Three of Maine’s best-known chefs are making chess moves: Chef Jonathan Cartwright is leaving Maine’s only five-star/diamond restaurant, the White Barn Inn, as of June 11; Chef Steve Corry and his wife, Michelle, are opening a French patisserie and cafe in mid June; and restaurateurs Sam Hayward and Dana Street are opening Scales, a seafood emporium on the waterfront, in late summer. I talked to each this week.
Chef Cartwright has presided over the White Barn Inn’s kitchen for 20 years. “It’s time to try something different, you have to move around now and again, or the FBI catches up with you,” he quipped. There’s no real reason motivating the move, although the company has changed things around recently, and Cartwright felt the timing was right. Although he’s parting ways with the big company, he says they’re remaining friends and talking about future endeavors. He plans to rest, travel, and participate in bicycling events.
“Derek [Bissonnette] will take over, that’s nothing new as he’s been running the show for a couple of years, while I’ve been running around to our other places,” Cartwright says. Derek came to the WBI first as a pastry chef, before moving on to the Inn at Little Washington and later over to England to work with another of Cartwright’s friends, before returning. “He’s been firmly in charge of everything for the last four or five years. Derek has a great opportunity to put his stamp on it. He’s built himself a nice young team, all ambitious and with great ideas. He’ll harness those powers and put them to good use. He has that type of leadership. He’ll take it to a new level.”
In other news at the White Barn, the more casual Bistro, with it a la carte menu, is open for the first time for the summer season. “It’s very exciting for the kitchen, preparing two different styles of cuisine in one day; it livens things up,” Cartwright says, adding that it may be preparing coddled egg for the fine dining tasting menu and a burger for the bistro. The opening of the bistro has helped relax the dress code for the fine dining a wee bit to more resort casual; a jacket is no longer required (but still recommended).
Steve and Michelle Corry are anticipating a mid-June opening for the latest addition to their restaurant family, which joins Petite Jacqueline (a bistro) and Five Fifty-Five. The inspiration came from Paris, where Michele still has family. “There was something there that we couldn’t find here, not even in Boston,” Steve says. The restaurant scene at night is getting cluttered, and the Corry’s had always planned to have three food businesses.
“We tossed and turned over opening a third restaurant and decided against it on the peninsula. We came to the notion that there was nowhere in town to get really fine pastries,” he says. Of course, there are great bakeries, he adds, ticking off Standard, Bam Bam, Two Fat Cats, and East End Cupcakes, but they envisioned something different; they wanted to showcase really elegant pastries, the type of shop that exists on every block in Paris. “We wanted an everyday in-and-out affair, a place you can go in and get what you need to take care of your cravings for sweets and pick up elegant pastries for a dinner party.” The cafe will also bake bread, it’ll be a patisserie and bakery under one roof, although pastry is the first focus.
Although a patisserie was initially planned, the space lent itself to a cafe and specialty shop, as well. “We’ll open early and target the pre-work coffee and pastry needs and also fill a void in the city’s lunch options. It’ll be a casual but elegant lunch,” he says. The menu will offer soups, salads, and quiches, charcuterie and cheese plates; savory and sweet, as well as house-made chocolates. Dinner will not be offered at first, but they may expand to that, if there’s demand, but it will be an extension of the lunch menu, not a full-service restaurant. The cafe will offer a counter as well as smattering of seating amidst displays. Beer and wine will be served.
The retail shop will sell specialty foods such as foie gras and truffle oil, and the Corrys are appling for a license to sell retail wine, and they also plan to make wedding cakes. “There are plenty of places in Maine to get one, but few are in Portland,” Steve says. “It will be the wedding cake of your dreams,and we’ll customize to flavor, size, and shape. We have quite a team of pastry talent on board.”
Michelle is credited with the design, which includes butcher block counter tops and mosaic white tile on facings. “We love Maine for its approachability, rustic approach, and laid-back attitude. We can have elegance here and it can be refined, without being snooty at all,” he says. He describes it as an urban space, open and airy, and not as tight as what you’d find in Paris.
If you’ve been around Portland for a while, you’ll remember the original Public Market, where restaurateurs Chef Sam Hayward and Dana Street opened Scales, which had a lobster shack personality. That, Hayward says, was a tryout for their concept of a seafood emporium. “We always knew that we wanted to do something on the waterfront, a real full-scale seafood emporium in the New England style.”
They had a little wholesale seafood operation on the Maine Wharf, sited between the ferry terminal and the pier where Boone’s and Harbor Fish are located. When the owner created a new building, they grabbed the ground floor, which they’re building out now. “We originally planned to be open by now, but we’re targeting late summer, it’s crazy.”
Their New England seafood emporium will again be called Scales. “It’ll have a good-sized raw bar built into a liquor bar, with seating for about 25 in the bar,” Hayward says. The dining room, he adds, will seat another 100-120.
The kitchen will have its own bakery. The core menu will focus on traditional favorites, such as steamed lobster, fresh fish—mostly sourced from the Gulf of Maine. There will be some meats. Hayward expects more of a lobster shack favorites menu during tourist season and then transitioning the menu as the season winds winds down, with other options for locals in winter.
“Even for those classic New England seafood items, we’ll apply everything we know about food, applying quality technique and presentation to a traditional seafood core menu. We’ll be doing it the best it can be done; we won’t cut corners,” he says. “Our fried oyster and clams will be the best you ever tasted, we’ll serve the best chowders. We’ll pay absolute attention to detail, it’ll be anything but generic. We’ll use local farms for most produce, we’ll be selective about seafood quality, and we’ll be training our kitchen staff nonstop to keep the menu program moving forward and getting better and better.”
The famous Scales lobster roll will return, made with a Standard Baking Co. split-top New England style hot dog roll, lobster steamed with attention to technique, emulsified butter, and, unusual for a lobster roll, sea salt and black pepper. Homemade mayo will be served either on top or on the side.
The plan is to open with dinner service only, and then maybe next summer expand to an 11 a.m.- 11 p.m. schedule.