George

From the beautiful and historic booths (salvaged from a southern Maine church) to the wonderful Irish food, Augusta’s Black and Tan has fast become a popular place since opening last June. Located just above Water Street, Stacey and Chris Shaw’s restaurant was recommended to us by our friends Rocko and Robyn Graziano, who accompanied us to dinner there.

Chris is an Augusta police sergeant of Scottish ancestry, while Stacey, with an Irish heritage, is the cook and manager of the restaurant. I noted customers that night from the president of the University of Maine at Augusta to a family with two little boys. This is a family-friendly place with a kids’ menu.

Stacey worked at a Readfield restaurant for two years and brings a lot of friendly enthusiasm and cooking creativity to this place. Paul, the bartender who served us that night, also is friendly. He told us an amazing story about his mom to explain why he was wearing a Yankees shirt. She’d gotten hit by a truck at age 12, and Mickey Mantle, Whitey Ford and Yogi Berra all donated blood to help her recover. So we had to forgive him for being a Yankees fan.

I stopped by for lunch the previous week and loved Stacey’s lamb stew, one of four specials that rotates on the menu. I sat at the long and beautiful bar, which is made from a single piece of pine. They have a good selection of beer on tap and in bottles, with excellent selections from Ireland (of course).

For dinner, I ordered the beef and Guinness stout pie ($12). It was packed with chunks of beef, and the thick sauce was really tasty. Of course it would be, cooked in Guinness! And my bite of Robin’s dish — that night’s “Blackboard Special” Scottish egg: sausage wrapped around an egg over mashed potatoes, bacon slices over the top, and covered in gravy — was so good, I asked Stacey to alert me whenever that is on the menu.

My appetizer of Highland bites ($7) featured sausage wrapped in pastry and served with a great mustard sauce. It’ll be another favorite of mine here.

If for some reason you don’t like Irish food, there are lots of other choices available, from pizza and burgers, to Reubens, to fish and chips.

I think somewhere in my heritage there must be some Irish folks, because I really love Irish food and beer.

Linda

A weeknight visit to the Black and Tan was a great chance to dine out with our friends, the Grazianos, and experience firsthand why this restaurant is so special for them.

Stacey explained how her husband, Chris, had done most of the renovations to create a space with a wonderful atmosphere. The first thing I noticed was a dart game going on at the far end of the spacious room. The walls are soft green, and church bench seating and hand-built long tables provide a booth-like feel without being enclosed. Irish music plays in the background.

There is a good list of pints, including Irish and Scottish beer, as well as Maine brews. My Allagash White was served with a lemon wedge, a great light beer that went well with my meal.

I asked Rocko what a black and tan drink was and learned that it is half Guinness stout and half Bass ale. There was a piece on the menu warning folks to never order a black and tan in Ireland — something to do with the colors of the British military. (Order a half and half instead.)

Rocko raved about the Highland bites, so George ordered those. Paul, our friendly server, told us that they make their own sausage right here. This appetizer is wrapped in a flaky pastry, and boy was it good dipped in mustard sauce.

I ordered the beer-battered mushrooms, which sounded incredible to me. A large mound of golden brown button mushrooms came out with a mustard sauce. It was plenty big enough to share. I just loved these. The mustard sauce was outrageous, and I thought later that I should have asked for the remaining sauce to go. It would be great on anything.

The menu is varied, including a pub menu and a selection of pizzas. But if you are here to try Irish food, look under the entrees. I tried the Cornish pastie, a beautiful turnover of beef, potato, turnip and onions. The flaky puff pastry crust was daintily crimped and golden brown. A side dish of fantastic brown gravy comes with this dish. The filling was creamy and not at all spicy. Pieces of steak provided texture, along with that flaky crust. I really enjoyed it, but only got halfway through before asking for a to-go box. (It reheats beautifully.)

I sampled one of the fries on Rocko’s entree of fish and chips, deeming them top notch. They were what every fry should be: really crispy on the outside and creamy on the inside. Wow!

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