George

Sitting in Portland’s small restaurant called Terlingua, I close my eyes and remember sitting on the deck outside the Starlight Theater restaurant in Terlingua, Texas, watching the light of the setting sun rise up and over the mountains in our favorite national park, Big Bend.

I say thanks to Pliny Reynolds and his wife, Melanie Kratovil, for bringing Terlingua to our state. Pliny is an architect who worked in Austin, Texas, and Melanie’s grandparents owned Alisson’s restaurant in Kennebunkport. Their restaurant brings that Tex-Mex southwest cooking that Linda and I love almost to our doorstep. Well, Portland is a lot closer than Texas.

We also must thank Rusty Atwood for alerting us to Terlingua, and for joining us there with his wife Sue. Although the restaurant is small (24 table seats and six at the bar) and was packed, no one rushed us and we stayed for two and a half hours, enjoying each and every course and catching up on family news.

My appetizer of deviled eggs with a habanero sauce was divine, drizzled with chili oil and topped with shrimp.

Our strategy was to share a couple of appetizers, and then each order a large portion of an entree to share (you can also order small portions of many dishes).

It was a great strategy, but I might have violated the rules by eating most of mine, red chili, sharing only a spoonful each with Rusty, Sue and Linda. Wow, was it great! The bowl was stuffed full of smoked brisket — again taking me back to Texas — along with farmer’s cheese, onions and a tasty sauce. I even loved the housemade tortilla chips (and brought some home with my leftovers) — light, puffy, not greasy or salty. The dish was a good match for my tasty margarita.

Rusty ordered the beef brisket on that day’s barbecue list. It came with cornbread and slaw. The beef was perfectly cooked and tasty, and we loved the bread and slaw. There were bottles of habanero sauce and chili vinegar on the table for those who dared.

I lamented our inability to try the ribs, also on that day’s barbecue list, but we’ll be returning soon for that. I would also love to get back here for one of their Neighborhood Nights, scheduled every Sunday with rotating specials.

As we exited the restaurant that night, I did note one major difference in our two favorite Terlinguas. It was 85 degrees that day in Terlingua, Texas — and 15 degrees in Portland.

Linda

Terlingua restaurant brings a little bit of Texas to Portland. They smoke their barbecued meats daily, but plan on getting there early because those sell out every night. The Barbecue Board will let you know what is available and hot off the smoker that day. But do not overlook the rest of their menu items; they stand on their own merit.

The appetizer special that night was a jumbo grilled shrimp served on top of Spanish rice. The rice was enhanced with Brussels sprouts and asparagus, as well as a little habanero and tequila. Oh my, it was good.

Having four people ordering, we were able to try many items, so we branched out. The red chili was Texas-style, meaning no beans. This was extraordinary chili. Our friendly server Deirdre told us the tortilla soup was the mildest, the green chili the hottest, and the red chili was of medium heat. The sauce held a deep flavor and was packed with their smoked beef brisket. A pile of fresh cooked tortilla chips made this perfection.

I ordered the crispy grits entree. This was a substantial plate of food. The grits were indeed crispy on top, but under that they were creamy. On the bottom was sweet corn. Royal trumpet mushrooms (something I’d never tried before but were fantastic), fire roasted chilies and onions rounded out this dish. I am guessing it was the light drizzle of chili oil that added just the right amount of heat. I am going to dream about that dish.

Sue ordered the butternut squash empanada with caramelized onions, espazote and cotija cheese added to the filling. The cheese, made at Winter Hill Farm in Kennebunkport, was “melt-in-your-mouth delicious”, according to Sue. She also deemed it the best empanada she’d ever tasted, and I would concur. It came with lightly dressed greens and a sunny side up fried egg. What a dish.

We finished our meal with a bread pudding with chocolate chips topped with a bruleed banana and coconut ice cream. We all loved it. It was not overly sweet, and the banana made it extra special. We also shared the pot de creme, a creamy chocolate delight that was not too sweet either.

George is right. We must return to Terlingua soon — the one in Texas and the one in Portland.

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.