SCARBOROUGH — There were cocktails made with labne whey, lychee tea and pomegranate molasses, but it was a simple cucumber martini that wowed the judges at Sunday’s Signature Event, one of the anchor events of Maine Restaurant Week.

With the martini, paired with a bite-sized cucumber cup filled with smoked salmon-goat cheese mousse and topped with tobiko, Timber Steakhouse in Portland won the Judges’ Choice award at the sold-out event, held at Prime Mercedes Benz in Scarborough. David’s Opus Ten in Portland took the People’s Choice award with a Mexican chocolate martini, accompanied by a pulled pork-topped beignet.

Judges were Kate McCarty, author of “Portland Food: The Culinary Capital of Maine” and a blogger at The Blueberry Files; Shannon Bryan, editor of; Becca Gildred, marketing director for Down East Magazine; and Shelby Carignan, managing editor of Eat Drink Lucky, a newsletter published by Maine Restaurant Week organizer gBritt PR of South Portland.

This was the first year that participating restaurants were asked to pair a cocktail with food. At previous Signature Events, some participants offered cocktails while others served bite-sized desserts.

Sunny and Scott Townsend of Scarborough, who attended the event two years ago, were in favor of the new format.

“I like the smoked strawberry rhubarb martini with the pork belly sandwich,” said Sunny Townsend, praising the pairing from Fuel restaurant. “They were big, bold flavors that really complemented each other. And the restaurant is from Lewiston, which is a pleasant surprise.”


In addition to Fuel, Lewiston was represented by Marche, which was the Judges’ Choice runner-up with The Metropolis Cocktail, a citrusy drink paired with a skewer of roasted golden beet, orange and grapefruit segments wrapped in baby spinach and dipped in pomegranate and balsamic vinaigrette.

Perennial participants – chefs Brian and Shana O’Hea from Academe at the Kennebunk Inn – matched a meatball slider skewered with a piece of fried fresh mozzarella with a drink called the Italian Sunday Tuxedo: a spicy take on the bloody Mary, made with pureed roasted vegetables. Sonny’s in Portland – like Academe, a past winner – paired a complex cocktail named the Sonny & Sher, made with fino sherry, dry curacao, almond syrup, orange flower water and sparkling wine, with a cherry pepper stuffed with mascarpone cheese and a marcona almond.

Perhaps the most ambitious entry was from Tiqa, the Mediterranean restaurant that opened just last month on Commercial Street in Portland. Beverage director Patrick Morang created The Miss Muffet – Double Cross Vodka, Vya dry vermouth and labne whey (the milky liquid released when yogurt is strained to make labne, a common ingredient in eastern Mediterranean cooking), garnished with a Palestinian olive. For the food pairing, chef Bryan Dame offered Berbere-spiced labne on a strip of crispy chicken skin.

Tiqa was one of several newcomers. Portland’s Local 188, second runner-up for Judges’ Choice, was also participating in the Signature Event for the first time, as was The Good Table in Cape Elizabeth, and Timber and Lolita in Portland.

Noah Talmatch, who owns Timber and Portland’s The North Point with his brother Dan, was ecstatic about the win the first time out.

“We’re a steakhouse and everyone knows we serve steak, but we wanted to show that we are more versatile,” he said. “The cocktail is one I invented over 10 years ago at a bar I owned in Manhattan. Normally we make it with gin, but (because Double Cross Vodka is a sponsor of the Signature Event) we made it tonight with vodka. It’s refreshing and delicious.”

Note: This story was updated at 8:30 a.m. on Monday, March 9 to add the names of two additional judges.

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