More and more, Maine restaurants seem to be narrowing their focus, so that anything that isn’t local is pushed off into the periphery of their field of view. In general, that is a wonderful thing. It’s part of a movement that has reduced food miles and built important, intimate links among growers, producers, craftspeople and the places where people eat, and it isn’t likely to change soon. But defiant little Dirigo Public House in Yarmouth has consciously dedicated itself to something that seems pretty radical in this environment: a wider perspective.

With a beer, mead and cider list that covers ground ranging from Belfast, Maine to Weihenstephan, Germany, the box-like restaurant just off Route 1 flaunts its promiscuous affections for beverages from nearby as well as those “from away.”

“Everybody’s got really good craft beer in so many places these days, and I want to expose people to it,” said Ben Grant, Dirigo’s co-owner. “There are something like 300 new breweries opening every year in North America alone. It’s a constant wave of exciting beer, and you have to ride the break, because if you fall behind, you might miss the fun stuff.”

To keep current, Grant spends time every day researching what’s new in craft beer, and changes up the beverage menu frequently. By the bottle, you’ll find a piney Smuttynose Shoals Pale Ale ($4) from New Hampshire, full of punchy hops and malty aromas. On a recent visit, one of the featured beers on tap was a terrific Boom Sauce IPA ($5) from Lord Hobo Brewing in Massachusetts, with a gentle bitterness, juicy citrus and tropical fruit – a dangerous flavor profile that masks a 7.8% alcohol content a bit too well. Drink more than a pint, and you’ll need a ride home. Drink three, and you won’t be riding with me.

Their broad view of craft brewing does not imply that Grant and his wife and co-owner, Katie, don’t care about Maine. The couple grew up in the area, and have found ways to honor their home state, both in the name of their restaurant – the state motto – as well as in the ingredients they use across their menu. One example is the Aroostook potatoes in the sensationally good, house-made sandwich rolls. The scaffolding for every sandwich on the menu, these enriched-dough buns have a brioche-like flavor, a gorgeous golden color and, thanks to the moisture-retaining properties of potato starch, are always tender.

You’ll also find potatoes – Ben Grant calls them “Maine’s most important agricultural product” – in the county nachos ($8), where in place of tortilla triangles, chef Chris McCollom and his team serve mandolin-cut wavy potato chips, mounded high with pickled jalapeños, onions, diced tomatoes and scallions. The pile is topped with a gooey, loose cheese sauce made from a béchamel base and Dirigo’s Cajun spice blend.


Unfortunately, substituting potatoes for tortillas creates problems. It’s difficult to keep a potato chip dry enough to withstand wet toppings, so the solution is to fry them to a coffee brown. Granted, some of that color comes from the high-sugar breed of potatoes Dirigo uses, but there’s no denying that the county nachos are fried substantially past golden. With the darker color and extra crunch comes an intense, nearly carbonized flavor that only half of our table enjoyed. And despite the trade-offs, after a few minutes on the table, all the chips had gone soggy and floppy anyway.

The restaurant’s twice-fried French fries were similarly a few shades too dark, not to mention undersalted. Much better were the red bliss potatoes served with the unpretentious steak tips ($15), a plain plate of cubed sirloin (cooked a step rarer than my guest requested), and broccoli florets. These weren’t steamed new potatoes, but roughed-up chunks resembling home fries that were seasoned well with the kitchen’s fry spice – far and away the best thing about the dish.

More ambitious dishes were hit-or-miss, like a panko-breaded fried chicken sandwich ($12), layered with shaved ham, Swiss cheese and two sauces: spicy buffalo and blue cheese dressing. This overcomplicated sandwich couldn’t decide if it wanted to riff playfully on chicken cordon bleu or buffalo wings, and was weaker for trying to do both at once.

Vegetarian food, according to Ben Grant, isn’t in Dirigo’s wheelhouse, so it’s hard to fault it for attempting to accommodate herbivorous patrons. But the falafel burger ($10) we tasted was hard and crusty around its perimeter and wet in the center. That’s a shame, because the falafel patty sang with parsley, garlic and cumin, and got even better when combined in a bite with the rich olive tapenade spread on the underside of the bun.

A Dirigo burger on one of the restaurant's highly regarded house-made sandwich rolls.

A Dirigo burger on one of the restaurant’s highly regarded house-made sandwich rolls.

Diners looking for lighter dishes should take heart, though. Dirigo offers a satisfying Caesar salad ($8) with exceptionally seasoned croutons that McCollom and his team make from loaves of their housemade potato bread, as well as a deceptively complex house salad ($9) that surprises with dried apricots and rough clusters of a super savory spiced almond brittle. If you’ve never thought about ordering something healthy in a pub, this salad is reason enough to reconsider, even if you plan to eat it along with an order of the restaurant’s fantastic (and fantastically sticky) cider-brined wings ($9 for 6 pieces, $14 for 10 pieces).

Soaked for hours in a cider brine infused with cinnamon sticks, orange and peppercorns, the chicken wings are first baked, then chilled and fried to order so that they’re moist inside and crispy outside – the ideal texture to soak up the sweet whiskey glaze, a concentrated reduction that uses three gallons of cider and a fifth of bourbon.


When our server (actually co-owner Katie Grant, who works the front-of-house three days every week) brought us an extra pile of napkins, we figured they were for those wings, but they proved just as useful for the sloppy and preposterously tasty Dirigo burger ($12). Made from house-ground sirloin and bottom round and slathered with Dirigo sauce – a puree of smoked onions and tomatoes that has been folded into a bacon-fat mayonnaise – this indulgent sandwich alone was worth the drive to Yarmouth.

It also made a pretty flawless match for a pint of the crisp Founders Brewing PC Pils ($5), a pale lager from Michigan with floral hops and a hint of green tea. In plenty of other craft-beer pubs in the area, that’s an interstate pairing that would be impossible.

“Just look at Allegash (Brewing Company). Maine is not their biggest market,” Ben Grant said. “That means people from other places get to love what they are doing. Why can’t we do the same? People should be able to appreciate good craft beers from everywhere. Why limit yourself?” After a few sips of Midwestern beer and a few bites of a burger served on a stellar Maine potato roll, I found it harder and harder to deny Dirigo’s central premise: that we can love both the local and “from away” at the same time – and if we’re lucky, maybe even in the same mouthful.

Andrew Ross has written about food in the United Kingdom and in New York, where he co-founded NYCnosh, a food website. He and his work have been featured on Martha Stewart Living Radio and in The New York Times. He is an Internet researcher and higher education consultant. Contact him at:

Twitter: @AndrewRossME

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