Customers chat with co-owner Simone Burdet around a full bar at Rise Pizza & Pub in May. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

Around 2018, just as the NBC television show of the same name hit its viewership peak, a friend began referring to her favorite Portland restaurant as “The Good Place.”

I started keeping tabs on their social media and would ask my friend for her opinions on any recent changes or new menu items. That is, until one day, when she steered the conversation to another local restaurant she called “The Better Place.” I kept up as we added “The Better Place 2.0” and “The Even Better Place” to the list.

All four have since closed and reopened as new businesses, but none of the newcomers seems to have impressed her enough to earn a nickname. “If it’s going to become a ‘Good Place,’” she told me, “It has to serve food I think about all day when I’m at work, plus it has to be warm and friendly.”

Listen to Rise Pizza & Pub chef/co-owner Rocco Marzilli describe his new Cumberland restaurant, and it’s clear he intuitively understands my friend’s typology. “Every step of the way, (co-owners Tobey Moulton and Simone Burdet) and I have tried to create an environment here that’s fun, vibrant, light and welcoming to everybody,” he said. “And the food is pub food – clearly a lot of Italian food since it’s got ‘pizza’ in the name, but I’m trying to have food your grandmother could sit down and enjoy. But also, someone else into food could eat the same thing and really get all the nuances.”

The street corn pizza at Rise Pizza & Pub. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

One place where Marzilli’s ambition comes across is in his pizza. It starts with what he describes as a “normal dough” based loosely on an Alice Waters’ recipe handed to him by a friend, then continues through toppings, which by any account are eclectic. Yes, there’s a classic cheese ($18 for a 16-inch pie) and a hamburger pizza ($25) on the roster, but keep exploring the options.

That’s what I did on a recent midweek visit to Rise, when I ordered an appetizer-sized version of the off-beat yet intriguing-sounding street-corn pizza ($15/$25), a Mexican elote-inspired pie topped with pickled Fresno chilies, grilled corn kernels, lime zest and smoked feta cheese. While my dinner guest wasn’t a fan, I think the issues with the pizza – too much cheese, not enough brightness and acid – are easy to correct. Even the thin, cracker-like crust that turns a bit rubbery when it’s in the oven a few seconds too long isn’t a fatal flaw.


Especially not when there’s evidence on the menu that Marzilli’s pizza dough works well elsewhere, as it does in his Buffalo chicken pie ($25). Here, the pizza crust gets a little puffier around its perimeter. Perhaps it’s the larger format that suits the rye-flour-enriched recipe better. Or perhaps it’s the weight distribution of what a chef I once worked for called “the toppings blanket.” For this pie, that’s shredded mozzarella/provolone cheeses, hot-sauce-tossed cubes of grilled chicken breast and pickled banana peppers.

No matter the reason for its success, this top-selling pizza is a fun riff on hot wings, and perfect match for a tropical, pineapple-and-rum-based Lucky Lopez cocktail ($12), a drink inspired by coconut drinks from Moulton and Burdet’s recent trip to Puerto Rico. The beverage menu is the couple’s territory, which makes sense when you factor in their extensive bar and front-of-house expertise at Portland establishments like Nosh, Taco Escobarr and the Portland Regency Hotel.

I wish the duo had taken a similarly ingredient-inspired direction with their Man-mosa ($12), a butched-up brunch classic (“Basically a mimosa on steroids,” according to Moulton). Our affable, capable server described it as “a drink for the dudes who just can’t bring themselves to order anything fruity, so they need a shot of extra alcohol in there to feel good about themselves.” It tasted as unbalanced as it sounds – yeasty off-notes from the prosecco amplified by an unpleasant quantity of vodka and a not-quite-sweet-or-tart-enough blood orange puree.

A nearly full dining room at Rise Pizza & Pub. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

I set my glass aside and focused instead on Rise’s impressive interior renovations, universally positive changes to a space that, back when it was Louie’s Grille, was dreary and poorly illuminated. Now, though, thanks to vivid yellow, red and orange walls and unobscured windows that let in a deluge of natural light, the entire building feels twice as large and an order of magnitude more inviting.

