Linda

We were watching the nightly television show “207” one night when a familiar face popped up. It turned out to be Kevin Cunningham, a chef we’d met when he worked at the Brunswick Tavern. Kevin mentioned that he is now the chef at Marché Kitchen and Wine Bar in Lewiston. So we looked into visiting Marché the next time we were scheduled to go to The Public Theater.

What sets this restaurant apart is that they serve small plates, so you can share and enjoy a variety of food in a relaxed atmosphere. Some people hear “small plates” and think they will go away hungry. We, in fact, always wonder why so many restaurants serve such enormous portions of food. We’ve oversized to the point that restaurant portions are two to three times as large as what I would consider a “normal” portion. At Marché you might start with an appetizer, order a main, have room for dessert and still have a very affordable (and delicious) meal. We actually had leftovers.

Customers at two tables recognized us and said they enjoyed this travel column. One lady told us, “I can eat here and not feel overly full. You get a really nice meal for not a lot of money. We love it.” And they come regularly.

Servers here know the menu well, and are extremely knowledgeable about craft beers and wines that pair well with your food. When Kevin designed the menu, the dishes were specifically paired with selected wines and beer.

One thing I noted as I looked around was that many patrons ordered a meat and cheese appetizer plate to be shared at their table. The word “burrata” jumped out at me as that is daughter Hilary’s favorite cheese and one that’s relatively new to me. We ordered the burrata and prosciutto plate ($10) as a starter. Crunchy crostini could be combined with shaved Parma prosciutto, mission fig paste and burrata — a creamy, delectable, mild cheese. Heavenly!

They had me at risotto ($10) when I saw it delivered to a nearby table, especially when I heard how much the couple enjoyed it as they shared it. It was indeed yummy. The dish was topped with dried fruit compote that had been reconstituted into tart/sweet deliciousness that paired well with cheesy risotto. A balsamic drizzle finished the dish and the portion size was perfect for me.

One feels the relaxed atmosphere here. It’s perfectly okay to order an appetizer, then order more later. The staff is very easy-going, and we noticed everyone pitching in to help as kitchen staff helped deliver some dishes to guests. It’s a small restaurant where you immediately feel comfortable.

For dessert, we split a great panna cotta ($8) served in a tall glass with a caramel topping. We fought for every bite and I held my own, much to George’s dismay.

George

In the 10 years we’ve been regular subscribers to Lewiston’s Public Theater, located on Lisbon Street, we’ve seen the street crash, burn and recover. It is the recovery that is truly amazing. And the relatively new Marché Kitchen has added another great restaurant to the street.

It’s not hard to understand the commitment to quality here, because the owner, Susan Hall, who bought the restaurant last July, also owns The Vault, just down the street. The Vault was voted best wine shop in Maine last year by the readers of Down East magazine. Susan offers a fantastic selection of craft beer and wine there. She gets a lot of customers from Marché Kitchen, who saunter down the street to purchase bottles of the wine and beer they just enjoyed at the restaurant.

Chef Kevin Cunningham is creative, for sure, and we were disappointed when he left Brunswick Tavern. Well, we are disappointed no longer! I began my meal with a Baxter beer, made just down the street. Baxter Brewing is another great addition to the neighborhood. While we were deciding on our appetizer, the bartender came out and explained a drink to a customer. Service here is exceptional. Shelley, our server, explained the most popular and unusual items, and helped us make our choices. And the sous chef delivered our food.

While I was leaning toward pulled-pork tacos ($10), a personal favorite, Shelley talked me into the Pork with Fig Sauce ($13) — pan-seared pork tenderloin topped with a mission fig sauce and served with almond-sauteed spinach. It was elegant, well-seasoned and unusually tender for pork tenderloin. The spinach, in olive oil, was perfection on a plate. And the really good news is that Linda said she’d never had it that way and will be serving it this way at home in the future.

The shared panna cotta dessert with a caramel topping and whipped cream was so good. I asked Linda, “Want another one?” She answered, “Nope.” What a pity.

As we exited the restaurant, three young guys were outside on the sidewalk, peering in the window into the packed restaurant. One of them said, “I don’t think I’ve ever seen Lewiston/Auburn this packed.” For good reason!

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.

Portland Stage

Monica Wood’s autobiography, “When We Were the Kennedys,” is an amazing story of growing up in Mexico, Maine, when the Rumford paper mill dominated the towns and economy. When the workers went on strike, their families, and the town, were devastated.

Portland Stage brings that story to life, presenting “Papermaker,” from April 21 to May 17. Monica wrote the play and it is sure to be sensational, thought-provoking, something you’ll never forget. Don’t miss this. Tickets are available at www.portlandstage.org or by calling 774-0465.


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