Eric Devries, of Portland, shares fries with his son Miles Gips-Devries, 2, at A&C Soda Shop. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

Joe Fournier is tired of people taking him literally.

At his cult-favorite Munjoy Hill supermarket, A&C Grocery, the Maine native certainly sold provisions, as his shop’s name might indicate – mostly wine and local produce – but the real story was the delicatessen he operated from the rear of the building. If you knew, you knew that this was the spot for grilled cheeses and one of the area’s finest “real” Italian sandwiches.

After vacating the Washington Avenue space, Fournier decamped to South Portland in 2022, where he opened up shop in the former Terra Cotta Pasta building. Once again, he’s picked a name that perhaps doesn’t tell the complete story.

At A&C Soda Shop, you’ll absolutely find sodas on the menu: tangy, appealing “herbal tonic” fizzers (all $5) like a tarragon infusion with Maine blueberry and lime-cranberry bitters sourced from Owl & Whale, a local mixology company co-owned by A&C’s beverage manager and fellow co-owner, Mike Gatlin.

You’ll also find sodas paired with ice cream in the form of floats (all $7), as well as higher-octane, alcoholic “boozy floats” (all $13), like the not-too-sweet Mainahbub, a Moxie-based vanilla float ignited by one shot of vodka and another of Allen’s Coffee Brandy. Floats can also be blitzed at no additional cost into “brain freezes,” which are similar in texture to A&C’s half-dozen “boozy shakes.”

Karli and Elijah Cedeno, of Albany, N.Y., share a toast while visiting A&C Soda Shop with their daughter Ivy, 1. Karli had the Cobra Lightning cocktail, and Elijah had the Dr. Gonzo cocktail. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

But just as with his grocery store across the river, customers in South Portland sometimes gloss over the best parts of Fournier’s business. “It’s not everyone, of course. But there are definitely a couple of percentage points of people who swing by and are completely shocked when they realize we’re a restaurant that serves food,” he said. “And sometimes they even tell us they’ve never stopped their car, they’ve just driven past because ‘I thought this place was just sodas… ’ ”


Let’s correct the record officially: A&C Soda Shop is a full-service restaurant, just like many of its midcentury forerunners. It’s a pretty great one, to boot.

After an interior demolition down to the studs, the trio of Fournier, Gatlin and former Nosh owner Matt Moran redesigned the quirky, half-garage space and completely reimagined it. “I think about it like an updated diner experience, short the people on roller skates,” Fournier said.

You can see what he means. There’s a retro energy and eclectic sensibility inside the cozy space: checkerboard panels of black-and-white tiles, atomic-age fabric patterns, Warhol prints, and high-saturation wall colors that range from teal to something I’d probably name “nuclear pumpkin.”

Glance at the food menu, and you’ll spot precisely what the décor and vibe imply: primarily diner-style dishes, plus a few surprises.

Not all of A&C’s unexpected dishes are created equal, however. There are a few qualified successes, like an appetizer of lightly breaded, deep-fried calamari ($10) tossed in a Fresno-chile sauce that the kitchen ages in the same barrels it uses to mature its mezcal negronis. The squid comes out a rather wet, vivid orange, and the tiny portion is, as the Brits might say, “a bit mean.”

Fish tacos with pico de gallo, saffron-infused pickled onions and fresno aioli at A&C Soda Shop. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

In the same category of decent-enough (but underwhelming) plates: the barley-flour-crusted fried haddock tacos ($15). Side components here, from crunchy New England-style cole slaw to house-made pico de gallo and pickled onions, are top-flight, but on my visit last week, the haddock itself was bland and underseasoned.


Not great, but here’s why I’d wager that A&C Soda Shop has already fixed the issues with both dishes: Service here is phenomenal. Friendly, knowledgeable and most of all, attentive.

“Hey, guys, I just want to check in with you here midmeal,” our server said as she cleared the aluminum quarter-sheet trays and compostable bowls from the table. “I need you to tell me: Was there something wrong with the taco?” Gesturing at the barely touched appetizer, she looked each of my guests and me in the eye and, in her best vice-principal voice, added, “You can tell me. It’s OK if it’s not good.”

