While Portland grabs the headlines for foodies nationwide, Bangor’s our kind of place, with savvy civic leaders, a great waterfront on the Penobscot River, awesome events like the American Folk Festival and (soon) a new convention center.
Our home-away-from-home there is the Fireside Inn, owned by Bangor’s Lafayette family, hospitable hoteliers who offer superb service and comfort in their three dozen hotels and inns.
And two of our favorite Maine pubs are in Bangor, assuring us of some mighty fine food and brews. In fact, though they are known for their great beer, the Sea Dog Brewing Co. and Geaghan’s Pub have surprisingly creative food. And it’s the food that keeps bringing us back.
During this year’s American Folk Festival in August, despite the fact the festival features many good food vendors, we took our meals at the Sea Dog and Geaghan’s.
The Sea Dog, downtown alongside the river, provides plenty of seating in its nicely decorated bar and dining room — but we usually opt to sit on the outside deck overlooking the river when the weather is good. On this particular day, it was so hot outside that we opted for the air-conditioned dining room.
This location brews its own beer, and I enjoy the darker brews, especially their stout. You know they take beer seriously when you look at the menu, which includes an entire page explaining the features from aroma to “mouth feel.” All I can tell you is the stout felt good to me!
The Sea Dog does offer all the traditional pub fare, from burgers to fish, and also provides a surprisingly large menu of more creative dishes — even lasagna — and lobster for the tourists. Their sides range from Maine potato chips to mac’n’cheese and swiss chard.
Starters are especially interesting, including Korean BBQ beef soft tacos, Risotto Ancini, Lobster Rangoon, veggie nachos and a Triple Mediterranean Plate.
I happen to love their Beer Burger, pan-braised with Sea Dog Blonde Ale and topped with beer cheese, beer-braised onions, tomato, lettuce and Sea Dog (of course!) mustard made by our favorite mustard makers, Kevin and Karen Raye in Eastport.
My Beer Burger was, as usual, perfectly cooked (pink in the middle), on a wonderful bun, with crispy fries — just the way we like them. After taking a few photos, I dug in. The large burger is difficult to eat, but I slobbered my way through it. And given that we were walking a lot that weekend, I ordered a pale ale to go with it.
As our plates were cleared from the table, we were very full, enjoying the river flowing by, noting the customers still pouring in. And then we stepped right outside to the music festival, for some Columbian music. That woke us up!
After a hot afternoon at the festival, during which Linda made me dance to a salsa band until I swore I was going to require knee surgery, we hiked back to our air-conditioned room at the Fireside Inn for cold showers, a rest and dinner at Geaghan’s Pub.
Peter Geaghan gave us a tour of their new brewery, so popular that they’ve already added another tank a year ahead of schedule. They’ve got state-of-the-art technology and an award-winning brew master from San Diego who married a Maine girl wanting to return home. Lucky for us!
Most of their exceptional beers are sold in the pub, but you can purchase them in both half and full growlers. Linda bought a half growler of Presque Isle Honey Blond Ale — a first for her! It’s sitting in our fridge now, awaiting a special occasion.
My beer selection was Captain Kool, an IPA named for the nation’s first female sea captain, a woman from Maine and a regular at Geaghan’s until she died. It is strong and fabulous, and comes with a great story that demonstrates how this family is anchored in the Bangor community.
We sampled a fabulous white chicken chili (nicely spiced heat), and an appetizer we’ve enjoyed before — fried mushrooms. My BBQ Beef Brisket Sandwich sounded great and tasted even better. Brisket slow-cooked in their own Bangor Brown Ale, smothered in homemade BBQ sauce.
Wow! What a meal! What a weekend!
We went to Bangor to enjoy the Folk Festival, so it was a natural that we gravitated toward simple, easy food instead of a lengthy lingering dinner. Our first stop was at the Sea Dog, which happens to be situated right on the festival grounds.
I always enjoy the food at Sea Dog. If you want a great burger, you can count on one here. I chose the Basic Burger that includes a choice of five kinds of cheese. George called me boring because he wants everything piled atop a burger. But I wanted a simply perfect burger, and that’s just what I got. Somehow they’ve figured out the secret to making blue cheese on top of a burger creamy. There’s no need for mustard and ketchup.
You have a choice of five sides, and the sesame ginger slaw is addicting. The sesame oil and soy sauce dressing is super. The fries are the way they should be in a pub — crispy outside and soft inside. No need to adjust the salt on these. Perfect.
The inside dining room is large, seating 120, with another 68 seats out on the deck. They pull the tables aside to make a dance floor when bands perform Friday and Saturday nights.
We also enjoyed a meal at Geaghan’s Pub. If you went to a restaurant and discovered a delicious dish that wasn’t served anywhere else, wouldn’t you order it repeatedly when you visited? Well, that’s what I do each time I visit Geaghan’s.
Their Boneless Buffalo Wings have become famous. They actually aren’t wings at all. They’re chicken tenders served with a choice of sauces (honey BBQ, honey mustard or three levels of buffalo wing sauce). George gives me such a hard time, because of course I always order these wings.
This trip I found some solid statistics on just how popular they are. About 65 percent of Geaghan’s takeout orders are boneless wings! Our server told us they have a very busy takeout business, especially on “game days.”
They sold 500 pounds of Boneless Buffalo Wings on Superbowl Sunday alone!
Somehow, they have figured out how to bread and fry the chicken pieces without making them greasy while still keeping the meat moist. These are addictive with the blue cheese dipping sauce and celery sticks.
So, though their menu is full of great pub food, I plan on sticking with a proven winner that I can’t find anywhere else!
We did try something new this time by sitting in the banquet room, which is opened on very busy nights. With the festival going on, it was packed with a lively crowd. This room and the bar are our favorites places to sit.
For a late-night dessert we stopped back in to share a piece of Bailey’s Irish Cream Pie. Made with a recipe that Larry Geaghan brought back from a trip to Ireland, this pie is decadent and unusual. Another thing I always plan to order here!
Visit George’s website: www.georgesmithmaine.com for travel tips, book reviews, outdoor news and more.