Thursday, December 12, 2013
By SHONNA MILLIKEN HUMPHREY
Reducing an evening to a number grade is tough. Try it.
Hop aboard a Casco Bay Lines ferry for the quick ride to Peaks Island and a meal at the Cockeyed Gull and its location affording a spectacular view of Portland’s cityscape.
2009 Telegram file photo
COCKEYED GULL, 78 Island Ave., Peaks Island 766-2800; cockeyedgull.com
HOURS: 11:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily; brunch on weekends, with transition to dinner at 4 p.m.
PRICE RANGE: $5.50 to $26.50; market price on some seafood. Most dinner entrees are in the $20 range.
BAR: Full bar
CREDIT CARDS: All major
KIDS: No kid menu, but venue seems casual enough to accommodate children
VEGETARIAN: Yes, but limited
RESERVATIONS: Yes, but not usually necessary
WHEELCHAIR ACCESSIBLE: Yes
BOTTOM LINE: Chief asset is its waterfront location, with indoor and outside deck seating affording a spectacular view of Portland's cityscape. For those wanting an easy evening (or brunch) adventure year-round, the trip to Peaks is fun -- with the right attitude and the right company. Approach the menu with caution, and know that the results can be uneven.
Ratings follow this scale and take into consideration food, atmosphere, service and value:
* Poor ** Fair *** Good **** Excellent ***** Extraordinary.
The Maine Sunday Telegram visits an establishment twice if the first dining experience was unsatisfactory. The reviewer dines anonymously.
For example, an oceanside drive is the stuff of Maine's late-summer legend, with sun-filled blue sky and Springsteen on the radio. The route rates an immediate 5 out of 5, but add the glut of tourist vehicles vying for Old Port parking and the grade quickly sinks to 1. The anxiety of hoping there's room on the ferry rates a 2, but then elevates to a 4 when friends wave and we board the boat together.
The good news/bad news of catch-up conversation hops up and down the number scale, but the general sense of an island adventure against the retreating Portland city skyline feels fabulous.
Would the Friday night be judged on its best moments or its worst? Or are the highest and lowest scores disregarded for an average 3?
This same complex, Olympic-style scoring system applied to my Cockeyed Gull dining experience.
Situated within easy walking distance of the Peaks Island ferry dock (turn left onto the first cross street), the Cockeyed Gull earned immediate points for both its clever name and tucked-away, cedar-shingled facade. Those points skyrocketed during the walk through the flower-lined side path into the sun-filled interior and toward the quaint, wrought-iron outdoor patio seating.
My rating scale quivered while I contemplated the crumply and stained menus as a sign of happy use or neglectful oversight, but I immediately loved the sleek flatware, designed with heft and style. I respect establishments that appreciate the impact of higher-quality flatware on a dining experience.
The drinks? Excellent. A Hendrick's Gin and Tonic was delivered in textbook proportion, with additional limes as requested. The can of Baxter Brewing Company's Pamola Xtra Pale Ale arrived cold with a matching glass, and there were no complaints on the Bombay martini. Attention to these simple standards often indicates the quality of table service and acts as a preview for other, more complex situations.
The Young Romaine with Anchovies & Caesar ($7.50) was straight down the middle. It was exactly as described, with two anchovy filets draped across a bowl of lettuce and freshly shaved Parmesan -- a very tasty 3. (A similar 3 for the same salad, but with five plump grilled scallops priced at $16.)
My party included a bona fide crab cake expert, but it took no expertise to see that the Crab Cakes on Mesclun Greens with Paprika & Scallion Aioli ($12) were crafted almost entirely from bread crumbs. The lack of both paprika and scallion flavor in the careless plops of mayonnaise was disappointing, but not as disappointing as the lack of essential crab meat. This dish ranked a sad 1.5.
But Hard Shell Clams steamed with Linguica, Tomato and Beer ($16.50) provided an alternative to the typical butter-dunked menu options, and easily rated a 4 in both preparation and presentation. The beer flavor intensified the bits of salty sausage in a way that weaker wine-based broths often diminish. It is worth noting that one member of our party found the dish excessively salty, but the remainder of us had no qualms.
Then came the Calamari Fra Diavlo with flatbread ($12). While not typically a "sender-backer," it is important to note that this dish was not good, and although it remained on the table, we did not eat the undercooked and mealy squid. It was served in a bowl of watery and flavorless red sauce, with a white roll substituting for flatbread.
The Cockeyed Gull is better than this dish. We each took a bite, and I must apologize to the staff member tasked with shaking those bites from our napkins at shift's end. A one. Worse than a one.
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