“The buildout here was huge,” Marzilli said. “We wanted to make the place bright and vibrant, with colors that match the fire in our logo. It’s supposed to be a place where adults and kids, the whole family basically, can feel at home.”

It seems like the strategy is working; there was at least one child in every party at every booth in the dining room on my recent visit, including one at a nearby table, noisily demolishing a tasty-looking dessert. “Oh, that’s the s’mores ice cream sundae ($8),” my server explained as I placed an order for whatever it was that seemed to have that kid so enraptured.


It was a good move. While Rise’s normal pastry supplier is away on maternity leave, Marzilli has been perfecting a recipe for toasted-marshmallow ice cream with a custard that starts out “like it would jiggle when you poke it” but then evolves into a frothy delight as it churns. Combined with house-made hot fudge sauce, the dish tastes like a frosty Charleston Chew. I’m not a fan of the accompanying Teddy Grahams – Marzilli has the chops to do better from scratch – but overall, I completely understand why the child at the other table left Rise covered in chocolate and whipped cream.

Mara Quimby delivers a pizza to customers at Rise Pizza & Pub. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

On the topic of from-scratch ingredients, I also think Rise should reconsider the choice to outsource its nut-free pesto. In the Pesto Caesar ($8/$16), it works well enough blended in a 1:2 ratio with the kitchen’s appealing mayonnaise-based Caesar dressing and drizzled over romaine lettuce and homemade focaccia croutons. But as an unadulterated sauce for Marzilli’s springy, homemade cavatelli ($23), it doesn’t measure up to the quality of the other elements on the plate, despite a valiant assist from Caprese components bocconcini and cherry tomatoes.

Indeed, when Rise’s kitchen trusts its own strengths, the results can be pretty great. Take the salmon cakes appetizer ($14), a dish based on a recipe from Marzilli’s mom. “We use Skordo spices (from Portland). That one has the Chesapeake Bay Seasoning in it, plus a little sriracha for heat,” Marzilli told me. Plated up with the elote-esque corn salad from the Street Corn pizza and Rise’s chipotle-and-adobo-chile-charged tartar sauce, it’s a solid little starter.

Maybe not quite good enough to earn Rise Pizza & Pub the rank of “The Good Place,” but I think we ought to give Marzilli, Moulton and Burdet some time. Their restaurant is only about eight months old. There’s no shame in starting out as “The Good Enough Place.”

The salmon cakes at Rise Pizza & Pub. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

WHERE: 319 Main St., Cumberland, 207-489-9126,
SERVING: Tuesday, 4-8 p.m. (pizza only), Wednesday & Thursday, 4-9 p.m., Friday & Saturday, noon-9 p.m., Sunday, noon-8 p.m. (pizza only)
PRICE RANGE: Appetizers & salads: $11-16, Pizza & entrees: $15-29
NOISE LEVEL: Candlepin bowling
VEGETARIAN: Some dishes
BAR: Beer, wine and cocktails
BOTTOM LINE: Open since late last summer, Cumberland’s Rise Pizza & Pub is a lively, casual restaurant and bar with real potential. For the moment, it’s still finding its feet. Served in a light, open space painted in vibrant yellows and oranges, chef/owner Rocco Marzilli’s pizzas run the gamut from traditional Italian-American pies to oddball options like Mexican street corn (a decent pie) or Buffalo chicken (a spicy, well-balanced riff on hot wings in pizza form). Don’t skip the Southwestern-style salmon cakes or the homemade s’mores ice cream sundae. But maybe think twice before ordering a cocktail. Bar managers/owners Tobey Moulton and Simone Burnet get points for creativity, but it needs guardrails. Their overproofed, unbalanced Man-mosa is a total whiff, whereas their creamy, citrusy Lucky Lopez is a sweet, tangy pleasure to sip.

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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