Nearly two years ago, the Tuscan Brick Oven Bistro opened on Main Street in Freeport. The sister restaurant to the Royal River Grillhouse in Yarmouth, Tuscan is just a block down from L.L.Bean’s flagship store.
On an average night, Tuscan hosts a mix of hungry Freeport shoppers and tourists, but has also become a go-to restaurant and bar for locals. The ambiance is warm and rustic (albeit in a put-on kind of way), and virtually every seat has a view of two guys throwing pizza dough in front of the brick oven.
However, on a recent night over the holidays, every seat at Tuscan was taken, including the 24 seats in the bar area. Even the private dining room was occupied. The wait for a seat at the bar was over 20 minutes and even after getting a seat, another five minutes passed before the bartender came over.
To be clear, the sole bartender was completely under water, tasked with making drinks for the entire 100-seat restaurant, in addition to taking orders at the bar. The bartender clearly needed an extra hand – perhaps they were short-staffed given the holiday week – and the bar area could have used a busser to help clear the dirty high-top tables.
On a non-busy night, Tuscan is the kind of place that can rescue you from hungry, winter shopping madness. When your nose and fingers have gone numb, Tuscan can feel like a relaxing ski lodge after a long day on the slopes. Except this lodge has authentic Italian food and cocktails.
Tuscan’s unofficial motto is “the taste of Maine with the flavor of Tuscany” and prides its menu on the “freshest, local ingredients that Maine has to offer.” But it’s always strange to get the old “fresh, local” promise and then see a cocktail list that features a pineapple margarita ($10) and a blueberry pomegranate martini ($11). (The blueberries might be local, but they aren’t fresh in January, and everyone knows that pineapples don’t grow in the continental U.S. Some pomegranates are grown in California.)
One thing to keep in mind is that “local” isn’t synonymous with “seasonal,” which could explain the blueberry martini.
The Tuscan Infused Tea ($7) is the cheapest cocktail on the menu, and one of the best tasting. Made with Maine wildflower honey and house infused black tea vodka, the drink is deceptively strong with a smooth, pleasant honey-syrupy finish. The house made apple cider pear sangria ($8) looks almost identical to the Tuscan Infused Tea but is served in a wine glass, but tastes bland and flat.
Two cocktails feature locally-made vodka and one, the espresso martini, uses Coffee by Design espresso.
All of the beers on tap are local – among them are Banded Horn, Freeport Brewing, and Atlantic Brewing – and there’s a nice selection of canned and bottled brews.
The website says that wines are imported from Italy, which might be true, but about half of the 40-bottle list hails from California, Argentina, Spain, South Africa and Australia.
From 3 to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday all drinks, excluding wines by the bottle, are 20 percent off for happy hour and there are often weekly cocktail specials, which weren’t prominently displayed and the bartender didn’t announce them.
Tuscan is a nice addition to Freeport’s dining and bar scene. The biggest recommendation, especially if you’re in a hurry or with kids, is to call ahead. Reservations are recommended for dinner.
WHERE: 140 Main St., Freeport
HOURS: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday-Thursday; 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday
SPECIALS: Happy hour is 3 to 6 p.m. Monday-Friday with 20% off all drinks except for bottles of wine.
AMENITIES: Lounge seating, view of brick oven from almost anywhere you sit, private dining area, festive decorations, spacious bathrooms, good lighting, plenty of coat hooks in bar area, decent acoustics
PARKING: Street/various Freeport parking lots
BOTTOM LINE: Tuscan Brick Oven Bistro is where you’ll find plenty of Freeport locals dining on Italian comfort food or hungry Freeport shoppers finding respite and a glass of wine after a day at L.L. Bean. It’s the kind of place where anyone can really find anything – the right drinks or snacks, and a classy environment with good service and reliable hours. The cocktails aren’t particularly fancy, but the wines are solid, and all beers on tap are local. Reservations for dinner are recommended, and on busier nights, there might be a wait for a seat at the bar.
WHEELCHAIR ACCESSIBLE: Yes