I’m writing this review as a free therapy session for the owners of The Francis hotel. Nearly everyone loves what you’ve done with the place. Stately, luxe, with plenty of modern twists and updates, it’s a gorgeous renovation. You should be proud.

And I get it, I’m a ditherer, too. Put me in a grocery store with no list, and I’m likely to show up at the checkout with backup options, as well as a few extra backups-to-the-backups, just in case. But I do give myself credit for a very niche brand of certainty: I know a good restaurant when I see one.

Since 2017, you’ve played host to three of them adjacent to the walls of your 1881 West End mansion, each better than the last. Bolster & Snow might have been a little too conceptually indistinct, but it had some of the best appetizers in town. Flood’s also might have been an imperfect fit, with its millennial hipster buzz and slim food menu, but it was worth preserving for its burger alone. Now Wayside Tavern, which opened in mid 2021, has slipped like a hermit crab into the space left behind by Flood’s.

Naturally, owners Siobhan and Michael Sindoni – long-time veterans of the restaurant industry and former operators of the Roll Call food truck – haven’t left the interior untouched. They’ve made it their own with a few licks of forest-green paint that shade darker as you walk through the two front dining rooms, whimsical brass sconces and a butter-colored bespoke couch (made by local designer Rachel Schwartz) alongside a tiled fireplace in an almost-hidden back dining room.

The grapefruit highball at Wayside Tavern. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

What I’m trying to say is simple: This is where six years of an endless pilot season on Congress Street should end. Another roll of the dice isn’t going to bring a better outcome. You’ve found your winner. More importantly, we Portlanders have, too.

I’ve had the same thought on both of my recent visits to Wayside Tavern. The first, as I sat at the marble-topped bar, sipping an astringent Alta Verde amaro-augmented Negroni ($12) on a Monday night, listening to the sounds of two line cooks from a restaurant down the street “crushing” their evening-special smashburgers ($10). Then again last week, at a window-side table as I sneaked sips of my dinner guest’s perky, slightly saline grapefruit highball ($12).


At the next table, a man finishing off a serving of the night’s one dessert – an appealing tiramisu ($8) inebriated on rum and, for a dash of Maine, coffee brandy. The man (who was not inebriated) leaned over to announce proudly, “This is my favorite restaurant in the city.”

I nodded. By the end of the meal, I could see his point.

Beer-battered cod cheeks and roasted chicken on bread at Wayside Tavern. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

Across chef Michael Sindoni’s concise (but not too concise) menu of gorgeously executed “European-inspired” dishes, an undercurrent of familiar, comforting cooking burbles. For an extraordinary dish called simply “roasted chicken” ($24), he griddles chicken thighs, slices them into crisp-skinned morsels, then fans these over grill-marked slices of Standard Baking sourdough to perch atop a generous layer of homemade ricotta. Imagine dunking bread into the warm, savory juices from a Thanksgiving bird, and you’ll get a sense of why this dish evokes such soothing, homey feelings.

Or the eggplant terrine with house-made mozzarella ($13), which to my surprise, turned out not to be a layered-and-pressed appetizer, but a plate of fancy eggplant parm served in a single-serving gratin dish. That’s not a criticism; the terrine’s gooey cheese and low-thrum spiciness made it worth the price, as did the addition of a slice of homemade pizza bianco for dunking.

I wouldn’t have thought to order the cheeseless flatbread with that dish, but our server certainly did. She also didn’t upsell us – or not quite: “I love that eggplant with some of our fresh pizza bianco, but I can also see if I can grab a few pieces for you, if you’re not sure.” She did just that. Throughout the evening she was an able guide, helping us select a sturdy bottle of slightly effervescent Sicilian Frappato ($52) from general manager and sommelier Siobhan Sindoni’s extensive, mostly European list of what winemaker Martha Stoumen might term “varietally correct” wines.

True, wines by the bottle are on the moderately pricey side at Wayside Tavern, with all bottles coming in north of $40, but glasses are cheaper than you might expect for a restaurant of this caliber ($12-15), as are the selection of canned and draft beers ($5-9) and a brief list of upgraded classic cocktails ($9-15).


