What do you get when you combine a beautiful and historic Methodist church with delicious creative food and superb service? Amazing Grace!

George

Church suppers here could not have been this good. Anne Verrill performed a miracle, turning her vision for this Portland Methodist church (on the National Register of Historic Places) into a stunning restaurant. I told Anne that we are Methodists and our churches are supposed to be small white buildings.

I’ve never seen a Methodist Church like this one, in the Gothic Revival style. Anne restored the stonework, saved the unusual grain-painted wooden pillars and let the rest of the huge church shine — including gorgeous stained-glass windows imported from Florence, Italy in the 1850s.

We were especially impressed that Anne made the holy trinity the restaurant’s symbol. A colorful trinity decorated the wall behind us, the trinity ceiling over the bar area was below us and the symbol was even on the cover of our menu.

I could have sat at our two-person table in the balcony with a glass of wine for hours, enjoying the reverence of this special place. But there was food to eat!

Our server, David, has been working here since Anne opened the restaurant. His professionalism and knowledge of the menu, as well as the features of the church and restaurant were superb. This is fine dining with a complete change of silverware with each course, but David’s presence was never intrusive. In fact, we enjoyed the opportunity to visit with him at several points during the evening.

Anne is a hands-on owner, serves as the restaurant’s expediter and actually delivered our appetizers, giving us a chance to visit with her and talk about her experiences in restoring the church and opening the restaurant. She is vivacious and readily available to all guests.

We began with glasses of wine, selecting the Corvine, Allegrini, from Italy, priced at $8 per glass. David provided us with a sample before we ordered it, and the generous pour was enough to see us through the entire dinner.

We decided to be brave and try appetizers we’d never had. I will, forever more, be looking for veal sweetbreads ($12) on menus. They were delicious and I would have loved to take home a gallon of the bacon braised cabbage. Juniper berries added crunch and the local cider and mustard glaze was sooo delicious.

David recommended the Gulf of Maine sea scallops ($35). They were seared with a nice crust but moist inside, just the way I like them. The Chinese broccoli added taste and crunch and the mung beans were good, too. I tried to tell Linda this, but she said, “You’re mumbling about your mung beans.” Shouldn’t talk with my mouth full!

The chef and staff give a lot of creative thought to everything on the plate. While the primary ingredients — in my case, the sweetbreads and scallops — were great, it was everything else on the plates that made the dishes extra special. Or, as Lin so aptly put it, “It’s not just ho-hum fried scallops.”

We enjoyed the beautiful presentation of our dessert — a cheesecake ice cream sundae — as much as the sundae itself that was light and fluffy with a delicious salted-caramel sauce. The spoons for the sundae were shaped like shovels, drawing this remark from Lin: “Appropriate for you, Honey.”

Grace, in Christian belief, is the “free and unmerited favor of God, as manifested in the salvation of sinners and the bestowal of blessings.”

May the blessings of Grace be bestowed upon you soon!

Linda

A unique dining experience awaits you at the former Chestnut Street Church. Its size and architecture, along with its renovation to a restaurant, have made Grace a place you must see and experience. It feels a little surreal as you enter. Parting the simple green curtains and stepping into the foyer just might take your breath away. The height, expanse and beauty of this room are hard to describe.

The entrance gives way to a spacious hostess station, a massive round bar with seating and an open kitchen. Dining areas on the right and left offer a variety of seating. I noticed a pew with tables to the left and a couch and relaxed seating area to the right. The upper balconies on each side are dining areas as well, with traditional seating.

For the Christmas season, greenery and white lights decked out the balconies. I found myself gazing around the restaurant the entire evening just trying to take in all the beauty. They’ve preserved the structural beauty of this historic church, from its high arched supports to the spectacular stained-glass windows. One definition of grace is “simple elegance,” and that certainly defines this place.

But, of course, Grace has earned its reputation of a great restaurant because of its food. Chef Pete Sueltonfuss searches out local and sustainable products to create an outstanding dining experience. They feature a farm-to-table concept and believe in using the whole animal when creating menu items.

Warm house-made anadama bread, served with molasses butter, is a great start to the meal. The menu offers a variety of unique starters and selections from the raw bar, in-house prepared charcuterie and cheese listings. I decided to be very adventurous and try the roasted bone marrow. You spread the meaty marrow, served in the split bone, onto crostini. It was a rich taste unlike anything I’ve tried before.

I always feel a little bad about ordering chicken at a nice restaurant because I cook it all the time at home and there are always more interesting choices on the menu. The Gianome Farm Chicken sounded spectacular, so when our server David pointed out that it was one of the most popular entrees, I ordered it guilt-free. The chicken breast and small thigh arrived in a very classy presentation with house-made chicken sausage, spatzle, foraged mushrooms and foie gras.

The components of the dishes here are not just sides on the plate. They raise the dish to another level. With the first bite, I knew immediately that this was the best chicken I’ve ever tasted. The meat was tender and moist while the seasoned coating made it delectable. George sampled it as well and declared the same thing.

When we were leaving I mentioned this to Anne and she exclaimed, “It’s my favorite here, too!” It was a spectacular entree at a reasonable price ($25). I did have a few leftovers that I neglected to share with George the next day. Heavenly.

While sitting back and trying think about this dining experience, one word kept entering my mind: amazing. Then it came to me . . . Amazing Grace, how sweet thou art.

 

Visit George’s website — georgesmithmaine.com — for book reviews, outdoor news and all Travelin’ Maine(rs) columns, found listed in the “Best of Maine” section.