Over the years, I’ve spent a significant chunk of my time visiting Brunswick inside the sprawling Fort Andross complex. Sometimes it’s the antique shops that draw me in, sometimes the flea market, or the outstanding winter farmers market, or the tile shop. Other times, I go inside because I’m hungry.

Prior to the pandemic, my main mealtime destination was Frontier, an eclectic restaurant whose windows overlooked a coursing cataract on the Androscoggin River. Much as I enjoyed eating there, I always felt the dining room (and the movie theater, event space and adjacent café) was too cavernous, too out-of-scale. Too much of the room felt wasted.

Walking into Nomad Pizza, the New Jersey-based, Neapolitan-style pizza restaurant that took over the yawning space, I expected something even sparser, now that 18 years of accumulated furniture, knickknacks and art have been removed after Frontier’s final service last summer. Instead, I smiled and couldn’t believe what I saw.

Diners at Nomad, in Fort Andross, can take in views of the Androscoggin River with their pizza. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

It turns out that all the enormous room really needed was an equally gigantic feature to anchor the room. In this case: a Skowhegan-built oven that stands 7 feet tall (without heels) and weighs in at 9,000 pounds – more than two Ford F150 trucks.

“I think it’s the biggest oven Maine Wood Heat makes,” Nomad’s chef and general manager, Matt Shankle, told me. “It’s funny to think that Tom (Grim, Nomad’s owner) started selling pizza from the back of a 1948 REO Speedwagon back in ’07, and then we had a little pizza truck here in Maine last year, and now we have this huge oven that’s bigger than anything in the Philadelphia or New Jersey restaurants! It’s so beautiful with the copper patina. We love it.”

Chuffing away at 850-900 degrees, this hardwood-fueled colossus can transform the restaurant’s four-day-leavened dough into a magnificently blistered crust in just under two minutes.


Perhaps the best way to experience what the oven and Nomad’s pizzaioli can do is to order one of the hand-thrown pies, like the Guanciale ($20), strewn with baby spinach, parmesan and membrane-thin slices of pancetta-esque guanciale that curls and bubbles as it cooks. The pie starts out savory, then yields to a covert ingredient: fig jam. Overall, it’s a lovely pizza with a sly balance of flavors. At your table, you can improve that equilibrium further with a few pepperoncini flakes.

The meatballs, with garlic croutons and ricotta, get a shower of parmesan cheese. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

Order the meatball appetizer – at $18, this dish is large and pricey enough to be an entrée – and you’ll discover the dish is served with a half-moon of oil-and-garlic-slathered dough that’s fired quickly, then sliced and served as “croutons” to dunk in Nomad’s slow-bubbled marinara.

The meatballs themselves? Tender and seasoned beautifully. “We get our meatball mix, which is a blend of heritage pork and beef, from The Milkhouse (in South China),” Shankle said. “We add breadcrumbs, milk, genuine Parmigiano Reggiano, oregano, and then cook them like an overnight stew in the sauce. Except that in Philly or Jersey, they would never call it ‘sauce,’ they’d call it ‘gravy.’”

The Trenton Tomato Pie. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

That gravy isn’t for meatballs alone. While the other tomato-sauced pies receive a ladling of simple crushed San Marzano tomatoes and salt, the Trenton pie ($16) gets dollops of Nomad’s slow-simmered sauce. Known elsewhere as a “Trenton tomato pie,” this regional classic is layered unusually. Ultra-thin rolled (not hand-stretched) dough is topped first with cheese, and only then with the restaurant’s sweet-tangy marinara. Inverting the order of layers puts more of an emphasis on the flavor of the toppings and sauce. Here, you can taste the Calabrian dried oregano and shredded fresh basil from Olivia’s Garden nestled into pockets of sauce.

“That pizza was a secret menu item in the other restaurants. If you knew, you knew,” Shankle said. “We’d always have the stuff to make it, but it got to the point where it was so popular we realized we had to put it on our regular menu up here. In both places, it’s all about the gravy.”

