A restaurant in a Bridgton gas station? I had read about the relatively new Standard Gastropub, and while I tried to appreciate the concept from a distance, I admit to not getting it until I was standing there at the door.
“Oh, OK,” I thought, staring from across the parking lot. “A restaurant in a gas station.”
I note this to assuage any reader confusion because it does feel a little too esoteric and precious at first, as the two images, “restaurant” and “gas station” do not immediately coalesce. That noted, I suggest that if you find yourself in Bridgton or feeling the urge to road trip, stop at Standard Gastropub to see what I mean. Stop and plan to linger.
Remember how Portland’s El Rayo Taqueria used to be a gas station? OK, now imagine working fuel pumps, and instead of Mexican food, imagine the menu was designed by the Eventide Oyster guys or maybe the folks at Local 188. That’s the Standard Gastropub primer.
The space itself is a work in progress, but what’s happening so far is working well. The concept plays out on an ever-changing chalkboard menu. To the left of the center counter (where you pay for gas) is the kitchen, and to the right is a series of turquoise blue picnic tables between a wall-length cooler on one side and a wooden bar with metal stools on the other.
Inside the cooler? Ninety varieties of a planned 200 beers, many of them canned. We asked for a Porkslap Pale Ale and Indie Pale Ale from Butternuts Beer & Ale in New York and Nantucket’s Cisco Brewers, respectively. Although it feels intuitive to reach into the cooler for a beverage, don’t do that. The servers are happy to oblige. There are soft drinks, too, with an emphasis on naturally flavored and regionally sourced. Coffee is cold-pressed and deliciously robust.
Our server, also one of the owners, was friendly and keenly aware that his space was evolving. No desserts, yet, but he described why (summer competition with the local ice cream places), and his rationale made sense. He also described plans for the fall with enthusiasm, to include enticing descriptions of local apple-based desserts. Given the region’s natural beauty and beauty, I can easily imagine a return visit during the fall colors to see what the Standard Gastropub crew creates.
But, that’s future tense. On this night, four of us crammed into a small-ish picnic table. The lighting was ambient and the bouncy music, although too loud for my taste, was well-received by the rest of my crew. (Apparently, I am getting old and cranky in this regard.)
Here is where I note that I love food. There isn’t an experience more intimate, more social and more welcome in my group of friends. We sampled nearly every item on the night’s ever-changing menu chalkboard.
The Veggie Burger ($7.50), sweet potato and black bean-based, was delivered thick and grilled well-done as requested to eliminate any potential veggie burger mush factor. This veggie burger was a good one — full of flavor and minus any mealy texture.
If a veggie burger isn’t your thing, Standard Gastropub offers a Kobe Beef Hot Dog ($6.50). While not typically a hot dog fan, I confess that this was, indeed, a mighty fine hot dog. With wasabi aoli and a pickle spear tucked into the bun, this hot dog tasted like actual beef, not a weird sort of meat paste, and the pickle and wasabi flavors intensified the flavor. It was, as promised, a new way to experience a hot dog.
Smoked Chicken Tacos ($7.50) were two corn tortillas, shredded chicken, jalapeno and grilled lime wedges for squeezing. Tasty, but a lot of sauce made for tortillas that sort of disintegrated.
The best, my absolute hands-down favorite, and a reason to make the drive? The Mac and Cheese ($6) and Garlicky Greens ($4). Both served in Mason jars, the former was fresh orecchiette coated in a thick, rich, creamy cheese sauce and garnished with fresh dill. The latter was local rainbow chard delicately sauteed in olive oil and a massive amount of fresh garlic — so simple, but so perfect. Between alternating bites of the two, a new level of food happiness began, and I could have easily licked both of the jars.
On the Special roster were Elote ($4.50) and Steak Frites ($18). The 8-ounce marinated flank steak with fresh cut fries was the night’s splurge, but it was well worth the investment. The fries were thin and crispy, the steak packed with flavor, and the pickled onion garnish was a nice bonus. Together, the combo tasted delicious. Add any of the house-made sauces — curry ketchup, wasabi mayo, Dijon horseradish or roasted garlic aoli, and the meal moves from delicious to sublime.
Elote — such a fancy phrase for the humble corn cob, was grilled with Mexican spices and coated with cotija cheese, served with a side salad garnish of lettuce, pickled onions, and more cotija cheese. It was so tasty I ordered two.
The Grilled Iceberg Wedge ($8.50), a wedge of grilled lettuce with a drizzle of homemade blue cheese dressing, handful of bacon crumbles and topped with fried onions, was crisp and tangy in all the right places.
Wings ($5) won the table’s “best in show” though. Like the Mac and Cheese and Garlicky Greens, it is worth the drive to Bridgton for these wings. From brined to smoked to finished with sauce, these wings involve 18 hours of loving preparation. At four for $5, with a handful of carrots, there is zero gristle and zero gumminess. These wings are the real deal — packed with power, and so delicious, we kept ordering more. (Note: I was a fan of the Cajun lime, but the honey sriracha is fantastic, too.)
Standard Gastropub is a cool spot. It’s not really a pub though, and joint doesn’t quite do it justice. Restaurant is too formal, and snack bar can’t begin to describe the level of food quality. It’s just … food in a gas station.
Go. You’ll see.
Bonus points for competitive gas prices.
Shonna Milliken Humphrey is a Maine freelance writer and author of the novel “Show Me Good Land.”