“Gather • Eat • Be Merry” The slogan on our take-home bag from 11 Central, tells you all you need to know about this wonderful Bangor restaurant.

Linda

We have been hearing wonderful comments about 11 Central, a downtown eatery in Bangor. Open just about a year and a half, the word is certainly out if the number of patrons pouring in throughout the evening is any indication. And this restaurant deserves kudos for a charming atmosphere, great service and delectable fresh food.

We began our evening by meeting friends John and Julie Cashwell, who are regulars here. Sitting at the bar for a pre-dinner drink let me soak in the atmosphere. The owners hauled out 20 tons of debris when they renovated this space. It now has a modern decor, but they kept the exposed brick on the back wall and the hardwood floors. Black tables are set with candlelight and fresh flowers — even the restroom was elegant and tasteful. A divider holds an array of white candles sparkling amongst white flowers.

Co-owner/manager Ann Marie Orr came for a chat at the beginning of our meal. She is full of energy, and you can hear the pride in her voice when she starts to tell us more about 11 Central.

“Nothing is in here that hasn’t been thought of with clear intention,” says Ann Marie. They have artists display their paintings and feature them by the season. Now, when I think of “by the season,” I think winter scenes in winter. But Ann Marie recalls, “When it was white outside I wanted color! We had colorful sunflowers, lots of flowers. Every single artist sold something.”

I can just picture how cheery it must have been in that space during the dead of winter.

Once seated in the dining room, we decided to begin our meal with bruschetta. John cautioned, “It is very large, just like the serving you saw at the bar.” Thank goodness we listened as there was plenty for the four of us! The crust of their bruschetta was pita bread, smeared with basil pesto and topped with lettuce, tomato and black olives. Light and so yummy!

Julie ordered the Spinach Salad, and with a sample of that I was won over. Red and yellow peppers, locally raised bacon and feta made this spinach salad the best I’ve had. Scrumptious.

Our entrees came with a Ceasar salad and this was super fresh as well. Ann Marie stopped by to encourage us to sprinkle the sea salt set in a little bowl on the table to “make the Ceasar pop.” Yup. Once delicious, now perfect.

I chose the Chicken Oscar for my entree, while everyone else went with fresh fish or seafood. The chicken was breaded lightly and moist and tender. Two small cutlets were layered with lumps of fresh crabmeat and topped with hollandaise sauce. Rounding out the meal I selected the brown rice with roasted peppers and portabella mushrooms. What an incredible meal! It is one of their signature dishes and I see why.

As usual, I said I didn’t need dessert and, as usual, George asked what was offered. He claimed we needed to order something so we could get a photograph. Our server, Sarah, said, “I have quite the spiel” and she did, whipping through a lengthy list of Ann Marie’s desserts. At the end, she offered a funny head flip to announce the Shut Up and Kiss Me Pie.

“You have to say this with the head motion,” she said.

At that point I think we were all hooked and John said we really must try it. I amaze myself when I am presented with a dessert that is relatively light and contains chocolate. Suddenly my appetite came back when I tasted the mint chocolate chip ice cream on a crisp chocolate crust and drizzled with chocolate sauce. I had found my favorite dessert of the year!

George

Details matter at 11 Central. The staff gathers every day before the restaurant opens to try the food, talk about the evening’s service, “check attitudes” and decorate the take-home bags that bear the slogan: “Gather • Eat • Be Merry.” And we did!

From the seasonal art on the walls to the dishes to the speakers in the ceiling playing soft background music, everything is thoughtfully planned and presented for the customers’ pleasure. And we were pleased.

Ann Marie Orr has had a popular catering business for 10 years, loves to cook and really loves to guide the cooking of her young kitchen chefs. She also prepares all the desserts.

Even the customers are friendly. At the bar, everyone allowed me to photograph their food. Some got into extended conversations with me. Since it opened in October of 2013, 11 Central has obviously attracted a very loyal group of regulars.

“Everyone expects an experience here,” Orr told us. And she is intense about delivering it. Each server gets only three tables, so customers receive exceptional attention. We certainly kept Sarah busy for the 2 and a half hours we were at table. We also spent an hour at the bar, nursing one glass of Angelie Reserve Pinot Noir wine from California ($7 glass, $28 bottle) and enjoying our conversation with the Cashwells. When Linda pointed out that it was 10 p.m. and the restaurant was closing, I couldn’t believe it!

As you would expect, the food was creatively exceptional. I loved the unusual presentation of bruschetta — enough for all four of us, although I probably ate more than my share — mostly because Linda and Julie were focused on the spinach salad.

When I asked Sarah for an entree recommendation, she quickly responded with “the seafood marinara,” describing it so delectably that I could not possibly order anything else. Fortunately, she did not overstate the case for this dish.

It was loaded with sea scallops, shrimp, lobster claws and mussels. The perfectly cooked pasta and the marinara sauce, with a nice spicy taste, are made here. The portion was humongous and I had plenty left over for lunch the next day.

I was surprised to find a lengthy list of pizzas on the menu, but that really makes sense for a restaurant that wants to attract a late night crowd. And it gives regular patrons another excuse to dine here.

Not that you need any excuse. 11 Central is a place to savor, soon.

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.