I like my martinis the way I like my modern interior design: never neat, and with a twist. What I mean is that too much teak and Scandinavian practicality comes off as dull and hidebound, but add in a few soft geometric forms, some pastels, velvet, even a little carpet, and you’re on to something I’ll love. On this count, The Danforth, a bar/restaurant opened last July by the Gin & Luck company – the crew behind New York’s celebrated Death & Co. cocktail bar – acquits itself splendidly.

The restaurant’s appealing take on midcentury style draws mostly from the early 1960s, with a few clever twists of inspiration from the 1970s. Think “Mad Men” with a little “Rhoda” flair. Plus, the bar serves a wonderfully dirty, grapefruit-bitter martini (The Chosen One, $14).

“The overall aesthetic was guided by AAmp Studio, our design partner. We wanted to center on the idea of comfort, of physically sinking into the space,” co-owner Alex Day said. “We also wanted to make sure we weren’t getting too close to the Death & Co. aesthetic, which can be viciously dark, let’s be honest. This has more color and brightness.”

While the room that opens out from the entrance is indeed rather dusky and gray, there are counterbalancing warm elements like mirrored shelves stocked with bottles and potted plants that echo the illuminated strip of fern-green along the underside of the bar. But this is just the appetizer. Take a step down into the semi-subterranean lounge, and you’ll spot circles and half-moons, swivel chairs and upholstered booths, not to mention luxuriously retro wall-to-wall carpet. Talk about sinking into the space!

During my visit last week, my guests and I were seated in yet another enticing space: the covered rear patio, where the vibe is comfortable and space-heater swanky. I had requested a table out back because on a previous trip to The Danforth, I had gotten wedged into the lounge room with what felt like a few hundred other patrons. Despite the soft furnishings and sound-absorbing shag, the lounge area can sometimes feel at once a bit claustrophobic and clamorous. Expect more of that when tourist season arrives.

On this night, however, the restaurant had filled only about a quarter of its hundred-ish seats. That didn’t stop what seemed like the entire staff – front-of-house and back – from visiting our table one-by-one that evening. I’m pretty sure I was spotted.


“It’s like that scene on the stairs in ‘The Sound of Music,’” one of my guests quipped, as he spooned dynamite chive-speckled roasted beets and whipped ricotta ($15) onto his plate. “By the end of the night, we’ll have seen everyone including the accountant!”

The Salad at The Danforth, made with lettuces, capers, parmesan, anchovies, shallots, cured egg yolk and out-of-this-world delicious croutons. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

I laughed and took a bite of parm-blanketed greens, a dish billed simply as “The Salad” ($9/$16). Friends had raved about this particular salad, and when one of our many servers brought the prodigiously portioned dish out, I marveled at its presentation. Over the top yet artful, showered with grated, salt-cured egg-yolk, chef Michael Boomhower’s Caesaresque specialty is impressive to behold. “Here’s Katahdin,” our server joked. Not far off, I thought to myself.

“I wanted a grand, shareable salad that felt like you were sitting home with your family, a salad you serve with forks, not tongs, and just the most ridiculous amount of parm possible … like you just got home and your mom put it down on the table,” Boomhower said.

He achieved what he set out to do, but the salad’s biggest flex isn’t his own. As much as I enjoyed the caper-juice-spiked dressing, the highlight of my climb up this specific Katahdin was the bowl of Zu Bakery croutons (served separately for my gluten-avoidant guest). “We take leftover bread from our bread & butter service ($12), chunk it up and fry it. That’s it. We’re just letting Barak (Olins, Zu Bakery’s owner and chef) do his thing.”

Sure, he didn’t bake the bread for the croutons, but I give Boomhower full credit for knowing how to make use of a transcendent ingredient, exactly as he does with Maine Grains polenta that he sears and stacks into a sort-of terrine with alternating layers of garlicky mushroom duxelle ($29), or Jasper Hill’s Bayley Hazen blue cheese – a key component in his sumptuous, if a bit too-savory Duchess potatoes ($8).

