The Burano “Specktacular,” left, and the Spicy Soppressata pizzas at Burano’s newest branch, this one in Scarborough. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

What do restaurant reviews and iPhones have in common? Both are most useful (and most interesting to engage with) when they’re first released. After a few years, though, they lose their relevance. Sure, you might go back to read a review of Fore Street from 1998, but you’d do so in the same way you’d unearth your dusty iPhone 4, just to have a peek at your archived text messages. Reviews, like old smartphones, quickly fade into historical artifacts.

I suspect this review won’t take long to age. Perhaps even quicker than most reviews do. But more on that later.

In this little snapshot of mid-July at Burano’s Wood-Fired Pizzeria in Scarborough, you can see a restaurant that started off with some advantages. When the Scarborough location – next door to the new Rosemont/Harbor Fish Market hybrid on U.S. Route 1 – appeared in November, owner Robert Whisenant was able to build on his recent experiences opening Burano’s two sibling restaurants.

A pizza cooks in the wood-fired oven at Burano’s. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

Whisenant purchased his first Italian pizza oven off Craigslist several years ago, then used it in his Sabattus farm for family gatherings and fundraising events before realizing that the hulking machine required more protection than an outdoor home could provide. His first restaurant in Bath provided that shelter in 2019.

Two years and a few thousand pizzas later, he opened another in Hallowell. At the time, both were called “Bruno’s,” after Whisenant’s German shepherd. All three restaurants share nearly identical menus, making them more like triplets. But when it came time for the move into Scarborough, a naming conflict with a Portland restaurant forced a bit of improvisation and reinvention.

“When the restaurants were both called Bruno’s Wood Fired Pizza, we had everything on the menu branded as ‘Bruno’s,’ so you can imagine how disruptive that was,” he said. “But we really tried to see it as an opportunity. We decided with the name change, we’d look for a way to tie our colorful design and artwork into a new identity, and we did research and found the island of Burano in (Venice) Italy, where there’s a lot of color and really, just life. And the name also fit.”


In the converted police/fire station that Whisenant and his partners found in Scarborough, there were plenty of opportunities to take an uninspiring brick-and-metal space and infuse it with some life. Wagon-wheel chandeliers, solid-beam benches and a lacquered bar were built from reclaimed lumber by Red Barn Furniture & Millwork in Topsham. For pops of color, Whisenant added small, refurbished fire hydrants as supports for 12 draft beer and cider taps, as well as golden-hued Edison bulbs that sparkle from firehouse ladders suspended from the vaulted ceiling.

What’s more, the new name also provided “an opportunity to create a new flagship pizza like we had never had before,” Whisenant said. The result is the Burano’s “Specktacular” (all pizzas are $13.95 for 8”/$17.95 for 12”), a pie that is almost French in its flavor profile: Gruyere cheese, speck ham, roasted cremini mushrooms, red onions and a mountain of olive-oil-dressed arugula on top. It’s like a Croque Monsieur sandwich in pizza form, and it’s fantastic, due in no small part to the char-speckled, overnight-risen crust.

“We fire our Neopolitan pizza ovens with maple, mostly, so you can get that crunch on the outside and chewiness on the inside,” Whisenant said.

As we spoke, I started to understand how his thinking about pizza pivots around the idea of contrasts. Chewy vs. crunchy, soft vs. firm and, perhaps most obviously to someone who spots a Burano’s pie and its tangle of green arugula, hot vs. cold.

“On a summer day, topping a pizza with arugula is incredible,” he said. “When I was first introduced to it, I didn’t know why the heck someone would put greens on a pizza, but then I got it. It’s the bitterness and pepperiness and different temperatures when it’s right out of the oven.”

Contrasts extend into the spicy soppressata pie, where house-made marinara, Romano cheese and mozzarella are loaded onto the unbaked base, fired at 750 degrees for two minutes, and then smothered in pepper-flecked Calabrian salami and a few handfuls of dressed arugula. Hot pizza, cool toppings and an intermediate warm buzz from the chilies in the soppressata.