Had I not been on the clock, I’d have said something, but reader, the little shake of her head as she removed the plate from the table told me that she knew. She definitely knew.

If I were Fournier, Moran and Gatlin, reading this review on a summer Sunday, I’d feel pretty good right now. Servers who know their stuff, pay close attention to what diners leave uneaten and communicate all of this back to the kitchen? Well, they’re a rare asset, especially in a time when staffing a restaurant is practically a full-time job of its own.

Burrata salad with charred lemon vinaigrette and greens at A&C Soda Shop. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

Another reason for A&C’s owners to feel good? The rest of my recent meal there was fantastic. Let’s start with another non-diner-style dish, the burrata salad appetizer ($12). Fournier described it as an homage to a James Beard finalist, former Bresca chef Krista Kern (Desjarlais), who not only helped him step up his salad game when he worked for her, “she also introduced me to burrata.” Thank goodness she did.

I was bowled over not just by the oozy cheese nestled into a bountiful mound of mixed greens, but by the bright and smoky charred-lemon vinaigrette. According to Fournier, the dressing started life as an idea from one of his line cooks that he let them run with. “I tell my chefs they have carte blanche to do whatever they want. But only as long as it’s only three or four steps,” he said. “Keep it as simple as possible and as delicious as possible.”


From the sound of it, Fournier might have also been describing A&C Soda Shop’s cheeseburger ($15), a nostalgic, fat-pattied extravaganza topped with shredded iceberg lettuce, American cheese, homemade pickles and served on a Mainely Grains onion roll. No question, this is a contender for the best cheeseburger in town. It also seems fitting that its inspiration isn’t the Big Macs and Whoppers you might expect.

“No, the funny thing is that originally, at (A&C) Grocery, we were getting requests from people asking for gluten-free stuff,” Fournier said. “So we went with this cheeseburger fried rice. It was so, so good. And over here, even though it’s not gluten-free, we took that idea and went with one of (Mainly Grains baker and co-owner) Carlos Garcia’s amazing onion buns to make it into a proper hamburger.”

For an extra $2, A&C will convert their irresistible burger into a vegetarian Impossible burger. Either way, don’t skip the standard-cut French fries that accompany any of the sandwiches. But equally, don’t let that stop you from ordering A&C’s onion rings ($8). Battered, deep-fried until golden and served slightly above the temperature of magma, these are the same dish that Fournier told me were “the very best fried thing.”

I wasn’t clear if he meant on A&C Soda Shop’s menu or overall, in the entire universe. Honestly, he might have a point either way. But by now, I think we’ve learned that maybe we shouldn’t take Joe Fournier too literally.

A&C Soda Shop. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

RATING: ****

WHERE: 501 Cottage Road, South Portland, 207-747-4089,


SERVING: Sunday and Monday, noon-8 p.m.; Wednesday and Thursday, noon-8 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, noon-9 p.m.

PRICE RANGE: Appetizers & salads: $6-12; entrees: $15-24

NOISE LEVEL: Comic convention

VEGETARIAN: Some dishes


BAR: Beer, wine and cocktails



BOTTOM LINE: While you can indeed buy a craft soda made with local bitters at this South Portland restaurant, there’s a lot more to this quirky, modern take on a classic diner/burger joint than its fruity, herbal tonics. Boozy milkshakes and floats lend the menu an adult appeal (although all of the ice cream-based treats can also be ordered without alcohol). So do the salads – a Delicata squash version through the cold months, and now that the weather has turned, an oozy, creamy burrata version with a superb charred-lemon vinaigrette. But here, just as at co-owner Joe Fournier’s other A&C (the grocery that closed in 2021), it’s all about sandwiches. Heck, even if you don’t consider a burger a sandwich, you’d be hard-pressed to justify ignoring the retro-flavored, gorgeously grilled A&C cheeseburger. Or its twin-pattied cousin, the Cheeseburger of Doom ($19). Regardless of which burger, fish sandwich or chicken sandwich you choose, don’t skip Fournier’s exalted, perfectly salted onion rings.

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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