more time to gawk at the lights.
WHERE: 8 Western Ave., Kennebunk
HOURS: 11:30 a.m. to 1 a.m. daily
AMENITIES: Outdoor seating in the summer, a fantastic view of the water, live music, table seating and bar seating, classic American fare done well, beer made on site.
BOTTOM LINE: A classic brewpub located in the heart of Kennebunk, Federal Jack’s is a good bet for casual weekday dining or weekend partying. The seafood is fresh, as are the beers, which are made on site in the brewery downstairs. Good for beer snobs. Family-friendly.
WHEELCHAIR ACCESSIBLE: Yes