Southern Maine isn’t known for its dunes, but there are dunes in Scarborough. Dunes, as well as downs.

They’re not natural features of the landscape, either. No, these particular mounds of sand and soil were muscled into place by machines, pitting the ground to make way for new parking lots and businesses at Dunstan Crossing. And here, in the lonely center of an open expanse, surrounded by piles of earth and freshly painted condos, you’ll find Dunstan Tap & Table, waiting for its future neighbors to arrive.

Conceived by Brian and Jennifer Brenerman, the husband-and-wife team who own and operate Shays in Portland, the new restaurant might sound similar to what feels like dozens of other new pubs in Scarborough, but it possesses a unique identity of its own.

“With the huge sliding barn doors and modern design, it feels cool and a little minimalist, completely the opposite from Shays,” said Jennifer Brenerman. She’s right about that – there’s a Scandinavian-adjacent vibe to the space, with its blonde woods, neutral walls and poured concrete floors.

It gets kookier, but in a good way: Mottled gray and black sound baffles shaped like scantly poured waffles hang from the ceiling. They wouldn’t be out of place in a contemporary art museum, and more to the point, they help to keep noise from reaching ear-splitting levels. “We know it can get noisy,” said Jennifer Brenerman. “We also installed sound-dampening materials underneath the chairs. But all of this is just a first step. We’re not done yet.”

Good thing, because with televisions blaring and a few toddlers in the ample booth seating, you’ll find yourself pausing frequently to let the din die down as you talk. Dunstan Tap & Table (or DT&T, as the Brenermans affectionately call it) may not be the spot for a quiet date night, but overall, the restaurant’s effervescence is more charming than annoying.

That’s thanks, in no small part, to the playful enthusiasm of former Boone’s and Grill Room chef Brandon Tenney’s menu of gastropub-style dishes. “I call it American casual. I wanted to do a little bit of everything … make it fun, but do it well,” he explained.

For Tenney, getting the details right on his eclectic menu means making most items entirely in-house – everything from dangly, skin-on french fries ($4) cut from Idaho potatoes, then blanched, frozen and refried to order; to the slow-fermented habanero-and-red-pepper hot sauce that breathes a little life into an otherwise unexciting chicken breast sandwich ($14).

There’s a clear contrast between the menu items that Tenney and his team control from ingredients to plating onto logo-branded cutting boards, and those that are outsourced. Take the chocolate lasagne cake ($8) as an example. Fashioned from layers of chocolate cake, marshmallow icing and hardened milk chocolate syrup, the dessert (as well as all other sweets) is delivered every Friday from nearby SnowFlour Baking Company. Yet on a recent Saturday visit, I found the cake dry, as if it had been stored, uncovered in the fridge.

Compare that with the taco appetizer ($11). For it, Tenney brines chicken for two days, then roasts and tops pulled shreds of white meat with smoky chipotle mayonnaise, fresh and tangy pico de gallo, and a shower of cilantro leaves. Or his Asian-esque take on deep-fried Brussels sprouts ($10) – a gargantuan starter that entwines a fiery chili-mirin glaze with umami from crispy pork belly and fish sauce. In both appetizers, retaining control of ingredients lets the kitchen tweak and focus flavors into terrific balance.

The taco appetizer consists of shreds of white meat chicken with chipotle mayonnaise, pico de gallo and a garnish of cilantro leaves.

Misfires still happen, like in the too-salty steak sandwich ($14), oversaturated with a creamy sauce of Pineland Farms curds and Cabot yellow cheddar engineered to mimic Cheez Whiz. Or the bucket-sized Higgins cocktail ($11), an embalming-strength blend of Tito’s vodka, house-made cranberry purée and local apple cider. One of my dinner guests took a sip, teared up and called it “a vodka cranberry on performance-enhancing drugs.” After a single Higgins, I’m pretty certain nobody’s performance would be improved, except perhaps in a revival of “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?”

Fortunately, there’s nothing better to cut a little excess booze than something indulgently starchy like mashed potatoes. Tenney’s take cues from both Joel Robuchon’s obscenely buttery “purée de pommes de terre,” as well as Anthony Bourdain’s creamier riff on the same recipe. The DT&T version ($4) starts the same way, with riced potatoes folded together with heart-stopping quantities of butter and heavy cream. But this is a more rustic remix, where tiny, incompletely mashed bits add texture, and enthusiastic seasoning with freshly ground black pepper tickles the inside of your nostrils with every spoonful.

One of my dinner guests was equally won over by his Reuben sandwich ($13), a faithful rendition of the deli classic, here made with homemade Thousand Island dressing, Mainely Grains marble rye toast and pastrami that our server informed us gets smoked in-house every week. “You should see the cooks making the pastrami,” she said. “They’re like the elves at Christmastime in there.”

“Do they sing, too?” we asked.

“No, but they should! They dance around while they get it ready for the smoker, though,” she laughed.

The Korean pork burger features a patty fashioned of pork seasoned with lemongrass, ginger, cilantro and, surprise, confectioners’ sugar.

Preparation of the Korean pork burger ($16) may not spark a festive celebration, but the sandwich is every bit as tasty. A larger format version of a meatball that Tenney made when he was the pizza chef at Westbrook’s 33 Elmwood, the patty is fashioned from an aromatic grind of pork seasoned with lemongrass, ginger, cilantro and, cleverly, confectioners’ sugar. The powdered sugar allows the meat to achieve a crisp, caramelized exterior, and the cornstarch binds the otherwise-too-wet minced meat and spices. Piled onto a Fireking brioche bun along with peppery kimchi and a gochujang-heavy Korean BBQ sauce, the burger is a little wild and wacky, but it is also fantastic – exactly what Scarborough’s overcrowded pub scene needs.

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. Contact him at:

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Twitter: @AndrewRossME