At Bandaloop in Kennebunkport, you can expect the unexpected. The name’s your first clue: It’s not a person, or a place, or a cuisine, but a fictional tribe with the secret to eternal life. Owners W. Scott Lee and his wife, Bridget, plucked it from a Tom Robbins novel and say, “We don’t know the full secret (but) good food and wines must be a part of it.”

The scale of the restaurant is deceptive, too. A business that looks diminutive from the outside turns out to fill a large 1850s-era barn as well as a sunny “new room,” once a patio, on the side that can seat another 40 customers.

Look around and you’ll see that the décor is decidedly offbeat, with sauté pans hanging from rafters, and – my favorite bit of whimsy – balloon whisks tacked to the walls and ceiling to serve as sconces and chandeliers.

But the big eye opener here is the food. On a given night the menu might include blue cheese egg rolls, a chicken breast served with twin sauces of Asian peanut and cilantro-pistachio pesto, or grilled salmon paired with spiced watermelon salsa – dishes so boldly flavored that you occasionally need a large glass of water to settle your taste buds.

Lee, who acknowledges “I’m not shy about spice,” seems intent on surprising at his “locally sourced, globally influenced organic eatery,” and he almost always succeeds.

Take those egg rolls ($9.50), which our waitress (both witty and well informed) promised were among her favorite appetizers. They’re deep fried, super shatteringly crisp and filled with a potent mixture of caramelized red onions, walnuts, spinach, and Danish blue that melts in the heat of the fryer and binds the ingredients together in a sharp, creamy blanket of flavor. If the combination sounds unusual for an egg roll – the ingredients would resemble pesto if they were processed more finely – who cares? The results are maddeningly good.


I returned to the plate again and again, dragging edges of each roll through a bowl of sweet and sour sauce made with port wine and balsamic vinegar, then savoring the intensity of the cheese and the complexity of the textures – the crunchy walnuts, the tender sweet onions. You know you should share an appetizer this good, but you may have to push yourself. Go ahead. There’s more to come.

Bandaloop features a different taco appetizer ($13) each night, always built on tasty corn tortillas from Portland’s Tortilleria Pachanga, made with organic and heritage corn grown in Maine. On my visit, the filling was grilled salmon and a cumin-laced watermelon salsa, a flavorful combination that demanded appreciation and a degree of dexterity. I rolled up one overstuffed bundle and bit into a morsel of the moist, medium-rare fish and a strip of spicy watermelon, then angled the tortilla to make sure none of the salsa dribbled away. (It was so good I’d gladly have licked my fingers clean.) The tastes were fresh and intense – the salmon mild and slightly fatty and the salsa fiery thanks to a few paper-thin slices of jalapeño and the chef’s house-made jalapeño syrup.

As with many of the dishes here, the starter also smelled tantalizing – whiffs of earthy corn and hints of cumin and Thai basil. If the waitress hadn’t arrived at the table with our entrees, I might have ordered another round of appetizers and called it a night.

Instead, I cut into a large piece of grilled swordfish ($28) and was glad I had. Lightly browned yet still deliciously juicy, it was served with another bold sauce – a spicy ginger-tamarind glaze. (“I don’t want people to feel as if they have to season their food,” Lee says. “I want it flavorful and well seasoned when they receive it.”) Some fish fillets would have been too delicate to tolerate even a drizzle of the vibrant glaze. Not brawny swordfish. There was only one disappointment on the plate: A mound of purple potato salad served cold – too cold for my taste – was a starchy distraction.

Cavatappi with chicken, sausage or tofu is Bandaloop’s version of macaroni and cheese, and the bowl we tried with andouille sausage ($19) was satisfying. Corkscrew-shaped pasta was coated in a sharp cheese sauce made from Vermont cheddar and enlivened with red pepper flakes, and the chunks of sausage were pleasantly oily and salty.

But the real standouts were the roasted tomatoes dotting the cavatappi: Each jewel-like, red chunk tasted like a summer afternoon, sweet, bright and concentrated, and an ideal counterpoint to the rich cheese sauce. The dish was so filling that I wondered if our waitress had mistakenly brought us the full portion, instead of the half that we’d ordered. “No, that’d be the mini” (a misnomer if I ever heard one.) There’s no mistaking the maxi, she reported. “It’s simply huge.”


So was the size of a few parties wandering into Bandaloop from Kennebunkport’s busy main drag. The restaurant is a magnet for family celebrations, and a large group was seated at the high table in the “new room” off the barn. The staff accommodated them well, but the noise level had definitely risen by the time we ordered dessert. (Acoustical panels line the ceiling of the dining room, so the owners have obviously made efforts to keep the noise level manageable.)

Have you noticed the proliferation of salted desserts these days? In recent weeks, I’ve seen salted peanut butter ice cream, salted fudge brownies, salted butterscotch bars – even a salted caramel truffle milkshake at Dairy Queen. So I wasn’t surprised when my friend found a sea salt crème caramel ($8) on Bandaloop’s menu. His response to the dish was enthusiastic, so before he could polish it off I swooped in for a bite – and it proved another surprise. Beautifully balanced between sweet and salty, the custard was more dense than delicate –in a good way.

I liked my bite on its own, balanced on the end of the attenuated iced tea spoon that the restaurant uses for dessert. I liked it even more dipped into the sugary caramel sauce flecked with flakes of Malden salt. I liked it best with a nibble of the crispy Danish butter cookie dotted with crushed chunks of salty pretzel that was served alongside.

Sure, Bandaloop has a few limits. The bread is house made, but it’s unpleasantly chewy. Depending upon where you’re seated the noise level can grow uncomfortably loud. And on occasion (think potatoes) the kitchen does miss the mark. But most of the time Scott Lee, a graduate of Johnson & Wales’ culinary arts program, turns out consistently inventive and highly flavorful dishes.

He may not have the secret to eternal life, but he’s cracked the code to preparing satisfying fare.

James H. Schwartz has covered food, travel and architecture for The Washington Post, Downeast, Coastal Living and Southern Living magazines for more than 30 years. He retired from his job as vice president at the National Trust for Historic Preservation in 2013 and relocated to Maine.

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