Typically speaking, when I see a bar attached to a Best Western, I run in the opposite direction. These tend to be pretty sad places to drink. They make me think of travelers at conferences looking for a quick beer before they retreat into their hotel rooms for the night by 8 p.m.
However, The Maine Table in South Portland is an exception to this rule. A beautiful, delicious exception. A little backstory: When my husband and I first bought our house in Maine, we had never owned a home before. We were splitting our time, spending half the year in New York and half the year in Portland. On Christmas Eve, we received a phone call from the fire department saying that our house in Portland had frozen pipes that had flooded the home. They had managed to break in and turn off the water.
So, instead of celebrating the holiday with my family, we packed the car with our dogs and drove to Portland to assess the damage. And because our house had no water and was still mostly frozen, we had to stay at — you guessed it — the Best Western. It was there where we discovered the best hidden gem in South Portland: the attached bar and restaurant, The Maine Table.
So, I might be a little biased (OK, I just am) because this bar was our haven — a place we could stumble to from our little hotel room and have a drink and complain to the bartender about how dumb we were not to shut off the water in our house for the winter. All that being said, ever since we moved here full time a year ago, we haven’t been back. Walking in, I was reminded why I loved it so much. Outside, two fiery torches light the walkway, promising warmth and cozy ambiance (on which they deliver pretty well for a hotel bar). Inside, the recently renovated floors are clean and dark, and the low lighting adds to a quiet ambiance and a promise of a mellow evening. The furniture is muted, the bar is clean and fully stocked with comfortable seating and a cozy fireplace. A few TVs adorn the walls, but they, too, manage to be muted (literally and figuratively) and aren’t distracting as they can be in some large sports bars.
There’s a small list of specialty cocktails, all with to Maine-made liquors, including the Maine G&T, made with Back River Gin from Sweetgrass Winery & Distillery in Union, and the Maine Pain Killer, made with Ration Rum from Maine Craft Distilling in Portland. The one drink that particularly caught my eye was the Maine Dirty Shirley ($8.50). The ingredients are simple: cherry-infused Twenty 2 Vodka (made my The Northern Maine Distilling Co. in Brewer) and ginger ale. One sip, and I was catapulted back to when I was 8 years old, out to dinner with my parents and allowed one “fancy” drink. Even at age 8, I had a drink, and it was the Shirley Temple. The Maine Table’s adult version of this? It was just as delicious (if not a little sugary, but really, what do you expect when ordering a Shirley Temple) as it was when I was 8, yet much more fun because, well, you know, alcohol.
Another notable menu item is the Maple BBQ Wings ($10.99). I desperately wanted to try them, however, I was dining alone, and while I can put away some food, a pound of wings while flying solo was probably not a great idea. So, instead of a giant basket of messy wings, I ordered the lobster roll ($16.99). Stuffed with large pieces of meat, a grilled, buttery roll and light mayonnaise, it was a home run (though if you’re a restaurant in Maine and you can’t make a decent lobster roll, you’re in trouble).
To sum up, The Maine Table is a delicious, lovely, undiscovered place to have a good local cocktail and a high quality meal for a fraction of the price you pay elsewhere — if you can get past driving into a Best Western parking lot to get there. And really, you should get over that, because it’s worth it. The only question left is, who’s going to join me and split those Maple BBQ Wings?
WHERE: 700 Main St., South Portland
HOURS: 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Sunday; lounge open 4 p.m. to midnight daily.
AMENITIES: TV, dinner, full bar, happy hour (4-6 p.m.), fireplace, locally-sourced food and products
BOTTOM LINE: Local. That is the keyword here. The Maine Table prides itself on keeping its ingredients locally sourced and even lists all of its local vendors on its website (everything from ice cream to butter to mustard, not to mention the seafood and local farms they use). That sense of community, love and care is reflected in the delicious fresh food and the quiet, mellow ambiance. If this restaurant was picked up and moved away from the Best Western to a different location in Portland, it could be a top contender in the city. Don’t let the fact that it’s beside the hotel deter you.
WHEELCHAIR ACCESSIBLE: Yes