Kayle and Adam Corey, of Portland, share a table near the fireplace at Bandaloop. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

This is the second review of Bandaloop I’ve written, but it will be the first to make it to print. That original review was due to be published in late March of 2020. I even went through edits and requested a photographer for the piece, but as restaurants across the state closed, reopened, then closed and reopened again, the timing never felt right to publish the review. Eventually, I forgot about the review, until a few months ago, when a friend asked me if any restaurant had ever gotten angry at me for not writing about them.

No, I thought … but I can think of a few people who might be tapping their watches, waiting for me to return.

Co-owners Bridget and W. Scott Lee have operated a version of Bandaloop since 2004 – first in Kennebunkport, where executive chef Scott Lee and operations maven Bridget Lee built a huge following for their menu of “globally inspired, locally sourced” dishes, then in Arundel, where Bandaloop relocated in November 2019 after outgrowing its original digs.

No chance of that in the restaurant’s sprawling newish home, a multistory, 18th-century post-and-beam barn. The space is gigantic. A much larger kitchen has allowed the Lees to expand the menu’s breadth, which means you’ll now find about a dozen appetizers and sandwiches, as well as a further eight entrees, two daily soups, vegan desserts, two varieties of homemade bread – including a slightly oversalted rosemary sourdough baguette ($8) – plus a range of daily specials.

The Strabo. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

Oh, and there’s room for a full bar, replete with excellent cocktails like a brash, gorgeously balanced and super-tart twist on a corpse reviver that the couple have named The Strabo ($13).

“Word on the street around here is that when the circus used to come here, they’d walk into town on this road, like a parade. One of the elephants supposedly died right here, and they buried him on this lot in a grave marked ‘Strabo,’” Bridget Lee told me. “My mother’s favorite animal was an elephant, and my dad was a wood carver, so I grew up with elephants all over. They’re all over here, too. You just have to look.”


Visually, tusks and trunks are just the tip of the iceberg. Bridget Lee has created dozens of design vignettes in the alcoves, corners and stairwells of the renovated barn. There’s a cozy dining nook surrounding a gas fireplace, a board-game zone bookended by sofas, as well as sculpture and artwork galore, much from a former Bandaloop bartender, artist David Edward Allen. On the whole, the space reads as a funky, quirky ’70s ski chalet.

Dustin Fournier, bar manager at Bandaloop, pours a Strabo cocktail. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

The retro design vibe isn’t confined to décor. Quite a bit of the menu offers a Whole Earth Catalog-era approach to plant-based eating, where each of the entrees on the menu – even the New York strip steak ($30) – can be reconfigured as vegetarian with a grilled-tofu swap-out. Unfortunately, such flexibility has also come at a reputational cost for Bandaloop, as both of the Lees told me how potential customers sometimes incorrectly perceive the restaurant as a meat-free destination.

“We serve fresh seafood, steaks, burgers. We don’t hide those dishes. They’re right there, front and center. You can see if you just look at the menu. But because we have so many options for vegetarians and even vegans, sometimes it gets passed around that it’s not a good place to come if you eat meat,” W. Scott Lee said. “But the non-vegetarian dishes are actually some of our better dishes.”

In my experience, that’s often true. Well, apart from one bummer of a dish I tasted: an overcooked chicken breast entrée ($27). Imprecise execution of the protein was only part of the problem here. The Mexican-inspired “negro chocolate mole” was watery and lackluster, and a duo of pumpkin polenta fries (also available as an appetizer for $12) were fried in oil that was too hot, leaving them crisp on the outside, yet runny inside. Sadly, they were also bland, apart from intact dried coriander seeds included to offer pops of subtle, aromatic flavor.

Bandaloop’s kitchen was on stronger ground with the two other non-vegetarian items I tried during a midweek visit in March. The first, a hearty, thoroughly appealing “schnitzel,” was really more of a cornstarch-dusted, boneless pan-fried pork chop served with tangy braised red cabbage, shredded apples and roasted delicata squash ($30).

Better still was a shrimp appetizer ($15) where Korean-inspired house-made cucumber kimchi provided heat and tang, while crushed Thai mee-krob rice crackers lent texture and crunch to balance out gingery aioli drizzled over the grill-marked shrimp.


The Maine-style palusami. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

This is not to say that vegetarian dishes aren’t also worth ordering at Bandaloop. In particular, chef Scott Lee’s entirely unique (and inexplicable) riff on a Samoan taro-leaf palusami ($16/$30) that he has transmuted into a gingery, Hawaiian-style coconut milk stew of Vidalia and red onions, sweet peppers and chickpeas. It’s not a palusami, but if you love roasted garlic – I discovered three whole cloves bobbing in my appetizer-sized portion – this is the dish for you.

No vampire myself, I would’ve happily eaten an entrée-sized version, especially if it were accompanied by Slovenian Dorcha Blaufränkisch ($44), a light, Beaujolais-esque wine that is one of the three dozen bottles Bridget Lee has selected for a catholic list that includes several sub-$40 options as well as a few nonalcoholic selections.

A wide-ranging, ecumenical wine list suits the inclusivity of Bandaloop, as does the restaurant’s vegan, often raw-foods-based dessert program, now run by pastry chef Melissa Maidana, an alumna of Pure Food and Wine in New York. On my most recent visit, I was impressed by Maidana’s burnt sugar cake ($11), an entremet of vanilla-and-caramel sponge topped with a frothy strawberry-rhubarb mousse layer made creamy with blitzed cashews and coconut meat.

Earlier, I had overheard a couple at the next table discussing their favorite Bandaloop dessert: an apple-and-yuzu tart they’d tried over the summer, so I asked our server – a friendly, no-nonsense sort who was quick to offer reliable menu suggestions – if it was still on the menu.

“No. Haven’t seen that one in a long time,” he said, instead recommending the deep-dish brownie ($11) as an alternative. Then, learning that my dinner guest and I were from the area, he offered another proposal: “We’re always happy to see locals. So maybe you should just come back again.”

To me, that sounded like an excellent idea. And this time around, it won’t take me four years to return.


The Korean-Thai grilled shrimp appetizer with cucumber kimchi, pickled ginger aioli, Napa cabbage and crispy rice noodles. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

RATING: ***1/2
WHERE: 1200 Portland Road, Arundel, 207-967-4994, bandalooprestaurant.com
SERVING: Tuesday to Sunday, 4:30 p.m. – approx. 9 p.m.
PRICE RANGE: Appetizers: $7-16, Sandwiches and entrees: $16-36
NOISE LEVEL: Teachers’ lounge
VEGETARIAN: Many dishes
RESERVATIONS: Strongly recommended
BAR: Wine, beer, cocktails
BOTTOM LINE: You can take Bandaloop out of Kennebunkport, into a sprawling 18th-century post-and-beam barn, but you can never take the globally inspired dishes out of Bandaloop. In Arundel, executive chef/owner W. Scott Lee and co-owner Bridget Lee have continued their 20-year tradition of offering wide-ranging food and beverage options: from vegan and vegetarian options at every course to quirky cooking that embraces dishes like a fanciful Samoan-inspired coconut-and-ginger “palusami” stew, or German-style pork-and-red-cabbage. Omnivores will come for Korean-Thai grilled shrimp and will stay for nuanced cocktails like the bittersweet, gin-based Tokyo Tonic ($15), a New Year’s Eve holdover that deserves a permanent menu slot. Heck, they’ll even stay for desserts like pastry chef Melissa Maidana’s rhubarb-strawberry mousse “burnt sugar” cake. Just don’t tell anyone all the desserts are vegan.

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: andrewross.maine@gmail.com
Twitter: @AndrewRossME

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