May 15, 2011

Dine out Maine: Topsham's Sea Dog is more than just a pretty view

By NANCY HEISER

You hear it before you see it, the pounding and frothy Androscoggin as it tumbles over the dam and roars under the bridge at the Brunswick/Topsham boundary.

click image to enlarge

Aaron Lockwood waits on Todd and Nancy Erkman of Wiscasset at the Sea Dog Brewing Co. in Topsham.

Photos by John Patriquin/Staff Photographer

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The restaurant is in a renovated mill on the Androscoggin River.

DINING REVIEW

SEA DOG BREWING CO., 1 Bowdoin Mill Island, Topsham. 725-0162, seadogbrewing.com

*** (good)

HOURS: Lunch/dinner, 11:30a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday-Thursday and Sunday, until 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday. After Memorial Day, kitchen stays open another hour. Pub is open until 1 a.m. Late-night snacks and Sunday brunch are available at other hours.

CREDIT CARDS: All major

PRICE RANGE: Appetizer range $6-$10, sandwiches/entrees $10-$23

VEGETARIAN: Yes

GLUTEN-FREE: Yes

KIDS: Welcome. High chairs and separate menu.

RESERVATIONS: Not offered Friday or Saturday past 5 p.m. Recommended for large parties at other times.

BAR: Full. Big draws are the 10 different Sea Dog beers on tap, brewed in Portland by Shipyard. Two varieties in bottles. Wine list includes 14 reds in bottles, 7 whites. 16 varieties by glass, $5-$8.25.

WHEELCHAIR ACCESS: Yes, through a secondary entrance, very easy.

BOTTOM LINE: One of three Sea Dog Brewing Co. eateries in Maine, this one enjoys a dramatic setting above falls on the Androscoggin River. Casual atmosphere that's fun but not raucous. While not haute cuisine, the food goes beyond sports bar fare to include seasonal specialties, satisfying and interesting salads and appetizers, and several well-conceived entrees. Plenty of pub fare, too. Suggested beer pairings are noted on the seasonal menu.

Ratings follow this scale and take into consideration food, atmosphere, service and value:

* Unsatisfactory  ** Fair  *** Good 

**** Excellent *****Extraordinary

The Maine Sunday Telegram visits an establishment twice if the first dining experience was poor.

As you step down the brick walkway to the entrance of the Sea Dog Brewing Co. in Topsham, the broad river rushes just underfoot, green steel and bridge lights looming above. It's one of the most dramatic eatery entrances in Maine.

The mood changes inside, but not in a bad way. You enter a space of personality and fun.

A 30-seat horseshoe bar is conversation central. TVs with sports programs dot the walls, trivia night or an open mic session might be on the evening docket, the back is where to head for billiards. There is nightlife in this town after all.

The former Bowdoin mill space that houses the restaurant was renovated in 1999 and it's an impressive redo, retaining tall rafters, giant pillars and arched windows that reveal churning water on two sides. A massive sailing mast and giant cleats and buoys adorn the walls. Blown-up historic photographs are here, too, like an exhibit.

The outdoor deck feels cantilevered above the river. Inside and out, it's a great spot to dine and marvel at one of Maine's great waterways.

On a Tuesday night, two friends and I head over after a tennis game for dinner. We are seated by the window in a corner, where we can converse but still be part of the buzz.

Beer lovers flock here, but we've come for food and drinks.

The pomegranate fizz ($5.50) from the monthly specials list is a champagne, club soda and fruit puree mix that's tall, not too sweet, pink, girl-friendly. The Green Monster ($6.50), another tall cocktail, this one of peach schnapps, Cointreau, Midori Melon, Chambord and grapefruit juice, doesn't do it for me, but my tennis buddy downs it with gusto, appreciating all those flavors at once.

We order off of two different menus at Sea Dog, the standard three-pager and a new, one-page list, which changes monthly. This second menu, instituted this year, includes seasonal foods and specials featuring local ingredients. Another eatery has latched on to what consumers have come to expect.

From the April seasonal menu we order the calamari special appetizer ($9), the seafood marinated then stuffed and deep-fried. Three large and chewy tubes, crispy on the outside, are filled with minced chorizo from Lisbon Sausage Kitchen and topped with a spicy citrus sauce. The pickled sweet peppers take off a bit of the heat. It's a well-done combo.

The spinach and field greens salad ($8.99) with sliced strawberries, cukes, red onion and goat cheese dressed with basil vinaigrette, a customer favorite from the regular menu, is bright and fresh, the dressing light, the sharp and creamy cheese a nice offset.

From the monthly menu we order a basil-crusted Atlantic cod ($17), hardly standard pub fare. It's heartily seasoned and delicious, yet cooked a bit too thoroughly. Sauteed and slightly firm zucchini ribbons accompany; the side of Israeli couscous is slightly gummy. This is minor. Overall, it's a very satisfying plate.

A vegetarian entree is a slice of grilled eggplant with melted cheese atop a single grilled Portobello mushroom, circled by a half-dozen or so mushroom and goat cheese ravioli ($15.99). The pasta isn't homemade, and the entree is a bit on the oily side, but the ravioli are tender, the filling is a flavorful pulp, and the vegetables add interest, if not color.

My companion raves about her grilled chicken ($16.99) with spinach, tomatoes and mushrooms in a garlic and white wine sauce over a Parmesan risotto cake (think potato pancake -- crusty outside, sticky rice inside), ordered from the regular menu. The thin chicken cutlets are slighty overdone -- precision can get lost at a do-it-all eatery -- but the dish is indeed tasty, and the ingredients mingle well.

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