Not everything is as great as the pizzas, though. The seasonal salad ($9.50) is decent, but not much more than a mesclun salad with a few sliced strawberries tossed in. Cannoli ($9) are also underwhelming, thanks to a stodgy filling of ricotta and mascarpone piped into store-bought shells that taste of nothing.

The chicken wings at Burano’s. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

The biggest surprise of my recent meal at Burano’s was chicken wings tossed in a Thai-inspired combination of chili-garlic sauce and peanut butter. Now, that is absolutely not an appetizer I’d normally order, especially right before eating pizza. But I was persuaded to try the Specialty Wings ($9.95) after my teenage server jokingly told me, “I just won’t let you leave unless you try them. They’re that good.”

She was right. Miraculously, the sauce was balanced and somehow, not very sweet. Whisenant’s contrasts were there, too: acid and salt, crisp fried bacon shards and sticky sauce … an excellent combination, especially when you’re sipping a strawberry-flecked mojito ($10) or bittersweet mezcal Paloma ($15) on the restaurant’s spacious stone patio. Just don’t expect your server to be the one to bring your drink to you.

The strawberry mojito at Burano’s. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

Why? Well, in Maine, restaurant staff can serve alcohol from age 17 (if they’re supervised by someone over 21), and a not-insignificant number of Burano’s Scarborough’s workers are younger than that, according to Whisenant.

“So down in Scarborough, it’s heavy on young people because we don’t have a lot of staff, and people don’t want to work,” he said. “Some of our best pizza toppers are 14, 15 years old. It’s nice to see the young age wanting to learn and work.”

Personally, I think it’s hard to make the case that nobody wants to work anymore, especially with a historic low 3.6% national unemployment rate and more than a quarter million jobs added to the leisure and hospitality sector in June, according to payroll supplier ADP.


This matters, because staffing decisions are directly relevant to customer experiences, and in the case of Burano’s, those choices play out in small ways (who delivers your booze to the table) as well as large ones (who’s making your food).

But what happens when schools reopen in a month and staff leave to focus on their studies or head to college? I can’t say. Perhaps this review will age like a fine bottle of raw milk. Maybe think of Burano’s in Scarborough like a seasonal business with a talented crew of summer employees.

I do know this: Teenagers can be capable workers and deserve credit for their successes. Right now, they’re doing a bang-up job at Burano’s Scarborough, so get there soon. And let’s hope they stick around long enough to train the next incoming class.

Outside dining at Burano’s in Scarborough.

RATING: ***1/2
WHERE: 246 U.S. Route 1, Scarborough. 207-289-6781.
SERVING: Sunday to Thursday, 11:30 a.m.-8:30 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 11:30 a.m.-9 p.m.
PRICE RANGE: Appetizers: $4.50-$17.95, Pizzas and sandwiches: $13.95-$22.50
NOISE LEVEL: Hockey game
VEGETARIAN: Some dishes
BAR: Beer, wine, cocktails

BOTTOM LINE: Contrast is the key at Burano’s Wood-Fired Pizza in Scarborough. From the outside, the restaurant looks like a nondescript brick box, but inside, it’s bright, with high ceilings, warm Edison bulbs and vivid colors that make reference to the space’s previous incarnation as a police station and firehouse, as well as to the restaurant’s namesake, the kaleidoscopic Venetian island of Burano. Maple wood heats the gigantic wood stove for the restaurant’s crusty, char-speckled pizzas, like a spicy soppressata pie, with cool, garlicky Italian salami and molten mozzarella, and the Specktacular pie, built around smoked prosciutto (speck), warm roasted mushrooms and a generous mound of lightly dressed arugula. Ignore any misgivings and give into the Thai-inspired chicken wings dunked in a well-balanced and savory chili-peanut-butter sauce. Skip the cannoli (sorry, Clemenza), and tip your youthful staff well – they deserve it.

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:
Twitter: @AndrewRossME

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