May 20, 2012

DINE OUT MAINE: For real Maine diner experience, Dysart's fills the pie hole

By SHONNA MILLIKEN HUMPHREY

Part of a diner's appeal is the opportunity for late-night pie. I fell in love with my husband at a diner table, across a plate of pie in the wee morning hours, so I am particularly biased.

click image to enlarge

Dysart's Truck Stop off I-95 in Bangor has been serving truckers and the rest of us for decades. Thankfully, this slice of Americana continues the glorious tradition of late-night pie.

Courtesy photo

DINING REVIEW

DYSART'S TRUCK STOP, 530 Cold Brook Road, Bangor, 942-4878; dysarts.com

HOURS: Open daily 24 hours

★★★★

BAR: None

CREDIT CARDS: All major

PRICE RANGE: $2.95 to $22.99, with most sandwiches and entrees in the $9 to $10 range. Breakfast served all night.

VEGETARIAN: Yes, but limited

RESERVATIONS: No

WHEELCHAIR ACCESSIBLE: Yes

BOTTOM LINE: There's road food, and there's road food at Dysart's. If you find yourself driving on Interstate 95, skip the fast-food chains and get yourself to a Dysart's table for home-style Maine favorites, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Of particular note at this uniquely Maine location are the pies, both savory and sweet.

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.

While it's hard to find an independent all-night diner in Maine, Dysart's Truck Stop comes close. A family-founded Bangor institution, Dysart's has been serving the needs of long- and short-haul truckers for decades, and its restaurant is worth a detour for those of us who drive hatchbacks too.

Rather than wax esoteric about the overlooked elements of consumerism (bless the truckers who deliver the products we all enjoy), I will skip right to the food: Dysart's is good. Really good.

Having eaten enough road food to claim, at minimum, journeyman status, the kitchen at Dysart's does not disappoint, and neither does the staff. The servers represent the best type of truck-stop diner service -- brash and sassy with smiles that could power the state. Ours was hilarious, and made us feel like family.

The ambience of 24-7 locales includes the clientele, and this affects perception, because at Dysart's, you just never know who you'll see. With a long set of tables reserved for truckers in the middle of the room, the rest of the Dysart's expansive wood-trimmed dining space is fair game for seating -- and people watching. High school students dressed up for a formal dance, the after-church crowd, hung-over college kids, a table full of coffee-drinking older gentlemen.

In my case, it was a mini-reunion among old friends. Four of us slid into the U-shaped corner booth and watched the crowd while we read the mammoth book-like menu. Items range from homemade soups and chowders to full steak or ham dinners, beef stew and all manner of Maine favorites (Yankee Pot Roast, Liver and Bacon, and Fried Bologna with Mac and Cheese) in addition to traditional diner burgers and fries. Breakfast is served, naturally, all night long.

First, Poutine ($4.99). While the Dysart's version lacks curd accuracy, instead using grated cheddar, I was pleased just to see poutine on the menu. The fries were crisp, the cheese was melty, and the gravy (choice of beef or chicken) ample. The lone poutine virgin among us spent the evening sighing after each salty, finger-licking bite.

Homemade O' Rings ($5.99) are hand-battered onion rings deep-fried and presented on a platter. The enormous portion served the four of us, and the delicious dry breading had a curious cornmeal-like flavor and texture.

While I was prepared to criticize Dysart's Lighter Load Chicken Greek Salad ($11.99) because of the iceberg lettuce and little bag of pre-made salad dressing, my husband wisely noted that any salad presence on a truck-stop menu represents progress. "Besides," he said, "you don't go to a truck stop for an epic salad."

Fair enough. While not legendary, Dysart's Greek Salad was tasty, and I appreciated its presence, imagining a long, hard trip north with precious few (non-fried) vegetarian roadside options.

The plain Cheeseburger ($6.49), cooked medium-well with 6 ounces of beef and sandwiched between two crisply fried buns, cool lettuce and a piece of melted American cheese, ranks among the tastiest Maine burgers. Not for its elegance, but for its simplicity. If you want a more complex burger experience, the Logger Burger ($14.99) promises one full pound of beef topped with more delicious onion rings.

Dysart's Shrimp Sampler ($7.99) was, to my surprise, not purchased frozen in bulk, but presented as a plateful sourced from Maine -- sweet and firm inside their little jackets of crunchy breading.

Baked Ham and Pineapple ($10.99) features meat from local company W.A. Bean in the form of a thick ham steak topped with a slice of baked (canned) pineapple. Tangy and satisfying, it tasted like Easter on a plate. If you like, ask for a side of the famous baked beans. Dysart's slow-cooks four tons of yellow-eyes each year, and with a cruet of molasses and a homemade biscuit, it does not get better for an authentic Maine dining experience.

The stars of the evening, though, were the pies, both the savory and the sweet. Chicken Pot Pie ($9.99), also available for takeout, is clearly scratch-made with buttery and flaky crust. The chicken, pulled and not cubed, was a nice complement to the fork-tender vegetables. The gravy was a medium texture -- neither gelatinous nor soupy. I look forward to ordering this comfort-food staple again on a return trip.

Sweet pies rotate, but I can vouch for the raspberry and the banana cream. If I closed my eyes, I would swear they were cut from my extended family's Thanksgiving buffet table. Neither was cloyingly sweet, and both were amply stuffed. While not mile-high, these pies are far from skimpy. With a bottomless cup of coffee ($1.99), a trucker essential, the pie was the crowning moment for an evening spent catching up across a table full of home-style deliciousness.

After supper, make sure to stretch your legs in the Dysart's shop. A sign advertising diesel oil endorsed by Ted Nugent (courtesy of the "Ted, White, and Blue") strangely welcomes shoppers seeking all manner of audiobooks, ceramic figurines, truck parts and snack cakes. Haircuts are available for truckers, as are church services and private showers.

On an interstate full of chain options, I am grateful for the family-owned Dysart's and its willingness to continue the tradition of late-night pie. If you reach Bangor with an appetite, opt for Dysart's. There's plenty of parking, and you will not leave hungry.

 

Shonna Milliken Humphrey is a Maine freelance writer and author of the novel "Show Me Good Land."

 

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