Maine Street Bistro on a quiet Wednesday evening in November. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

Nothing about the décor of Maine Street Bistro telegraphs its culinary inspirations and aspirations. Not upcycled, climate-control curtains stitched together from local sail fabric offcuts; not Brunswick artist Matthew Barter’s dreamy, low-res paintings of waterfront workers; not even two spanking new, wall-to-wall wooden banquettes finished by an arresting phalanx of black-and-red-checked throw pillows.

You might pick up a clue from the chalkboard mounted over the subway-tiled raw bar, but for the real story, you’ll need to open the menu. Here, co-owners/chefs Brandon Franklin and John Holm reveal that the woodsy, camp-like restaurant they opened this May is not only French, but traditional. It’s a bit like discovering that your edgy punk cousin keeps kosher.

“We are both from a classically French-trained background, and we’ve spent a bunch of time working for other people in places that take French food and try to make it modern and fresh,” Franklin said.

For Holm, that meant stints in upscale, fine-dining restaurants in New Jersey and New York, and for Franklin, the same thing, only in California. When the two met after relocating to Maine in 2021, they recognized right away how their parallel experiences and skills might complement one another.

“We both love fine dining, but that isn’t necessarily something we wanted to do in Brunswick,” Holm said. “The goal is for the place to be inviting and approachable, not something where we just open Julia Child’s cookbook and start cooking the unusual stuff. It’s classics, but a little unexpected in the way they’re done. Like our “lazy mussels” ($18) that we pick so there’s no work for you. Or same with the octopus ($17); we braise it and roll into a chilled roulade, rather than just serving a tentacle.”

Reader: I love this. Usually when chefs tell me about the “twists” or “tweaks” in their menu, they’re caught up in the hype of their own creativity. Brussels sprout ice cream sounds interesting, sure. But who wants to eat a bowl of that? Holm and Franklin offer a tweak on the very concept of a tweak. The duo are willing to riff a little, but with process, not product.


An example: Sherry vinegar-dressed bitter greens and crumbles of sharp, tangy Roquefort are precisely the base you’d predict for a traditional French chicory salad, but in place of raw pears, Maine Street Bistro poaches them in warm-spiced red wine ($13). It’s a brilliant solution to the problem of inconsistent fruit, especially toward the end of the season. The alteration also echoes seasoning of the house-candied walnuts, making them feel integral to the salad, not simply a garnish.

The apple tart at Maine Street Bistro. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

Or take a gander at the rather hefty apple tart ($13), where a classic pate brisee dough meets stewed Granny Smiths, cinnamon, sugar and butter. Before receiving its prom-night Bump-It of house-made vanilla ice cream, however, the individual-sized pie is sprinkled with caramelized feuilletine shards and baked far past blonde. Extra time in the oven brings out pleasing nutty and savory flavors in the pastry.

While many of the duo’s tweaks are a success, some feel unnecessary. Mediterranean chickpea-flour fries called “panisses” (not “panisee,” as the typo-sprinkled menu lists them, $11) are essentially an herb-seasoned, golden-brown Niçoise version of polenta fries. At Maine Street Bistro, Holm and Franklin add minced garlic to the custardy chickpea batter, then fry the finger-length batons until they’re well past brunette. The extra frying time does the chopped garlic no favors.

I’m also iffy on the benefit gained by confiting dark chicken meat in duck fat with thyme, juniper berries and peppercorns as part of the chicken fricassee entrée ($29). The slow, 24-hour cure leads to tender shreds of meat, but it seems to draw out gamey off-flavors. The dish is also oversalted, leaving a few frilly leaves of tarragon-oil-and-sherry-vinegar-dressed greens to compensate. Spoiler: They aren’t up to the task.

The seared cod at Maine Street Bistro. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

But Franklin and Holm hit the mark more often than they miss it. Even in a dish with an oddly conceived component, like a wreath of honey-braised Vichy-style carrots that are probably too sweet to be served with a straightforward yet excellent pan-seared fillet of cod, there’s still plenty to keep the plate from disappointing – in this case a thick, buttery white sauce scented with fines herbs. Once again, rock-solid French cooking wins out.

Naturally, a French bistro requires a wine list capable of bolding and italicizing corresponding flavors on the menu. And Maine Street Bistro acquits itself well here, deploying weighty New World bottles like Drumheller Cabernet Sauvignon ($14/$38) alongside shimmering Old World choices like a crisp Domaine de la Fessardiere Muscadet ($13/$41). Nearly every meal possibility is covered by the short list of affordable, intelligently selected bottles (many sub-$40 options and one for $28).


No matter that 75% of the wines and none of the beers are French. The versatility of the liquor-free beverage program works with Holm and Franklin’s inchmeal menu modifications.

But really, it goes together best with the purest bistro classics, dishes Maine Street Bistro executes flawlessly. Something from the raw bar, perhaps, like one of the seafood towers ($38/$65), teetering structures of crushed ice and Maine-sourced shellfish, or my favorite, the bacon-wrapped, pressed country pâté ($13), a pistachio-flecked terrine of pork plated with thin baguette crostini, tangy gherkins, house-pickled garlic cloves and a dollop of grainy mustard. Anyone who complains that this dish is more assembly than cooking needs to taste Franklin and Holm’s homemade celeri remoulade, a mayonnaise-based slaw of julienned celery root. It is on par with any I’ve eaten at an outdoor café table in Paris, or closer to home, at a Montreal institution like Lemeac or L’Express. Don’t let the Buffalo plaid pillows fool you.

Country pâté with celeri remoulade at Maine Street Bistro in Brunswick. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

RATING: ***1/2
WHERE: 148 Maine St., Brunswick. 207-844-8275.
SERVING: 5–9 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, 11 a.m.–2 p.m. Saturday brunch
PRICE RANGE: Appetizers: $10-18.50, Entrees: $19-34
NOISE LEVEL: Hoarse flash mob
VEGETARIAN: Some dishes
BAR: Beer and wine only
BOTTOM LINE: Lean into Maine Street Bistro’s French menu and you’ll be rewarded. Co-owners and co-chefs John Holm and Brandon Franklin built their impressive skillsets of classic French techniques separately, but together in Brunswick, they’ve come up with a largely traditional menu that holds promise. Six months out of the gate, Maine Street Bistro is already pretty great, with dishes like country-style pâté served with grainy mustard and a scoop of some of the best celeri remoulade I’ve had in years; chicory salad with chunks of wine-poached pear and funky Roquefort cheese; and a dark brown apple tart large enough to feed two or three diners.

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

Contact him at:
Twitter: @AndrewRossME

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