In a foodie city like Portland, restaurants sometimes come and go like the tide. The Old Port Sea Grill and Raw Bar, however, has been in business since 2002 and seems to be here to stay. In fact, the Grill just hired a new executive chef.
According to General Manager Justin C. St. Louis, guests can expect to experience an “elevated Old Port Sea Grill” in the coming weeks, as new Executive Chef Christopher Pierce takes the reins. Pierce, formerly of Denver, has an impressive resume: he’s staged at the prestigious Alinea in Chicago, and also worked for several Michelin-starred restaurants and under James Beard Award-winning chefs.
St. Louis said that Pierce’s interview speaks for itself. Usually, candidates provide a restaurant with a list of supplies needed to prepare their signature dishes. Pierce, however, made his with ingredients the Grill already had on hand, much like on the Food Network Show “Chopped,” St. Louis joked.
“The most important thing about his food is that it’s memorable,” St. Louis said.
Pierce has wholeheartedly embraced the restaurant’s philosophies, including fresh, simple preparation, St. Louis said, and will be adding dishes to the menu and making some changes in the near future.
According to St. Louis, the secret to the restaurant’s longevity is consistent quality.
“We’re maintaining the philosophy of bringing in the freshest seafood,” St. Louis said, noting that this almost always means local.
The restaurant is not part of the “foodie movement,” St. Louis explained, but instead offers simple, quality fare and great value. It’s a comfortable place in which to kick back and relax on the weekends or to grab a drink after work.
“We have one of the best lobster rolls in town,” St. Louis said, noting that all of the crustaceans’ meat is packed into the menu item, rather than just claw meat, and that all of the rolls are made in-house.
One of the restaurant’s best sellers is the Maine lobster bake, a 1.5-pound lobster served with corn and clams. Oysters are also a huge seller, as is the salmon. The Grill procures its salmon from Faroe Island, off the coast of Scotland, where the most humane farming techniques are used.
“You can taste the difference,” St. Louis said.
St. Louis said that, personally, if he were to dine at the Grill, he would opt for the blood orange margarita, followed by shrimp cocktail and then either the lobster roll or the scallops, which are “grilled to perfection.”
St. Louis himself is relatively new and has been at the Grill for about three months, though he’s managed before, at The Woodlands Club in Falmouth and the SeaGrass Bistro in Yarmouth.
His main focus once starting at the Grill was to revamp the cocktail menu. St. Louis said it seemed almost out of date and “foreign.”
“We needed something that our guests can access,” St. Louis said.
The menu now reads like a love letter to the classics, with some personal twists. The Painkiller, a seasonal drink made with Pusser’s Rum, orange, pineapple, cream of coconut, and ground nutmeg, is one of the bestselling cocktails.
The Grill’s Happy Hour is unique because it runs from 3-6 p.m. every single day of the week. This means that you don’t have to be coming off of a stressful day at work to enjoy Happy Hour perks, which include $3 beers, $5 glasses of wine, $5 cosmos and Manhattans, and $2 oysters.
If you’re looking for a time-tested Portland classic with killer Happy Hour drinks (again, every day of the week) and authentic Maine seafood, get to Commercial St. stat. Not that there’s any rush- this restaurant is not going anywhere.
- Published in Food + Drink