George

Cushnoc Brewing and Circa 1885 are great news for downtown Augusta’s Water Street. Both are wonderful places to gather with friends, so we invited our friends Robyn and Rocko Graziano to join us.

We began our fun evening at Circa 1885, a wine bar where owner Katie Smith and server Connie were welcoming. You can’t help but relax here. From their nice selection of wines, Linda and I both chose one of our French favorites, Cotes du Rhone ($8 glass). And I knew the selection of “Light Bites” was going to be good when Katie told us they all come from Morse’s in Waldoboro, one of our favorite markets and restaurants. The yummy choices of meat and cheese were my favorites.

Eventually, we walked across the street to Cushnoc Brewing for supper. I was astonished by the large size of this place. There are lots of places to sit, from private tables to a long picnic-style table, to a bar to tables elevated above the floor that offer nice views of the river. And I especially enjoyed watching them cook in the wood-fired oven. Something that takes a special talent.

Casey Hynes (one of the four owners) greeted us, and we enjoyed a visit with another owner, Chris Gearlings, who is the brewer and the husband of Katie at Circa 1885. After we ate, Chris gave us a tour of the brewery downstairs. They are struggling to keep up with demand and will be getting more equipment soon.

And it’s no surprise that this place is already busy. Rocko and I tried trays offering samplings of all four of their beers, and we liked them all, with our favorite being the Eternal Golden Eagle. In addition to their own beer, they offer a good selection from other Maine brewers.

We ordered two pizzas, the Cony High Pie with sausage, onions and red sauce; and the Mill Park Pie — roasted butternut squash sauce, bacon, shaved Brussel sprouts and a balsamic drizzle. Both were delicious, but I liked the Mill Park Pie best and thanked our helpful server, Michael, for recommending it. He told us this pizza has become a customer favorite.

Linda

I don’t remember when I last visited downtown Augusta. All I know is that a bunch of new businesses have sprung up, and downtown is experiencing a revitalization. What a wonderful thing.

We planned to visit both Circa 1885 and the Cushnoc Brewery on the same night. Well, it turns out others have had the same idea. While taking photos of the wine bar, George met a couple enjoying a glass of wine. And when we got to the brewery for dinner, that same couple was enjoying a meal in the upper seating area. The man came down to suggest the “Quickles” appetizer. Yes, it is that kind of friendly place.

Circa 1885 has a great atmosphere. The spacious open room is a nice place to relax or enjoy an evening out with friends. It is tastefully decorated and offers a wide variety of wine, by the glass or bottle, and light refreshments.

They have a cheese plate and a charcuterie plate, so we ordered the “A Bit of Both” plate to share. It was a sampler of fine cheese, cured meat, crisps and a few pickles and warm macadamia nuts. It would be the right amount for two people, but worked well for the four of us since we were having dinner across the street.

Katie has done a beautiful job transforming this space, and even has two wonderful pieces of art she created on the walls. Comfortable chairs and small couches combine with table and bar seating to make this big space very inviting.

Cushnoc Brewing was created as a brewpub model. The focal point of one wall is the gorgeous wood-fired oven with “Stacy” engraved on it. I asked our server about that and he noted that this space had been Stacy’s Hallmark store. What a nice remembrance.

Of the four beers on tap, I was sold on the Old Federal once I found out it was similar to an Allagash White. It was light and went well with our pizza.

They’ve created very special pizzas here, with red or white sauces. The pies are 14 inches, enough for two people to split.

Robyn and Rocko had been here once before, and raved about the warm, marinated olives as a starter. Who knew such a simple thing could be so delicious? They also had tried the Cony High Pie pizza, a sausage and caramelized onion combination with lots of cheese. Wonderful. I loved the thin, crispy crust, which was sturdy enough to hold all the toppings.

They make fresh dough daily and create their own sauces, too. At first, I questioned whether the Mill Park Pie, with its roasted butternut squash, bacon and shaved brussels sprouts, could possibly work together. But thank goodness our server, Michael, convinced us this one was amazing, because it certainly was. The sweet and salty balance was perfect.

We’d heard the desserts were special, so with great restraint we ordered one cream puff — filled with an espresso cream and topped with a chocolate ganache — for the four of us to share. It was the best dessert I have had in a long time, and not to be missed.

Sad News

At the end of this month, Central Maine Sunday is ending the Travelin’ Maine(rs) column, a big disappointment to us. We are so grateful for the wonderful response from readers of this column, which has been great fun for us and also good for the places we’ve written about. It’s hard to believe we’ve been writing this weekly column for seven years. We will occasionally post travel columns in the outdoor news section of my website, www.georgesmithmaine.com. And we will continue to appreciate all the positive responses from you.

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.