This Gardiner restaurant is going to need a much larger space if the owners continue to serve creative food in the style of the once-plentiful, now-rare steakhouse. Diners will love it!

Linda

There’s a new restaurant in downtown Gardiner that is calling your name if you like perfectly grilled meats, generous portions and beautifully presented food. Alex Parkers Steak House opened a couple of months ago, after a nine-month renovation project led by owners Harold Royals and Peter Powers.

Upstairs you will find the bar area, kitchen (where amazing dishes are being created) and dining area. The main dining room is downstairs. Built-in wine shelves hold lots of bottles and create an art display all on their own. There’s a feeling of dining in an elegant wine cellar here. With a color scheme of tan and white accented with brick walls, I found the atmosphere to be charming.

Our waitress Sandy was friendly, knowledgeable and attentive. It turns out that her daughter Dawn lives in Mt. Vernon, and I taught both of her granddaughters in first grade. She explained that the beef is all Angus beef raised right in Chesterville, at Archer Angus, and that they want the meat to be the star. “We want you to taste the meat, not just seasonings.”

We continued our study of crab cakes here and were not disappointed. Two large crab cakes were seasoned with Old Bay and sautéed in white wine and garlic butter. When I say large, I mean it. George and I split one and took the other home. They were exceptional and came with two sauces on the side.

At the next table, we noticed two enormous salads being delivered. They were the regular serving size and can be added to your entrée order for $3. There is also the option of ordering these as an entrée, with or without the addition of grilled meats.

When I first arrived, a table of two had just been served an impressive creation with a big puff pastry top. It turned out to be the Sirloin Beef Tips, and I knew I had to try it. Lifting off the pastry topping, I discovered big chunks of tender beef and mushrooms resting in a delectable sauce. The gravy was smooth and held a peppery flavor that was excellent. The puff pastry topping is high, but melts in your mouth and is perfect when dipped in the sauce.

The side of garlic mashed potatoes was a meal in itself! But I have to say their version is one of the best I’ve ever tried. They are not shy in their use of seasonings in the side dishes, but this balances perfectly with the grilled meats and seafood entrées.

The staff hustles up and down the stairs, delivering one incredibly beautiful dish after another. All eyes follow the servers. It turns out that everyone dining downstairs that night was just as curious as we were! There are only seven tables in this room, and they were full with quick turnovers for the next party throughout the evening.

The table of four next to us noticed that we were photographing our dinners, and they were a bit curious. When we explained what we were doing, they offered up everything they ordered to be photographed before they ate! We found people visiting, the space full of conversation and bubbling with laughter.

You will not go away hungry here. Peter explained that their large portions are intentional, to give the feel of an old-fashioned steak house. I don’t think anyone left that night without leftovers.

Ample parking is available in back of the restaurant. If you take advantage of this, you will discover the impressive covered arcade entrance they renovated. It’s as impeccably designed as every other part of this restaurant.

George

There was a steak house north of Boston that was a required stop any time we were headed to Fenway Park. Memories of that place filled my mind as I gazed at the massive plates of food and sizzling steaks that passed by us on their way to nearby tables. Yes, this is the wonderful old-style steak house with an important update — much more creative food.

I haven’t seen a porterhouse steak on a menu in a long time, but they’ve got it here — in a huge 18-ounce cut. And that’s not even the largest cut of steak on the menu. But I opted for the filet mignon, always a good test of a restaurant’s ability to properly grill meat.

My 10-ounce filet was perfectly pink and just as described on the menu: “lean yet succulent, elegant.” I couldn’t have said it better myself! Nor could I eat it all after consuming most of my appetizer, the Parker’s Caprese Salad.

This consisted of four thinly sliced tenderloins of beef, layered with roasted green peppers, fresh buffalo mozzarella, wonderful grilled tomatoes and fresh basil, all drizzled with basil pesto. This could easily be a full meal for just $9. All of the prices here are very reasonable.

There is no need to avoid Alex’s if you are not a meat-eater. The menu includes seafood, a nice variety of salads and soups. The Farmer’s Table Chopped Salad is enormous and just $7 (or an astonishingly low $3 when ordered with an entrée). There are good seafood choices, too, including traditional items like Pan-Seared Jumbo Scallops and New England Haddock.

I especially liked the large mound of garlic mashed potatoes that included cut-up portions of shrimp that came with my steak — very tasty. At the next table, my mouth watered as I photographed the Steak-Stuffed Mushrooms and the Seafood Scampi.

The peanut butter pie we ordered for dessert was also very good, especially because Linda was too full to eat much of it!

This is really two restaurants — a pub-style first floor with a bar and a more elegant room downstairs. There were a lot of first-timers there the night we visited. Four local folks we know were seated in a large table at the front window as we entered, and we stopped to visit. It was their first time there and one of the men quickly noted, “We’ve only been here 10 minutes and we already love it!”

It’s great to have a high-quality steak house nearby with top-quality beef from a Maine farm. And the strategy that Peter and Harold employ, designed to send customers home with leftovers, worked well for us. We needed a bag to carry ours home!

Visit George’s website: www.georgesmithmaine.com for travel tips, book reviews, outdoor news and more.

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