This is no insignificant point, considering that the Sindonis would like Wayside to appeal to a broader customer base than wealthy tourists and West Enders. “It’s such a fine line to walk, and it can backfire so often when you’re trying to be a place that appeals to everyone,” Siobhan Sindoni said. “We try to be thoughtful about giving people options, though. We don’t want to miss out on that ‘I want to go out and get a great bottle of Champagne’ celebration moment, and we also know that sometimes people don’t want to spend a lot of money. So we give them a chance to do both. We’re doing a disservice if we aren’t doing that.”

There are indeed several paths through the menu, from blowout meals to simpler fare, like terrific beer-battered cod cheeks ($6 each) that unite British chip-shop cooking with herby, tangy French sauce gribiche. Grab two and a Bissel Brothers Substance on draft ($7), and you’ve got a $20 excuse to sit on that yellow sofa and peruse one of the dozens of cookbooks that decorate nearly every flat surface in the restaurant.

But don’t neglect the route that takes you through Middle Europe, with stops at Napa cabbage salad tossed with crispy bacon shards, fried shallots and a buttermilk-and-dill dressing ($12) and pork schnitzel ($26) – memorable for the parmesan-enhanced breading as well as a ribbon-cut fennel-and-celery salad that will make you forget coleslaw forever.

One of the many things I like about Wayside Tavern is that the Sindonis have made a conscious choice not to surrender their menus to seasonality, as many similar restaurants have. Yes, I love eating whatever is in the farmers market, but I also know that many talented chefs have burned themselves out after a few months struggling to puzzle out how to feed 200 people an elegant rutabaga dish.

“We’re not a restaurant that changes the menu every day or every week. We’ll make tweaks if we need to make something better, but we like to honor classics,” Michael Sindoni said. “And it can take some time to figure out how to tie in a beverage menu and food. If I’m a guest in a restaurant, sometimes I want to see that connection to something I recognize, or something familiar I’ve eaten before. We want people to know what they’re getting into.”

Eschewing what your chef contemporaries are doing and aiming for competent, comforting cooking with an evergreen list of wines and classic cocktails takes confidence. Both Sindonis have it, and so does Wayside Tavern. I don’t know if its predecessors did. But I do know this: That assuredness is already well-earned, and I think I speak for Portland when I say that I’d love the opportunity to watch it grow.


Tika Turner, left, and Allie Clement, both of Portland, chat over dinner at Wayside Tavern. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

RATING: ****

WHERE: 747 Congress St., Portland. 207-613-9568. waysidetavernmaine.com

SERVING: Sunday, Monday, Thursday 4-9 p.m., Friday & Saturday 4-9:30 p.m.

PRICE RANGE: Small plates: $4-$14. Main dishes: $19-37

NOISE LEVEL: Hardware store

VEGETARIAN: Some dishes


RESERVATIONS: Available through Resy

BAR: Beer, wine and cocktails


BOTTOM LINE: The third time is the charm, they say. Let’s hope that holds true for Wayside Tavern, the most recent resident of the The Francis hotel’s restaurant space. Cast in deep greens, golds and Victorian-era stained wood, this European-inspired restaurant (read: mostly Italian and French) is the sort of bistro-esque neighborhood restaurant any locality would be lucky to have. The cocktail menu takes familiar classics like negronis and boozy spritzes and tweaks them just enough so you’d notice only if you’re paying attention. The menu does the same, although it also plays with format, reimagining a roast chicken as an open-faced sandwich slathered in ricotta and pine nuts, soaking up the fat and juices from griddled chicken thighs. Eggplant parm becomes a small, perfectly formed “terrine” enriched by homemade, full-fat ricotta, an ideal foil for a glass of a robust Italian Frappato. The restaurant itself creates flexibility for diners – come in for a full meal or just a plate of gorgeous, beer-battered cod cheeks and a glass of wine. Warm, intelligent service helps make Wayside Tavern the kind of restaurant that this neighborhood has been waiting for.

Ratings follow this scale and take into consideration food, atmosphere, service, value and type of restaurant (a casual bistro will be judged as a casual bistro, an expensive upscale restaurant as such):

* Poor
** Fair
*** Good
**** Excellent
***** Extraordinary

The Maine Sunday Telegram visits each restaurant once; if the first meal was unsatisfactory, the reviewer returns for a second. The reviewer makes every attempt to dine anonymously and never accepts free food or drink.

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 five recent Critic’s Awards from the Maine Press Association.

Contact him at: andrewross.maine@gmail.com
Twitter: @AndrewRossME

The eggplant terrine at Wayside Tavern. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

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