Salvage BBQ on Congress Street opened in early September of last year and immediately set the bar for great barbecue in Portland exponentially higher. Jay Villani, owner of Local 188 and Sonny’s, has put his signature touch on a third Portland peninsula restaurant, and this one’s about meat, booze, music, composting and keeping your hands clean.
The brick building on lower Congress (across from Maine Medical) was once the Portland Architectural Salvage building – a 12,000-foot showroom of antiques and decorative home accessories. Villani has paid homage to the former space with the restaurant’s name, as well as the retro flair evident throughout the high-ceilinged space – tall, blue vinyl-backed stools at the bar, 1950s tables and sofas in the lounge area, and even an old piano and guitar.
Most of the seating for the 110 capacity restaurant, though, is found along the communal tables – classic barbecue-style.
At the bar, two things stand out: the liquor selection (mainly bourbon) lit up nicely by string lights and the 16-tap kegerator that boasts 15 Maine microbrews. The 16th is Miller High Life. All beers on tap are available by the pint, half gallon or gallon ($3 to $8 for a pint; $10 to $32 for a half gallon; $18 to $60 for a gallon).
Paper takeout menus are already at the bar, so you don’t have to wait for the bartender to see you. The same goes with the compostable forks, spoons and knives.
A pint glass of wet wipes is there as well, anticipating your barbecue-sauced fingers.
To the left of the bar is a fountain soda station, a hand-washing station and a composting system (something more Portland restaurants are practicing).
Three large chalkboards behind the bar list in big print the beers on tap, wine specials (wine is also on tap), and any nightly cocktail features.
Recently, the Salvage Gold, an $8 hot toddy made with cinnamon-orange-infused bourbon, honey, lemon and bitters, was served in a thermal beer mug with a slice of lemon and cloves. The drink was easily double the size of any hot toddy currently being served in Portland, so you won’t necessarily feel ripped off.
However, the bartender, who was a nice guy but seemed new to the job, took longer than usual to bring out our drinks. Next time, the toddy might be served smaller, allowing the drinks to be delivered with a better sense of urgency.
Three TVs are bolted behind the bar, but the sound is either muted or not distracting. Music also plays in the background, but because of the size of the restaurant, the acoustics are great and you can hear your dinner guest clearly.
The Maine Brew Bus has added Salvage to one of its tours, so you’ll likely see a group of 12 to 15 beer aficionados walk through the doors after 4 p.m. on Fridays.
And every Saturday is “American Music” night at Salvage, when local bands come to play for free starting at 8 p.m.
Salvage is the perfect spot to get a local craft beer and a side of hush puppies (or spring for the Meat Coma platter).
Because of the ambience and ample seating, this is a good option for families or larger groups.
Claire Jeffers is a Portland freelance writer.