WISCASSET — The Barnhouse Grill and Pub has been open a year. I have driven by it numerous times on Route 1 and had not stopped, until recently, when pangs of hunger – and a powerful thirst – won out.

The place was utterly empty, including behind the bar, when I walked in on a warm, sunny weekday afternoon. There might have been someone in the kitchen, but it was quiet. Soon enough, a super-friendly bartender emerged from a side door leading to an outside patio. She had been outside enjoying the sunshine, and I happened to outpace her inside the restaurant.

I took a seat at the bar, ordered a tap and perused the menu. My first impressions were positive. I was so hungry, everything looked good, and there was plenty to choose from – sandwiches, burritos, burgers. The bar was clean and bright, and the bartender gregarious. Soon enough, a friend of hers joined from outside, taking a seat at the other end of the bar. Then another friend showed up, and pretty soon there was a small party happening.

Turns out, the young woman who served me was a recent graduate of Wiscasset High School, where an older brother of mine recently retired after a long and honorable teaching career. When she learned that I was Mr. Keyes’s younger brother, she gave me all the attention I could hope for. “He made science fun,” she said of my brother.

The others chimed in with words of praise for my brother’s work, and I could not have been made to feel more welcome – or proud.

The Speedway Cheesesteak is well-named: It was gone in minutes. Photo by Bob Keyes

I debated a pulled pork sandwich ($12.95) and the half-pound Barnhouse burger ($13.95), served with lettuce, tomato, cheese, onions and pickles, and settled on the Speedway Cheesesteak ($13.95), named in honor of the local racetrack that is known for its speed. As the only one who ordered food at that time, I benefited from the swift work of the kitchen staff, and my sandwich arrived in minutes.

Loaded with onions and peppers and dripping with gooey melted cheese, the cheesesteak was everything I wanted – thinly shaved steak, piping hot and served on a soft bun, with super-crisp fries. The steak strips didn’t pull apart as much as melt in my mouth. Keeping with a speedy theme, I think I devoured the sandwich more quickly than the time it took for the kitchen to prepare it. It was so good.

The restaurant operates in the former home of Simpson’s Ocean Fresh Seafood. The new owners renovated the building inside and out, and opened exactly a year ago, the week before Christmas.

The Barnhouse Grill and Pub is among several new establishments that have opened along this busy stretch of Route 1 since the beginning of the pandemic, from Bath to Waldoboro. There are a couple of other pubs that look interesting, and several medical and recreation marijuana stores along the way as well.

In the beforetimes, I used to blow through Wiscasset as quickly as possible, never stopping in hopes of getting on the other side of the bridge, whichever way I was going. Now, there are plenty of reasons to slow down, stop and enjoy.


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