Wednesday, March 12, 2014
Sure, there are exceptions, but unless you’re paying for high-end accommodations the restaurants attached to hotels located just off the highway tend to be a little, um, boring.
They’re usually chains, or serve middle-of-the-road fare that wouldn’t entice you unless you really were just stopping overnight.
Chef Kimmo Meronen hopes to change that at the Best Western Merry Manor Inn, located at 700 Main St. in South Portland, just where the feeder road for I-295 begins. The owners of the hotel , the Bangor-based Lafayette Hotels group, opened The Maine Table in June, in the spot where a Governors once stood. They hired Meronen to fulfill the restaurant’s motto: “Fresh Maine Food.”
Meronen was born and raised in Finland, but left his homeland at age 22 when he got the travel bug. He has worked in Madrid, Costa Rica, Houston, and Berkeley, Calif. Here in Maine, he has worked at Eventide Oyster Co. and, most recently, worked with chef Adam White at The Salt Exchange in Portland.
But he wanted to either run his own kitchen, or open his own restaurant.
Then the Lafayette group called and asked him to design a menu of local Maine foods. He’s stocked the kitchen with everything from Kate’s Butter to Eastport Mussels and Raye’s Mustard.
“I buy all the seafood from the wharf, mainly from Harbor Fish, some from P.J. Merrills,” he said. “We try to use Native Maine (Produce) as much as we can. We don’t necessarily work with farmers yet directly, but we’re definitely looking forward to doing that, maybe next summer. I stop at the farmers market frequently, but I can’t really say we’re using 100 percent Maine ingredients yet.”
Meronen estimates that about half the menu is seafood, a selection that includes clam chowder , scallops, lobster mac and cheese, and fish and chips. There are several lobster dishes available.
Here's the crab cakes, aioli and parsley caper salad:
The rest of the menu is filled with dishes such as baked stuffed meatloaf and local mushroom stroganoff. Here's the baked stuff meatloaf, pineland cheddar mac and cheese & spicy greens:
Meronen said that so far his clientele has been made up of about half tourists and half locals. He’d like to keep a neighborhood feel to The Maine Table so that he can draw customers from South Portland and Scarborough, as well as folks who are just passing through.
“If possible, we’re trying to keep a separate image from the hotel,” he said. “Obviously we cater to the hotel, but we’re trying to build up a reputation that, although we are associated and we are in a hotel, we’re still a neighborhood restaurant.”
If you’d like to give it a try, dinner is served from 5 to 9 p.m. daily. (There is no lunch service.) The bar is open at 4 p.m., and Meronen said he’s just about to launch a bar menu so food will be available until it closes at midnight.
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.