Several friends recommended Bangor’s Blaze restaurant, so when we discovered there is also a Blaze in Bar Harbor, we reserved a spot for dinner there during an August visit to Mt. Desert Island. Our son Josh and daughter-in-law Kelly had eaten lunch there that day and raved about it. And were they ever right!

That great meal motivated us to schedule a travel column visit to Blaze, in Bangor, while we were at the always-wonderful American Folk Festival. Blaze was within walking distance of the festival, right in downtown Bangor, and as we approached the restaurant we were greeted by the very friendly hostess, Meghan, who had thoughtfully set tables for us both inside and outside. We opted for inside because it was cooler and beautiful with wood and brick walls.

When we find a restaurant that marries great staff with great food, we are always pleased, and Blaze does just that. As soon as we were seated, manager Jake Bridges came over for a visit. He’s very active in all aspects of the restaurant, including serving the food. Our server Ashley was super friendly, too, and very enthusiastic about the food here. Both Jake and Ashley were a great help in selecting our dishes from the very lengthy menu.

Our table overlooked the wood-fired oven and grills, so I wandered over several times to talk with Chef Justin Bard, who is a master at the technically complex art of cooking nearly everything with wood fires. We discussed the different types of wood he uses, and why.

Everything on the menu was calling my name, from the oak-fired burgers and tacos to the paninis and pizza. Boy, did they all look good going by our table. But first I had to work my way through the most extensive list of beers I’ve seen anywhere in Maine. They actually have 51 taps and rotate beers often. I started with a superb porter from a California brewery. With dinner, I opted for a delicious brown ale from Geaghan’s, one of our favorite Maine brewers.

I was so glad I went with Jake’s recommendation for an entree, the Grilled Duck Breast. Justin cooked it perfectly, medium rare. The smoked duck and fingerling hash were absolutely superb and the bourbon-soaked veggie with a cherry reduction was tasty, too. Regrettably, Linda would not allow me to also order the duck fat fries. Nor was I allowed dessert — but I have to admit, I was stuffed by that point. We’ll have to get back here soon because Ashley raved about the mussels, one of my favorite meals, and it’ll be fun to see what Justin cooks up for specials. And of course, there are 49 more beers to try!


I loved our table because we could see right into the cooking area. When I went up to speak to the chef, I asked him how he is able to control the heat over that wood fire. He showed me where the cooler spots were on his grilling area and said he just keeps moving things around. It looked like an art form to me! I would have burned a whole lot of food if I tried that.

The fare here ranges from light to hearty. Their creative burgers include four protein choices: chicken, beef, duck or quinoa. Their Blaze Burger, with smoked mozzarella, caramelized onion, bacon, stout mustard, Blaze BBQ and a duck egg is very popular. There are five more inspired choices as well. The burger special of the day was a towering masterpiece. We were impressed as it went by.

We started by sharing the appetizer special that night. The meatballs with pesto, ricotta and marinara sauce were divine. I could smell that wonderful pesto as soon as it landed at our table. The meatballs were extraordinary — lean and tender.

When we dined at their Bar Harbor restaurant I had the chicken taco special. They know how to do a taco — with double-wrapped tortillas. This one was topped with a very tasty mango salsa. I still remember how great that dish was, including those incredible duck fat fries.

In Bangor, I ordered the Ancho Chili Rubbed Statler Chicken. Not only did it have that ancho rub but it also was topped with a mole sauce. Their housemade mole was dark and rich with a taste of chocolate and spices. It wasn’t spicy hot, and had great depth with a hint of sweetness. It was equally delicious on the polenta and the summer squash served with it.

With creative menu choices, talented chefs who know how to cook over wood fires, and a very friendly staff, this is a restaurant you’ll want to visit soon.

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

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