The show-stopping Congdon’s Donut Grilled Cheese with Garlic-Tomato Bisque at Odd By Nature Brewing in Cape Neddick. Photo by Tim Cebula

Last month, my colleague made a strong argument for not ordering a grilled cheese when she goes out to eat. She reasoned that she makes perfectly scrumptious grilled cheese sandwiches at home, where she tailors her gooey creations with a few flavor boosters like pesto, olives or jam when the mood strikes.

I can relate. But the Congdon’s Donut Grilled Cheese is one of the main reasons I headed down Route 1 with my friend and ever-eager dining companion, Bob, to try Odd By Nature Brewing in Cape Neddick. And, yes, you read that right: Congdon’s Donut Grilled Cheese. But more on that in a bit.

We parked in the nearly full dirt lot adjacent to Odd By Nature on a recent Sunday afternoon. We walked past the outdoor dining area with picnic tables and heaters, behind which stands the Food For Thought mobile kitchen. Odd By Nature owner Jay Grey opened the Food For Thought restaurant in Ogunquit in May 2019, and it has since received national praise from major outlets like Eater.com. Then he opened Odd By Nature last June. Grey said Odd By Nature uses the mobile kitchen to serve brewery customers dishes created by Food For Thought’s executive chef, Bradley Andries, during the offseason while the Ogunquit restaurant is closed.

Odd By Nature’s taproom is on the ground floor of a nondescript, three-story building. The interior is casual and open with colorful art hanging on bright green and hot pink walls. I’m no fan of overhead florescent lighting, but the room was filled with happy patrons and smiling staff who lent a welcoming vibe to the basement rec-room aesthetic. And when your order arrives, it becomes clear that Odd By Nature would rather thrill customers with the quality of its beer and food than the look of the room itself.

The menu features “snacks” like beet fries or chips and hummus, a few entrees under “Maines,” including a ramen bowl with tonkotsu pork broth and pork belly, and five “handhelds” like sandwiches and burgers. I ordered an Impossible Big Mac ($16), one of nine gluten-free offerings on the Odd By Nature menu that day. The meat-free spin on the McDonald’s classic uses plant-based burger patties from Impossible Foods.

Meat-loving Bob did not know this about the Impossible Big Mac when I asked him to try a bite, because I’m that kind of friend. He was astonished to learn the patties were 100 percent vegan, since they had the taste and texture of well-seasoned ground beef. I’ve made Impossible burgers at home before and found that their faint soy and beet flavors come forward when eaten plain, making them best served with plenty of condiments, as Odd By Nature does.

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The Impossible Big Mac is a three-napkin affair, draped with house-made special sauce and melty vegan cheddar cheese. Its pillowy kaiser roll broke down partway through, as did the patties, leaving me to finish the rest of this impossibly tasty sandwich in chunks. This is not a complaint – it’s part of the fun with food like this.

Meanwhile, Bob was absorbed in his own order, the gluten-free Odd By Nature Burger ($16) made with fresh ground ribeye beef – a pricey, well marbled cut you don’t often see ground for burgers – cheddar cheese and heirloom tomato bacon jam. It’s an excellent burger that Bob thought paired well with the brewery’s own Kowakian Monkey Lizard, an imperial IPA with floral and fruity notes and a dry finish. Our orders both came with thick-cut house-made potato chips that had great crunch and just enough salt.

Chicken Pot Pie Dumplings at Odd By Nature Brewing. Photo by Tim Cebula

We shared the Chicken Pot Pie Dumplings ($14) from the menu’s “snacks” listings. The dish sounds like something you might have at, say, Cracker Barrel, but you come to trust the vision at Odd By Nature because the food upends your expectations in the best possible ways.

Served in a convenient to-go container like the other food here – with the notable exception of the Congdon’s Donut Grilled Cheese – the seven dumplings were like steamed chicken-vegetable Japanese gyoza, with a deep brown sear on one side of each. They rested in creamy, savory sauce studded with plump English green peas and topped with fresh chopped parsley. The dish is a deliciously inspired deconstruction, homey comfort food with an elegant edge.

Now on to the star of the show. But first, a cautionary tale. Odd By Nature’s menu has two grilled cheese sandwiches listed, one made with honey-dipped doughnuts from Congdon’s Bakery in Wells, and one they call the “classic” grilled cheese. I didn’t know this at first, and simply ordered a grilled cheese, which got me the classic version. And it’s probably a fine sandwich, but per my colleague’s rule, I felt no need to try it. So if you want the Congdon’s Donut Grilled Cheese, ask for it by name.

Part of what makes this order special is the dramatic presentation. Two glazed donuts serve as the bun, which hold a whopping half-pound blend of Manchego, mozzarella and provolone cheeses, or as the menu puts it, “all the cheese.” The finished sandwich, caramelized and crisped up on both sides, hangs vertically from a black metal banana rack above a bowl of velvety garlic-tomato bisque. Gobs of melted cheese drip down slowly from the doughnut “buns” in a thick rope, straight into the soup. Seconds later, the glistening grilled cheese threatens to break off the hook under its own weight.

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I don’t often find sandwiches suspenseful, but this one is special. When the bartender set the loaded sandwich-and-soup rack gingerly before us, the entire bar seemed to stop and watch to see what would happen next.

What happened next was that Bob and I tore into it like grunting savages. We pulled the sandwich off the rack, broke it into pieces and stirred them into the soup at the bartender’s smart suggestion.

Customers nearby waited for Bob’s verdict as he took his first bite. He chewed slowly, thoughtfully. His eyes rolled back in head, prompting knowing chuckles around the bar. “That,” he said at last, “should be illegal.”

The sweet honey from the doughnuts that I worried might be distracting or overpowering turned out to be just the right component to balance the salty, creamy cheese and the rich, tangy bisque. It’s a decadent dish, more geared to Eat & Nap than Eat & Run, though all the wonderfully satisfying food at Odd By Nature is available to go.

Still, I’d recommend not rushing through your meal here. Food for Thought’s cooking is very well executed and its imaginative, conversation-piece dishes make the Odd By Nature dining experience loads of fun, something we could all use a little more of these days.


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