Adam Goodwin, chef at Little Tap House, dribbles garlic scape chimichurri on steak frites. Our critic says the dish is a highlight among the menu’s new items. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

If “cursed real estate” is a benighted location where any bar or restaurant is doomed to fail, then shouldn’t we also expect there to be “charmed real estate”?

In Chicago, a long time ago, I used to pick up shifts waiting tables at a diner located on just such a plot. The food was nothing special, the décor dated and grimy, and the service … well, unless you enjoy being sniped at by Polish grandmothers of a certain age, was pretty abysmal.

But the restaurant was sited on the same block as a busy subway station and within walking distance of Wrigley Field, so it drew crowds, day and night. According to Josep, the crotchety, chain-smoking owner, it had been that way for decades, despite the sabotaging efforts of the managers and most of the staff. And the people who bought the building from him? They are still in business, 30 years later.

Server Lily Seybold delivers a beer to a table in the dining room at Little Tap House. The place is “almost an institution,” according to new co-owner and head chef Adam Goodwin. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

Closer to home, I’d like to make the case that 106 High St. in Portland is similarly charmed. With the exception of an ill-conceived tapas restaurant that lasted just a few months in 2012, there have been only two residents on the corner of High and Spring in the past 33 years: Katahdin and The Little Tap House. In the words of new co-owner and head chef Adam Goodwin, who took over the space with his father in August, “it’s honestly just an incredible location.”

Picture it: The compact brick building sits an easy stroll from Portland’s biggest hotels, two blocks from the State Theater and directly across the street from the federal-style annex of the Portland Museum of Art. “Also, don’t forget, we don’t have to contend with all the hassles of being Congress Street,” higher rent and negligible parking spaces chief among them, Goodwin said. “Sure, we’d love to have that foot traffic, but we get plenty here. You pretty much can’t be a person existing in Portland without passing by The Little Tap House over and over again.”

Nevertheless, Goodwin, who grew up in Greater Portland, had never been inside before he was hired in 2023 as interim head chef – a “fixer” brought on to spruce up the menu while the previous owners prepared to sell the restaurant.


Without much fanfare, Goodwin converted the menu from “pure pub” to more balanced bistro-style offerings that work well with the restaurant’s 14-tap-line array of New England beers (each $9/pint). Cheesy pretzels and mac-and-cheese dishes were swapped for bubbly, house-baked focaccia ($10) and Caesar salad with garlicky dressing and vinegar-cured white anchovies ($14). Incremental changes, to be sure, but ones that finally allow the kitchen – after 11 years – to make good on its promise of farm-to-table cooking.

As Goodwin scouted the late-summer farmers markets last year and shopped for new bottles to quadruple the wine options beyond last year’s brusque, two-red/two-white list, he also had an epiphany: He wanted to be the new owner.

“I mentioned it to my dad, and we started just joking around about it for a couple of days. To us, it was kind of a funny thought,” he said. “Then we asked the owner about how much a restaurant goes for, and it all just kind of happened. Right in the middle of tourist season last year, too. So I stopped making more changes and focused on getting through the busy season.”

The mushroom risotto with English peas and Parmesan at Little Tap House. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

Nine months on, Goodwin’s medium-term bistro makeover plans continue. Standout additions for this year are dishes like an appealingly brothy, al dente take on Italian risotto with English peas and bite-sized chestnut mushrooms from Portland “fungiculturists” Fruit of the Forest ($27). The dish would be even better (as would the nearly identical lobster version, $34) if Little Tap House tweaked the homemade vegetable stock to dial back its sweetness (from too many carrots, perhaps?).

Another leap forward comes courtesy of front-of-house staffer and pastry chef Allie Wanek, whose three bistro-compliant desserts (all $10) round out the menu. Among these, her maple pot-de-crème is the star. Dunk a spoon into the loosely set, rich and butterscotchy custard, and you’ll have to traverse layers of salt-dusted candied walnuts and syrupy stewed plums. It’s a complete delight.