The Danforth’s half-chicken with Marsala pan sauce and roasted carrots. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

You could argue that the same forces are at play in the half-chicken and root-vegetable entrée ($36). Here though, it’s the house-butchered Commonwealth Farm chicken that shines, thanks to Boomhower’s cider-and-citrus-brine and fantastic Marsala pan sauce. “Nothing says Americana like a roasted chicken,” he said. “For us in the kitchen, it’s also an opportunity for me to help our younger cooks learn. Some have never broken down a chicken, so they learn about saving the unused parts to make a stock.”


Boomhower takes educating his team seriously, showing back-of-house staff how to grind chuck, and render the tallow with rosemary and thyme, all in service of preparing The Danforth’s mononymous Burger ($18), which comes with delightful house-cut shoestring French fries, cognac-caramelized onions and aged cheddar cheese. It’s a home run.

“Every cook starts with a burger, gets away from it and then falls back in love with it again. That’s where I’m at now,” he said.

Boomhower doesn’t stop there. He offers greener cooks a spot preparing the restaurant’s trimmed-down late-night menu (offered until 1 a.m.), even going so far as to get dishwashers involved. “Man, nobody wants to be a dishwasher for their whole life, so I like to give them a chance to help with the garm (garde manger, or cold-food prep). It’s a way to organically get some food into their hands and a way for them to figure out if they might want to cook someday,” he said.

If my experience last week is any indication, some of the front-of-house staff might also be ready for a little refresher course. Toward the end of our meal, as we were nibbling contentedly on sous chef Nikkol Mulligan’s malty, chewy tahini cookies with chocolate chips ($11), one of the bartenders pulled up a chair at an empty two-top close to ours, plopped himself down and bellowed at top volume for 15 minutes or so.

The noise might have been less annoying if all of our cocktails had been up to par with the food. In particular, the Peak Bagger ($15), a translucent, wine-based cocktail made with pear juice, aquavit and dry Riesling, was practically flavorless, perhaps due to dilution from the snow-cone-sized serving of nugget ice in the glass.

The Gran Paradiso cocktail, made with tequila, pomegranate, cider vermouth, lemon juice and guajillo chili sugar salt. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

On the other hand, the Gran Paradiso ($14), a whisperingly spicy re-imagining of a margarita, was much better, if a touch heavy on the sugary pomegranate. But the best drink of the night was the gingery and perfectly balanced, nonalcoholic Artificial Light ($11), made with watermelon, candied ginger and Three Spirit Livener, a spirit stand-in concocted from botanical extracts.


Drinking a boozeless mixed drink seemed appropriate for an evening at an unconventionally attractive venue that purrs seductively at you throughout your visit. I wound up ordering two Artificial Lights as I tried not to get caught up in prior expectations and to instead let myself sink into the unique, groovy space.

And for dessert, a return to childhood: The Cookies & Milk. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

RATING: ****
WHERE: 211 Danforth St., 207-536-0361. thedanforth.me
SERVING: Daily, 4-10 p.m. for dinner, 10 p.m.-1 a.m. for late-night menu; Sunday brunch, 11 a.m.-3 p.m.
PRICE RANGE: Appetizers: $12-$21, Entrees: $18-$57
NOISE LEVEL: Helicopter ride
VEGETARIAN: Many dishes
RESERVATIONS: Yes. Strongly recommended for dining
BAR: Beer, wine and cocktails

BOTTOM LINE: The Danforth is buzzy for good reason. Opened last July by the owners of New York’s Death & Co. bar, this lounge/restaurant is decorated sumptuously, taking midcentury modern tropes and inflecting them with a hint of ’70s mod glam. It is an exceedingly appealing restaurant to stare at from a seat in the plush lounge. Drinks are a bit hit-or-miss, but the bar staff knows how to shake up a tasty nonalcoholic drink, so order a gingery Artificial Light and ask for a food menu. Here, The Danforth is on solid ground, thanks to executive chef Michael Boomhower’s menu of comforting “Americana” classics. His super-savory burger is good, but even better is his juicy, pan-roasted half-chicken, and coyly named “Salad” which derives its oomph from a caper-enriched, Caesar dressing and a handful of perhaps the best croutons I’ve tasted in my life. Count on this summer to bring more buzz, so plan accordingly.

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

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