York, Maine, isn’t exactly known for its food and drink scene. A summer resort town of about 13,000, situated at the southern tip of the state – just 10 minutes from Portsmouth, New Hampshire – York sees its fair share of guests during tourist season. Most everyone comes to enjoy picturesque views at Cape Neddick Light and Nubble Rock, as well as Short Sands Beach and Long Sands Beach, both visited by throngs of families each year. But for the most part, restaurants in York cater to the visiting crowd – not York’s year-round populace.
Kiersten Mayes and John Ernst wanted to change that. The couple’s 70-seat eatery, The Central Restaurant & Bar, opened a year ago in July and is packed Tuesday through Saturday nights. (Heads up, the restaurant will be closed Sept. 11-15. Mayes and Ernst are getting married.) Mayes says they wanted to open a “neighborhood spot” that was comfortable and elegant.
As its name implies, The Central is center of town, situated in the Long Sands Plaza along Long Sands Road – a couple of miles from Route 1. If you’re not from the area, it’s easy to zoom right past the plaza, so keep your eyes peeled for a shopping mall with a big parking lot on your right (if you’re coming from the north). The Central is then easy to spot with clear signage and colorful patio furniture out front – they just recently received a license to serve alcohol outside this summer.
The bar is well stocked, vibrant and serves as the favorite seat in the house with views of the open kitchen. The Central seems to put most of its focus on the cocktail and beer list, with five local drafts (mostly Maine beers and one New Hampshire cider), eight cocktails, not including the four house martinis. The couple’s favorite Maine beers are Rising Tide, Foundation and Peak Organic, and there’s a rotating list of nightly specials (both food and drink), such as the recent house red sangria.
Mayes said that they wanted to create a cocktail list that was unique, yet approachable – one part trendy, and one part classic. You won’t find fancy bitters or shrubs at The Central, but don’t be dismayed if you’re a craft cocktail fan. Their Maple Bourbon Cider is a nicely balanced drink of Maker’s Mark, lemon juice, maple syrup and apple cider. And the martinis have a separate section for a reason – they’re quite good. The Grapefruit Martini is made with fresh juice and isn’t overly priced at $10. While the wine list doesn’t seem to have much of a focus (other than decent wines that people will recognize), and while plenty of wines by the glass are available, The Central might do well with a cheaper house wine, perhaps on tap, for less than $7.
The Central is also of only a select group of locations around the country that sells Not Your Father’s Root Beer from Small Town Brewery in Illinois. Smooth and satisfying, this spiced beer has gained somewhat of a cult following.
Snacking at the bar is also a must here, so even if you’re not hungry for a main dish, take a look at The Central’s small plate menu – an ever-rotating list of dishes like smoked brisket sopes, ahi tuna, pork dumplings, marinated sea scallops and more. The hand-cut truffle fries are always available (and insanely good).
Next time you’re heading to the Kittery outlets, or to Portsmouth for the day, The Central is not to be missed. Plus, parking is abundant (and free). Check The Central’s Facebook page for daily specials and events coming up this winter. Keep in mind they will be closed for the month of January.
127 Long Sands Road No. 7, York | 207-351-8363 | thecentralmaine.com
HOURS: Tuesday to Thursday 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. lunch; 3 to 9 p.m. small plates; 5 to 9 p.m. dinner; open until 10 p.m. on Friday and Saturday
AMENITIES: Outdoor tables with full-service, open kitchen, 14 seats at bar, clean bathrooms, good lighting
PARKING: Free parking lot in plaza
BOTTOM LINE: Casual, with a bistro-dining twist, the Central Restaurant & Bar is the place to find great cocktails, local beer on tap and a reliable wine list, in addition to delightful small plates and entrees. Maintains a laid-back atmosphere with terrific service.
WHEELCHAIR ACCESSIBLE: Yes