February 12, 2012

Dine Out Maine: Silly's with a Twist adds liquor, late hours to dynamite menu


"When a man sits with a pretty girl for an hour, it seems like a minute," Albert Einstein once famously explained. "But let him sit on a hot stove for a minute, and it's longer than any hour." His point? "That's relativity."

click image to enlarge

The philosophy of restaurateurs Colleen and Michelle Kelley is all about local, and the decor at Silly's with a Twist, as with Silly's next door, is all about kitsch.

John Ewing / Staff Photographer

click image to enlarge

John Ewing / Staff Photographer


SILLY'S WITH A TWIST, 40 Washington Ave., Portland. 772- 0360; sillys.com

STARS: ★★★★½

HOURS: Silly's: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Tuesday to Friday; 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Silly's with a Twist: 4 to 10 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday; 4 p.m. to 1 a.m. Friday; 11 a.m. to 1 a.m. Saturday; 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday

BAR: Yes, full bar at Twist

CREDIT CARDS: Visa and MasterCard

PRICE RANGE: $2.95 to $15.95

VEGETARIAN: Yes, very vegetarian-friendly

VEGAN: Yes, very vegan-friendly

GLUTEN-FREE: Yes, very

KID-FRIENDLY: Kids welcome and encouraged



BOTTOM LINE: Silly's with a Twist offers the same eclectic Silly's menu, but with liquor and late-night hours. Owners Michelle and Colleen Kelley are committed to ensuring that the dining (and now drinking) experience is consistently comfortable and satisfying, and Portland is lucky to count this establishment among its variety of restaurant options.

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.

In the relative world of dining, that's also Silly's. It is relative because while the James Beard Foundation may never laud Colleen Kelley's creative culinary efforts, it's OK. We will. Silly's consistently wins local recognition -- for service, sandwiches and desserts. For Cajun, pizza, vegan cooking and, most recently, "Taste of Portland."

If there was an integrity prize, I suspect Silly's would win that too. Colleen and sister Michelle do not just talk the local talk, they walk it in silly style. Those bumper stickers? Local printer Dale Rand. Ice cream? Made in Skowhegan. Banking and payroll, coffee and bread sourcing -- every possible aspect of Silly's is locally led. Even the used frying oil powers biodiesel cars.

From its roots as a walk-up counter wrap joint to its current incarnation as maybe the most unique casual dining experience in Greater Portland -- most lately with an expansion into the building next door -- the Kelleys have created something to be proud of. And it goes the other way too -- we are proud of them.

In warmer weather, outside tables are flanked by rainbow fencing and positioned beneath a canopy of twinkling lights while flowers grow from a clawfoot bathtub.

Inside, year-round, Silly's is all about kitsch. Feathers, beads and Elvis memorabilia decorate the walls. Devotees send photos from all corners of the world. I once watched Colleen quietly box up an elaborate care package to a local soldier serving overseas, just because it was the right thing to do.

It is this Kelley family reputation for consistency and integrity that put me among the first in line to sample the Silly's with a Twist experience.

What makes Silly's with a Twist different? Simply put, liquor and late-night hours. It's the same wild Silly's menu, but served with adult beverages in a cozy, firelit-bar atmosphere. Cozy, but still undeniably silly. Twist's ceiling is painted bright purple, and a leg lamp straight from "A Christmas Story" sits in the window.

With 44 gluten-free and 24 vegan menu items, as well as a seemingly infinite number of options for meat and carbohydrate lovers, Silly's aims to offer something fun and festive for every palate.

The epic menu is filled with puns and in-jokes, such as the Birdhouse in My Soul ($9.95) with roasted turkey breast and avocado pulp served open-faced on toast, or the Viva Las Vegan ($12.95) with jerk-seasoned tofu and mango basil coleslaw. Silly's appeals to both creative spirits and tight budgets.

Because the menu is extensive, here is a short list of items to try. (Full disclosure: Like many locals, I have regularly eaten from the Silly's menu for the better part of a decade, and never experienced an off night. It's just not how they roll.)

Fried pickles ($5.75) are thin slivers of dill pickles breaded and served crunchy with a side of spicy mayo. The Rings of Fire ($5.75) include the same thin-sliced, deep-fried concept, but with jalapeno slices -- flavorful, but not nuclear. The Giddy-Up Piggy ($7.95) is a poutine-like twist with hand-cut fries covered in bacon and horseradish cheese sauce.

When eaten at the cushioned bar stools in the peachy twilight, as music from the '80s plays loud enough to reminisce but soft enough to hear conversation, the fun food elevates an ordinary Friday to an evening of food worth remembering.

You will want to try a burger ($8.95) and upgrade with buffalo-flavored or sweet potato fries for an additional $1.25. Maybe a pizza as well, like the XTC ($9.50) with creamy basil sauce, feta cheese, pepperoni and spinach.

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