You hear it before you see it, the pounding and frothy Androscoggin as it tumbles over the dam and roars under the bridge at the Brunswick/Topsham boundary.
As you step down the brick walkway to the entrance of the Sea Dog Brewing Co. in Topsham, the broad river rushes just underfoot, green steel and bridge lights looming above. It’s one of the most dramatic eatery entrances in Maine.
The mood changes inside, but not in a bad way. You enter a space of personality and fun.
A 30-seat horseshoe bar is conversation central. TVs with sports programs dot the walls, trivia night or an open mic session might be on the evening docket, the back is where to head for billiards. There is nightlife in this town after all.
The former Bowdoin mill space that houses the restaurant was renovated in 1999 and it’s an impressive redo, retaining tall rafters, giant pillars and arched windows that reveal churning water on two sides. A massive sailing mast and giant cleats and buoys adorn the walls. Blown-up historic photographs are here, too, like an exhibit.
The outdoor deck feels cantilevered above the river. Inside and out, it’s a great spot to dine and marvel at one of Maine’s great waterways.
On a Tuesday night, two friends and I head over after a tennis game for dinner. We are seated by the window in a corner, where we can converse but still be part of the buzz.
Beer lovers flock here, but we’ve come for food and drinks.
The pomegranate fizz ($5.50) from the monthly specials list is a champagne, club soda and fruit puree mix that’s tall, not too sweet, pink, girl-friendly. The Green Monster ($6.50), another tall cocktail, this one of peach schnapps, Cointreau, Midori Melon, Chambord and grapefruit juice, doesn’t do it for me, but my tennis buddy downs it with gusto, appreciating all those flavors at once.
We order off of two different menus at Sea Dog, the standard three-pager and a new, one-page list, which changes monthly. This second menu, instituted this year, includes seasonal foods and specials featuring local ingredients. Another eatery has latched on to what consumers have come to expect.
From the April seasonal menu we order the calamari special appetizer ($9), the seafood marinated then stuffed and deep-fried. Three large and chewy tubes, crispy on the outside, are filled with minced chorizo from Lisbon Sausage Kitchen and topped with a spicy citrus sauce. The pickled sweet peppers take off a bit of the heat. It’s a well-done combo.
The spinach and field greens salad ($8.99) with sliced strawberries, cukes, red onion and goat cheese dressed with basil vinaigrette, a customer favorite from the regular menu, is bright and fresh, the dressing light, the sharp and creamy cheese a nice offset.
From the monthly menu we order a basil-crusted Atlantic cod ($17), hardly standard pub fare. It’s heartily seasoned and delicious, yet cooked a bit too thoroughly. Sauteed and slightly firm zucchini ribbons accompany; the side of Israeli couscous is slightly gummy. This is minor. Overall, it’s a very satisfying plate.
A vegetarian entree is a slice of grilled eggplant with melted cheese atop a single grilled Portobello mushroom, circled by a half-dozen or so mushroom and goat cheese ravioli ($15.99). The pasta isn’t homemade, and the entree is a bit on the oily side, but the ravioli are tender, the filling is a flavorful pulp, and the vegetables add interest, if not color.
My companion raves about her grilled chicken ($16.99) with spinach, tomatoes and mushrooms in a garlic and white wine sauce over a Parmesan risotto cake (think potato pancake — crusty outside, sticky rice inside), ordered from the regular menu. The thin chicken cutlets are slighty overdone — precision can get lost at a do-it-all eatery — but the dish is indeed tasty, and the ingredients mingle well.
Halfway through our dinner, a cheer goes up across the large dining room. The Bruins have scored a goal. Other people have been paying attention to the games. For us, they’ve all but disappeared, and we’ve been able to concentrate on our conversation. This is notable. You can’t do that in many restaurants festooned with televisions.
Desserts, dessert drinks, cordials — Sea Dog’s got all the crowd-pleasers. To finish, we try the maple ginger snap sundae ($5) from the seasonal offerings. Two giant ginger cookies, soft, warmed and soaked in maple/porter sauce (from Bowdoinham, boasts the menu) are topped with vanilla ice cream and aerosol (alas) whipped cream and marischino cherries. What were we expecting? It’s a sundae! Reader, we finished it.
This Sea Dog Brewing Co. establishment, part of the brewing company owned by Shipyard, deserves high marks for its remarkable Topsham mill renovation, casual and fun atmosphere, friendly and knowledgeable service, and dinner options that pleasantly surprised us with their variety and preparation.
My friend summed it up this way: “It’s got the full tilt boogie going on.”
Nancy Heiser is a freelance writer and editor who lives near Portland. Her work has appeared in national and regional publications.