Thursday, December 5, 2013
SOUTH PORTLAND - Adam Powers and Jeremy Rush proudly showed off their new A.N. Bewley barbecue pit from Dallas on Tuesday at 448 Elsmere, the future location of Elsmere BBQ & Wood Grill.
It was the first day they’d built a fire in their new smoker, and occasionally the huge contraption with an 18-foot stack hiccupped and belched a little wood smoke into the cloudy sky.
A local resident driving by in the late afternoon spied the two men from the road and pulled over quickly, jumping out of his car to ask excitedly about when the new restaurant will open.
That’s apparently been happening a lot.
South Portland seems to be overflowing with excitement over this new barbecue joint located in the old Colonial Cleaners at the corner of Elsmere and Cottage Road. The restaurant won’t open until Aug. 10, but South Portland residents will be able to get a preview of the food at this Saturday’s WillardFest, the annual neighborhood block party in Willard Square. Powers said he plans to bring pulled chicken, pulled pork and ribs with cole slaw, all for under $10 a plate.
Elsmere BBQ & Wood Grill has been a long time coming. Powers and Rush first started looking for a space for their own restaurant about a year and a half ago. Powers, a member of the band Twisted Roots, has been running the kitchen at Three Dollar Deweys for the past 15-16 years. He (on the left in the picture below) and Rush (one the right) have known each other more than 20 years.
They started their search for a restaurant space in Portland, Powers said, “but you know you can’t throw a rock without hitting a restaurant on the peninsula.”
Then they looked around South Portland and met their builder, Nat Towl, who had had his eye on the Elsmere spot for a while. The building was a garage back in the day, and has been around since at least the 1920s. It’s been empty for years.
“We purchased the building, which was a big deal for us,” Powers said. “We want to be part of the neighborhood, and we also feel like there’s a really exciting mini food revolution going on over here. You’ve got David’s, you’ve got Scratch, you’ve got the Terra Cotta Pasta, you’ve got the Thai place, Enio’s, you’ve got Otto’s moving in down the street. And a lot of people, once they come home, if they live in Cape Elizabeth or South Portland, they don’t want to go back across the bridge (for dinner). We don’t want to compete with these restaurants, we want to enhance the food experience over here. We’re doing something different than everybody else is doing.”
Why barbecue? Powers spent part of his childhood in Thailand, “and so I have an extreme affinity for street food, or folk food.”
Powers calls barbecue “the only true American cuisine.” He spent at least 15 years “studying” barbecue, stopping at every little diner and BBQ joint he could find on road trips, searching for the perfect smoke, the perfect sauce. He constructed two smokers himself out of 1950s refrigerators.
At Elsmere, in addition to the Texas smoker, Powers and Rush will use an Argentine grill from California. The grill, which hasn’t arrived yet, has a big wheel that raises and lowers the cooking grates. It takes an hour and a half for the wood to burn down to embers, then the coals are raked forward in a continuous feed.
The 4,400-pound Texas smoker, Powers said, “is not like anything that’s around here. Everything that’s around here runs on propane, and this is all wood.” And dry heat with wood, he says, is what makes “real barbecue.”
“We’re more central Texas style,” Powers said. “We’re going to be more about the meat. We will use some light rubs, but the central Texas rub is generally salt and pepper, and then treat the meat right. We will have a mustard sauce, a red sauce and a cherry barbecue sauce. Our slaw will be a marinated slaw, so no mayonnaise - just vinegar, sugar, that sort of thing, a little bit lighter.”
The restaurant’s core menu will feature five meats and five sides. There will be either a grilled or blackened fish of the day, and lots of blackboard specials and vegetarian options. On weekends, the signature appetizer will be wood-grilled oysters.
There won’t be any pizza, but there will be a kids’ menu to keep the atmosphere family friendly.
A quick tour of the space Tuesday showed things are starting to come together. The builders are adding a whole new front to the building (that work is not currently visible from the road) and there will be some outdoor patio seating that’s covered by the existing roof.
“We’re going to have a beautiful bar,” Powers said. “We’re going to have a kitchen bar. All the wood on top of the bar is reclaimed wood from old tobacco barns down in Virginia. It’s a couple of hundred years old and looks gorgeous.”
Here's the bar:
Behind the barn will be a vintage 13-foot neon sign advertising an auto body shop. You can see a photo of it on the Elsmere BBQ & Wood Grill Facebook page.
For seating, in addition to the patio, there will be four two-tops; four booths; industrial-style bistro seating at the bar, the open kitchen bar, and at one other small table; and a long communal table. In all, the restaurant will seat 55.
This is a view of the front of the restaurant from the inside. The four two-tops will be here, and the patio seating will be on the other side of the windows:
Here's what the booths look like right now:
Powers insists they will make their deadline and open the doors on Aug. 10, and he promises to be ready for any and all of you who want to pull over and stop by for a spell.
Meredith Goad has harvested oysters on the Chesapeake Bay, eaten reindeer in Finland and sipped hot chai in the Himalayas. She writes the weekly Soup to Nuts column and enjoys a good cocktail.
Susan Axelrod's food writing career began in the kitchen; she owned a restaurant and catering business before turning to journalism more than a decade ago. To relax, she bakes, gardens and hikes with her husband and their two dogs. A newcomer to Portland, she is an online content producer for the Press Herald.
Susan can be contacted at 791-6310 or saxelrod [at] pressherald.com.
On Twitter: @susansaxelrod