Don’t let the Tri-State slang fool you: Nomad does a terrific job of retaining its connection to its place of origin while still honoring its newest home. “It’s funny. A lot of people don’t think about New Jersey like this, but down there, we’re surrounded by a lot of farms where we can source things,” Shankle said. “But up here, it’s incredible. It’s like Maine has farms all over the place, so it’s really easy for us.”


As an example, take the Sprigge Negroni ($15), an astringent, herbal take on the classic cocktail (such an in-house favorite that it even gets a poster on the wall) that gets a local twist from Maine Craft Distilling gin. Or more importantly, when the weather is warm enough, the restaurant sources its goat cheese from Grim’s son and daughter-in-law, who operate Cosmic Goat Farm in Litchfield.

On the citrus salad ($12), fresh crumbles of that local cheese were the highlight amid an otherwise sloppy and overdressed tumble of arugula, shaved fennel bulb and pomegranate seeds. On the kale-and-romaine Caesar ($15), overdressing was also a problem, as was a comically outsized blanket of finely grated parmesan. I love cheese, but in a salad like this, I prefer more crucifers than curds.

Matt Shankle, chef-manager at Nomad, tosses pizza dough. (Don’t try this at home.) The gargantuan Maine Wood Heat oven, which can cook pizzas in under two minutes, is behind him. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

Still, I’m inclined to give Nomad a little leeway when it comes to perfecting plating and correcting ratios and proportions for a brand new clientele. In their new kitchen, the chefs also have had to adapt to an exponential expansion in physical space and equipment.

“Our pizzerias in New Jersey basically didn’t have kitchens, per se. Just ovens on the floor, and everything we cooked was in those ovens, except a little induction heater here and there,” Shankle said. “In the old Frontier space, we have a full-on, gigantic kitchen, and we are adding menu items as we learn the best ways to utilize that stuff.”

They’ve started with the electric ovens – commercial ones that don’t operate at the temperature of molten lava. Here, they bake girthy, cakey brown-butter chocolate chip cookies served á la mode with a baseball-sized serving of slightly icy vanilla soft-serve, dribbles of fruity extra-virgin olive oil, and flakey Maldon salt ($8).

If you’re wondering why they don’t use the wood-fired oven for pastries, there are two answers. The first is simple: That fiery beast never really gets cool enough for delicate cooking. But second is that Nomad already shares the residual heat left behind when they stop literally feeding the flames each night.


Once Nomad starts flipping over the chairs, Dutchman’s (the neighbor who now occupies Frontier’s former café space) arrives to finish off wood-fired bagels over the leftover embers. “It is so well-insulated that it drops in temp, but nothing past 600 or 700 degrees. Perfect for baking bread,” Shankle said. “Plus, Jeremy (Kratzer, Dutchman’s owner and baker) used to work with us, so he knows that oven, even though he’s not part of Nomad anymore. It’s nice because now from Thursday to Sunday, we can make total use of the energy. There’s a lot for us here, and we want to use all of it…not waste a thing.”

RATING: ***1/2

WHERE: Fort Andross, 14 Maine St., Brunswick. 207-707-3050. nomadmaine.com

SERVING:  Wednesday and Thursday, 4-9 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, noon-9 p.m.; Sunday, noon-8 p.m.

PRICE RANGE: Appetizers: $12-$18, Pizza and pasta: $12-$22

NOISE LEVEL: Ferry terminal


VEGETARIAN: Many dishes


BAR: Beer, wine and cocktails


BOTTOM LINE: Opening a large, 120-seat(ish) restaurant in Brunswick’s Fort Andross Mill complex is no easy task. It is made even more difficult when the business you replace is a quirky, beloved one like Frontier was. But Tom Grim and Matt Shankle, both transplants from the Central New Jersey/Philadelphia area, have already put their own stamp on the place. Inside, it looks better than it ever has, with a Paul Bunyan-sized wood oven to anchor the space and a more open seating plan. Pizzas are great and promise to get better, especially hand-thrown standouts like bacon-like guanciale with spinach. Pork-and-beef meatballs made from locally sourced meat and served with crisp, garlicky pizza “croutons” are a must-order. Skip salads and go right for dessert, particularly the plump, soft brown-butter chocolate chip cookie served with soft-serve ice cream and a drizzle of excellent olive oil.

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. 

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