WATERVILLE – If the Mainely Brews Restaurant & Brewhouse had been around in the 1980s, I might not have left Waterville. I might have found my comfortable neighborhood bar, where the beers go down smooth and the bar food sustains a growing man’s dream.
Instead, my choices were the Bob In or The Chez. So I left Waterville. My decision to leave was more complicated than that, but if Waterville were as interesting then as it is today I might have stuck around a little longer. Mainely Brews gives hope to the continued revitalization of the city, which has recently received a boost with the investment of Colby College in several downtown buildings.
Mainely Brews is in Post Office Square, a monumental stone building in the heart of downtown that more resembles the Jefferson Memorial in Washington, D.C., than a once-proud former post office in a small city in central Maine. By my recollection, the building was vacant when I lived there, but subject to ongoing talk of revitalization.
Mainely Brews evokes the history of its surroundings. It feels old and weathered, and warm. Its interior brick walls are rounded in the shape of the exterior thrust of the building. The brick is comforting. I took a seat at the bar, which was well lit. Above the bar, the TV brought me up to speed on the previous night’s sports scores.
There are pool tables off to the side, and a small stage for bands. Mainely Brews hires live music most weekends.
I’ve been stopping here several years, usually when I am in town for an interview or for dinner or lunch while traveling. Despite barely giving Waterville a chance in my 20s, I’ve always been fond of this city and always enjoyed stopping here. Mainely Brews has become a favorite destination.
I like that it offers an interesting selection of beers. I was between interviews in Augusta and Colby College, so I refrained from a beer on my most recent stop. But the draft menu is compelling, with beers named after regional landmarks (Two Cent Bridge Pale Ale and the Post Office Porter) brewed by Black Bear Brewery in Orono, and solid craft beers by Shipyard, Baxter, Long Trail, Dogfish and others.
I happened to be on a burger binge, and pushed my luck by ordering what I believe was my fourth burger in two weeks. I have high burger standards at any time, but after experiencing several very good burgers I was especially discriminating. I ordered the Montreal ($9.49), which comes with crispy bacon and melted cheddar, along with red onion and lettuce, chips and a pickle. I asked for it to be cooked to medium.
A large plate arrived about 15 minutes later with a burger draped in bacon, dripping with melted cheese and pinned together with a toothpick that was overwhelmed by the job. The menu said it was an 8-ounce patty, but I guessed it was bigger than that. And it was good – still pink and juicy and laden with flavors from the grill. I loved the red onion, and appreciated the how each layer of the burger helped hold the layer below it together: The cheese engulfed the bacon, which wrapped the burger.
If a burger can be well composed, the Montreal was just that. It was put together sensibly, and its taste reflected its careful composition. The juices lingered long after the swallow.
I loved this burger. I loved how well it was prepared, how quickly it was served and the kindness of the bartender.
Maybe that’s all it would have taken to keep me in Waterville.
WHERE: 1 Post Office Square, Waterville; 207-873-2457; mainelybrews.com
HOURS: 11 a.m. to 12:30 a.m. daily
WAIT: 10 to 15 minutes
PARKING: On street
WHEELCHAIR ACCESS: Yes