In the cozy gleam of its Cape Porpoise setting, the newly outfitted Wayfarer restaurant is making a notable statement with imaginatively prepared home-style cooking.
Serving breakfast, lunch and dinner seven days a week, the menu is chock-a-block with such comfort-food favorites as fried chicken with waffles, Yankee pot roast, braised pork shanks, sausage gravy over biscuits and new twists on chicken pot pie and lobster.
None of these dishes are culinary revelations per se except for this proviso: They’re being prepared by a young Texas-born chef, Brendan Levin, who recently hailed from Charleston, S.C., where he was chef de cuisine at several notable restaurants in that far-flung dining city.
Trained at the highly regarded New England Culinary Institute, he has deftly devised a menu of New England classics with a Southern bias. The chef also places a strong emphasis on using local foods from area farmers and providers.
Certainly an iconic restaurant, The Wayfarer has graced the corner of Pier Road and Route 9 for over 50 years in this picturesque parish by the sea just a few miles north of Kennebunkport’s bustling restaurant scene.
In past iterations you could get a decent breakfast, a cup of chowder and sandwich at lunch and a moderately priced dinner. The food was hit-and-miss, however, depending on which reign of ownership prevailed.
The new proprietors, Scott and Dee Lewis, are an enterprising couple from New Jersey with ties to Kennebunkport. When their nearby marina sold, they looked around for a restaurant property to buy. They fell in love with The Wayfarer.
The restaurant received a complete overhaul earlier this year and opened over Labor Day weekend. That’s when the foodie chatter began.
The charming dining space, with lustrous paneled walls, didn’t lose its tea-room look in the renovation. Now more like an expansive snuggery, it seats 60 among comfortable booths, tables and seven seats at the bar.
Since it’s a BYOB restaurant, the wait staff – some of whom have been there for years under past managements – open your wine and set the table with elegant stemmed glasses for pouring.
On a blustery Saturday night, we nipped into The Wayfarer after making a few wrong turns getting there from Portland. Once off the Maine Turnpike at Biddeford, the local roads are a circuitous meander to Route 9. Use of a GPS is advised.
The restaurant was half full that evening with a patronage of well-heeled looking diners most likely from the neighboring enclaves of Kennebunkport. In a word, this is the kind of restaurant that every urban or suburban neighborhood covets.
One novel dish on the menu that we heard about was the fried lobster ($24). Upon further investigation, we learned that the lobster is split, soaked in milk and lightly dusted with flour on the outside and deep-fried.
After starting with a silken soupcon of broccoli-cheddar soup ($6) the fried lobster followed as my main course. I was a bit skeptical of the preparation, but the dish turned out beautifully done. The meat was firmer than if it had been steamed, but no less the essence of a briny lobster. The accompanying smashed potatoes with garlic were delicious, as was the simply sautéed local broccoli.
My dinner guest began with Maine lobster mac ’n cheese ($12). Here the pasta was bathed in béchamel, coated with buttered bread crumbs and baked. It suffered slightly from being dry, though the flavor of the lobster and sauce meshed well.
My guest’s bourbon-glazed pork chop ($19) was, however, an outright winner. If not cooked with care, pork can be tough and dry. This rendition was juicy, tender and full of flavor. It was served with excellent maple-laced baked beans and Brussels sprouts. My guest preferred, however, to have sautéed spinach, which was listed as a side dish; the kitchen happily obliged.
The dessert menu changes often, and the two we tried were satisfying – a good bread pudding and a creamy chocolate cheese cake
The dinner menu has many daily specials. Monday is roast night and you’re apt to find Yankee pot roast, leg of lamb or cider-brined pork loin. Monday roasts are priced at $12, a real bargain.
The restaurant makes its own pasta and offers nightly specials like fettuccine with a braised beef and mushroom ragu ($14), house-made ravioli ($14) and house-made vegetable lasagna ($15).
Another dish on the menu with a high comfort zone is the roasted Statler chicken breast ($15). It’s a lovely preparation where the breast is boned and the wing tip is left on. Levin bakes it in a cream sauce and serves it in a bowl, in the style of chicken pot pie, with peas, carrots and potatoes and garnished with puff-pastry cut-outs.
Though we didn’t visit the establishment for lunch, the menu has a lot of tempting dishes. A shrimp po’ boy ($9) with fries and homemade pickles; fried chicken served with waffles and maple syrup ($14); the house burger served on brioche bun ($10); and a sandwich of seared salmon with basil aioli, tomato and fries ($11) are among some of the choices.
My second visit was highlighted by a memorable breakfast. While the fried chicken and waffles were tempting (too heavy for a morning meal, perhaps?), the sausage gravy over biscuits ($10) hit the spot. The sausage is house-made and blended luxuriously in creamy gravy set over an excellent grilled buttermilk biscuit with two sunny-side-up eggs. Regarding the home fries in this breakfast ensemble, the waitress said they would be the best you’d ever have. A bold statement indeed. But she didn’t exaggerate. Thinly sliced potatoes were sautéed in butter until very crisp and golden. Alongside were strips of heavily smoked bacon from a smokehouse in New Hampshire.
Any restaurant open seven days a week serving three ambitious meals a day that attempts to be more than the corner hash house deserves high praise when each meal is accomplished nearly flawlessly. The Wayfarer does just that.
John Golden, who lives in Portland, writes about food, dining and lifestyle subjects for local and national publications. He can be reached at: