It was a foodie’s delight this past Sunday night as Maine Restaurant Week culminated another successful year with its Bartender and Pastry Chef Competition, hosted by Prime Mercedes-Benz in Scarborough.

“We are happy to do this,” said Ira Rosenberg of Prime Motor Group, gesturing to the crowd of 500 food and drink aficionados, revelers and first-timers gathered in the dealership’s garage to taste sophisticated libations and indulgent desserts. “It’s just one of the many things we give back to the community, and I’m very proud that we can do this.”

It might seem like an odd pairing — the state’s best and brightest chefs and bartenders whipping up culinary delights and cocktails to swoon over in a service garage, yet it couldn’t have been more perfect. Gone were the tools, the lifts, the computers and the grease, and in their place, club lighting, techno beats, tall set lights and a pristine space for these professionals to work their magic. And the crowd loved it.

“It’s an excuse for just a tiny bit of debauchery,” laughed Ally Keppel of Brunswick, who attended with her pal Stephanie Danahy of Woolwich. “And it’s at a Mercedes-Benz dealership! What more could you want?”

“It’s pretty cool,” said Peter Domingos, an independent radio producer from Portland, there with his friend Ellen Tierney of Portland. “There are definitely some stand-out drinks, and new people are involved this year. That’s good to see.”

“I come for the cocktails!” exclaimed Mark Kellerman, looking dapper in his canary yellow cords, bow tie and navy blazer. Kellerman, who is concierge at the Inn by the Sea in Cape Elizabeth, concedes he also attends to keep his finger on the pulse. “I come here to see what’s happening. It’s an education.”

Now in its fifth year, Maine Restaurant Week has become much more of a statewide affair, and between its two signature events — the Incredible Breakfast Cook-off and the Bartender and Pastry Chef Competition — has raised over $6,000 for the United Way of Greater Portland.

“I think people love it,” said Jim Britt, who with his wife, Gillian, of gBritt PR, started this endeavor to shine the spotlight on an industry that has virtually exploded onto the national scene since its inception. “They love the excitement of interacting with chefs and restaurant owners and talking with them. It’s a great experience for everyone.”

Frank Jimino and his wife, Theresa, of Windham had nothing but praise for the evening’s festivities. “We did the Boston Restaurant Week last year,” he said. “Believe it or not, this is right on par with Boston. We are pleasantly surprised.”

As are the chefs. With attendees literally gasping at the spumoni cakes at the Scratch Bakery table, Sonja Swanberg, one of the bakery’s founders, just smiled. “We’re having a blast,” she said. “We love to see people come from ‘over the bridge,’ as we like to say, and see what we are up to in South Portland… so we hope to see some new faces.”

David Turin, executive chef and owner of David’s Monument Square, David’s 388 in South Portland and his newest endeavor, David’s Opus Ten in Portland, which won the People’s Choice for best dessert, was humbled and happy at the end of the night.

“It’s great fun,” he said, reaching out for Bo Byrne, his chef de cuisine at Opus Ten, whose feuilletage beignets with peppered strawberry, creme chantilly and sweet balsamic redux won over the eager audience for first-place honors. “We never do anything like this thinking we’re going to win… A little collaboration goes a long way.”

Mary Paine, co-owner of the Pepperclub and the Good Egg Cafe in Portland, was only too happy to give credit where credit is due.

“Restaurant Week is always good for us,” she said. “I can’t believe the amount of fish we go through, coffee, wine, organic beef… It really trickles down to everyone we do business with. They love it. They’re grateful. And the people love it, and respond to it. People get it, and they are loyal. Not just to us, but they are loyal to Portland.”

Margaret Logan can be contacted at:

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