The bar at Flood’s, conjoined with The Francis Hotel in Portland. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer Buy this Photo

Tasting Greg Mitchell’s chocolate pudding convinced me that he had chosen the perfect name for his new restaurant.

Flood’s, conjoined to The Francis Hotel in Portland, occupies roughly the same footprint as its predecessor, Bolster Snow & Co. And where a technique-driven, mostly Italian menu powered the former restaurant’s quick-fizzling buzz, Mitchell’s new endeavor runs on nostalgia – more specifically, nostalgia for something that did not even exist until four months ago.

“When we talked (with Atlanta-based branding partners La Famiglia Bros.) about the restaurant, we used old ephemera like menus and signage from old-school restaurants as inspiration,” said Mitchell, who co-owns Biddeford’s famed Palace Diner. “I wanted cards and matchbooks for Flood’s that you could stumble across in an antique store, among stacks of hundreds of vintage postcards, and you wouldn’t be able to tell the difference.”

That same drive extends to Flood’s main dining room, which has been reshuffled into something akin to a speakeasy, trading a modern open kitchen vista for a frosted-glass bar, brass stanchions and burgundy leather banquettes. If you weren’t told otherwise, you’d think this space – itself a newer brick extension bolted onto the historic Victorian mansion – had been here for a century.

Mitchell admits that his creation is a work in progress, but already it seems to be delivering the experience he’s after – generating an eerie sense that Flood’s is a place that always was … and never was.

Much like its namesake, a morally ambiguous, seafood-smitten octogenarian named Hugh G. Flood, the subject of a 1944 profile by New Yorker magazine writer Joseph Mitchell (no relation). It took four years for Mitchell, the writer, to admit it, but he fabricated Mr. Flood, hammering together this composite character from “aspects of several old men who work or hang out in Fulton Fish Market,” as well as the author’s own religious fervor, birthday and even culinary passions.

Likewise, Greg Mitchell’s restaurant spins its own version of history through pseudo-antique decor, a classic cocktail list and a terse, retro-oriented food menu. When it works (and it mostly does), the combination provides reality distortion at its most pleasurable.

Nowhere is that truer than in a vintage metal-footed crystal dish, into which head chef Billy Hager and his team spoon bittersweet homemade chocolate pudding and a slack dollop of barely sweetened whipped cream ($6).

If you haven’t eaten chocolate pudding since the last time you had dessert in a cafeteria, you’re not alone. Pudding isn’t a terribly 21st-century dessert and certainly isn’t trendy. But when blended fresh from milk, corn starch and sugar, and topped with a crumbly, Maldon-salt-strewn cocoa shortbread cookie, Flood’s version offers a bowlful of imaginary, “Sliding Doors”-style history: a world where chocolate pudding reigns over all other desserts.

Flood’s pseudo-antique decor makes it seem like it’s been there for a century. Buy this Photo

“It’s rich and familiar, nothing weird or different, and it fits with the idea of old school,” Mitchell said. “And when it’s firing on all cylinders, our goal is that it’s the best chocolate pudding you’ve ever had.” Spoiler alert: It is.

Flood’s bar program also tethers itself to a romantic yet largely dreamed-up past. Its curt wine list of nine (total) bottles and glasses, almost all French or Italian, recalls not-too-distant decades when American drinkers still ignored New World wines.

The cocktail list, while erected on a foundation of Sazeracs, gin martinis and daiquiris, also introduces some contemporary flavor profiles, including guava, curry and warm-spice Falernum syrup as part of the refreshing Be Ernest ($9), and subtle black tea and lemon in the C.M.P ($12) – a clever reference both to the clarified milk punch process used to strain out cloudiness, as well as to the restaurant’s power supplier.

The Heirloom tomato salad is one of the more modern, vegetable-focused dishes at Flood’s. Buy this Photo

More modern culinary references sneak onto the menu here and there, like an artistic smear of house-made ricotta whipped with cream that softens the acidity in a chunky heirloom tomato salad ($15), or Japanese and Italian eggplants roasted until custardy with crisp, sweet (and recently rediscovered, very on-trend) Jimmy Nardello peppers ($8).

Yet these plates feel like pleasant surprises, never out of step with what Greg Mitchell describes as the other “Old-World, tavern-influenced” dishes. Indeed, they offer a more vegetable-friendly balance than you might have encountered last century, at a real-world version of Flood’s.

There, the most you might have hoped for would be the few snippings of chive scattered over a ramekin of homemade aioli, a sauce for the playfully named Sardine Party appetizer ($10) – a pile of hand-cut waffle potato chips, tin of plump Portuguese sardines and a chili-coated lemon wedge. I struggled a bit with the unremitting savoriness of the dish, but perhaps that’s the point.

“It’s very much a chef’s kind of snack,” Mitchell said. “Kitchen people love tinned fish and pickled stuff. When I’m at home, I’ll eat sardines with pickles or mustard.”

Another dish that could have used a bit more balance is the porchetta ($28) – a coil of crunchy-crusted, fennel-and-thyme-stuffed pork belly, served bare, like a chop, with only blistered, vinegar-tossed cherry tomatoes on the plate. A solid dish, but absent anything starchy or neutral flavored to absorb the fatty richness (including slicks of oil pooling on the plate), it was a challenge to finish.

Contrast that with Flood’s stupidly excellent cheeseburger ($18), which not only did I down but made me consider changing my evening plans to fit in another before the restaurant’s later-than-average closing time of 10 p.m. It’s hard to go wrong when all the components are this superb: a grass-fed, Maine beef patty ground in-house and seared hard; charred yellow onion relish; crisp-tart homemade pickle chips and a seeded potato bun baked across the street by Briana Holt at Tandem Bakery.

I laughed when I saw it was listed on the menu as The Celebrated Cheeseburger. How, I wondered aloud to my dinner guest, could a 3-month-old restaurant already have developed such burger-based clout?

“We saw that phrase when we were working on branding. It was from an old restaurant’s menu that said they were still selling their celebrated hamburger,” Mitchell said. “So when we used it on our opening day, we did it with a little wink. Of course nobody had eaten it. It’s fabricated history. But now they have, and we hope in time they celebrate it.”

When they do – and they will – I want an invitation.

Andrew Ross has written about food and dining in New York and the United Kingdom. He and his work have been featured on Martha Stewart Living Radio and in The New York Times. He is the recipient of two 2018 Critic’s Awards from the Maine Press Association.

Contact him at: [email protected]

Twitter: @AndrewRossME

Flood’s named its Celebrated Cheeseburger before anyone had even tried it, but it’s quickly becoming an accurate moniker. Buy this Photo


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