If you’re reading this picturing radical changes at The Little Tap House, you might be getting ahead of yourself. The restaurant’s metamorphosis is an ongoing project for Goodwin and his team, with no concrete deadlines. Inside the 65-seat dining room and bar, walls have been refreshed with another coat of legacy paint that my dinner guest ventured was probably named “Granola Goldenrod.” Seating is also being replaced piece-by-piece, with the awkward, tremendously uncomfortable high-top barrels up next on the chopping block.


“It’s important to me that people know we’re not coming in and trying to change everything overnight,” Goodwin told me. “Little Tap House is almost an institution after 11 years. We have a lot of tourists come in, that’s true. But we also have a ton of regulars who are at the bar a few times every week, and we don’t want to take what they know and love away from them. So we’re pivoting away slowly and methodically.”

Little Tap House bartender Didi Holt draws a beer from the tap lineup. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

Regulars certainly won’t be spooked by the changes to the steak frites ($34), which is now a Pineland Farms sirloin butt cap, cooked sous-vide to a rosy medium-rare, then rubbed in salt and pepper before a lightning-quick sear for color. It’s a lovely, albeit small-ish, steak, well-seasoned-enough to eat as-is or with a spoonful of Goodwin’s chimichurri of green garlic and fresh oregano. If you run out of beef and want to use up that aromatic chimichurri, grab a few of the house-punched, salt-and-vinegar-brined French fries (also served a la carte for $8); they deserve the co-starring role implied in the dish’s name.

While I hope regulars won’t be put off by Goodwin’s considerate, slow-motion makeover of The Little Tap House, I am almost certain the business will be just fine, regardless. How do I know? Ask the twentysomething couple seated at the sidewalk patio table next to mine. During the hour I sat there, they ordered two appetizer portions of Goodwin’s extraordinary roasted asparagus blanketed with buttery, blush-colored Sauce Choron – a tangy, tomato-paste-enriched béarnaise – and sprinkled with savory shards of crisped prosciutto ($12), followed by two floral Global Sensations from Battery Steele Brewing and a bladder-busting four daily-special mocktails ($8), which on this day were fizzy, jalapeno-infused coconut-water and lemon syrup sippers.

“We are so lucky we could sit here while we wait,” one kept repeating to the other as he periodically clicked the “lock” button on a car key, triggering loud chirps from a vehicle across the street. “I can’t believe there’s a place this good right across the street from the EV charging lot!” Without missing a beat, the other replied what I was thinking, “Location, location, location.”

Little Tap House’s asparagus with sauce Choron and crispy prosciutto. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

RATING: ***1/2

WHERE: 106 High St., Portland, 207-613-3140,


SERVING: 4-9 p.m. Tuesday to Friday, noon-9 p.m. Saturday and Sunday

PRICE RANGE: Appetizers & salads: $8-14, Entrees: $20-34

NOISE LEVEL: Office pizza party

VEGETARIAN: Some dishes


BAR: Beer, wine and cocktails



BOTTOM LINE: From the outside, it looks like not much has changed at The Little Tap House since it was sold in August. But take a gander at the food menu and you’ll see the first indications of how head chef and co-owner Adam Goodwin is transforming this stocky little brick brewpub into a modern American neighborhood bistro with a menu that accurately reflects the restaurant’s longstanding “farm to table” tagline. Goodwin is sensitive to the preferences of his loyal local clientele, so he is proceeding deliberately and slowly. Highlights among the menu’s new items include sous-vided sirloin with vividly herbal garlic-scape chimichurri; roasted asparagus with prosciutto chips and Sauce Choron; and risotto with locally sourced chestnut mushrooms. For those who want a comfortable and convenient place to drink, Little Tap House still has 14 active tap lines that it fills with beers and ciders from Maine, plus a few from New Hampshire and Vermont. If you visit, don’t skip pastry chef Allie Wanek’s desserts, especially the sweet-and-savory maple pot-de-crème topped with candied walnuts and stewed plums.

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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