The first time Marc Provencher opened a restaurant in Brunswick, circumstances were very different than they are today. Eight years ago, he and a business partner collaborated on an Italian/Greek bistro called Trattoria Athena, with a menu that offered dishes from both coasts of the Ionian Sea. And while that first restaurant was a success, it left Provencher wanting. “I just wasn’t satisfied with it and wanted to go my own way,” he said.

So, in 2015, he decamped to rural Vermont, where he opened the first incarnation of Taverna Khione, a fully Greek restaurant. This time around though, the venue was problematic, thanks to a largely tourism-driven economy subject to even more dramatic extremes than that of southern Maine.

Provencher knew what he had to do. He packed up his light fixtures, tables and chairs and started planning how to move Taverna Khione to Brunswick. When he asked around about vacant spaces in town, he discovered that a familiar location had just come on the market: 25 Mill St., the very same spot where his original restaurant stood.

Relaunching Taverna Khione in his old digs in Brunswick meant a second chance for both the concept – an all-Greek menu with a completely Greek and Macedonian wine list – as well as for chef/owner Provencher. For him, it has been like a homecoming.

“It’s been great returning to a space where I had a restaurant before. I know the landlord, the area and the farmers really well. And there’s great support for the restaurant already because people know me,” he said.

To ready the dining room for his traditional take on classic Greek dishes, Provencher painted over the Provencal-green walls and replaced the bar-top with marble. Today, the space has a bright, modern grayscale visual appeal that extends down to the floorboards, which have been whitewashed in a checkerboard pattern. “The idea was really just to make it less of an eyesore and make it look like a typical taverna you’d find in Greece,” he explained. “The same goes for the food. I don’t use microgreens and foams, no garnishes really. It’s your grandmother’s village food.”

Nothing says “yiayia” quite like lamb chops ($28), which Provencher rubs with oregano, salt and pepper before char-grilling. He serves them medium-rare with extraordinarily citrusy, lemon-infused roasted potatoes, a lovely counterbalance to the low-pitched gaminess of the meat. Or whole grilled dorade, its cavity stuffed with fennel tops and slices of lemon, plated up next to a ruddy tumble of paprika-coated roasted potatoes ($28). Don’t be put off by the portion size; a 1-pound whole fish looks a lot bigger than it actually is. And don’t expect Provencher to fillet the fish before serving. He’s a stickler for tradition. “I refuse to sell it without the head. If someone wants it like that, they can choose something else,” he said, then conceding with a laugh, “Well, if the waitstaff want to break it down at the table, that’s fine with me.”

Provencher, who was one of the original chefs at Portland’s Emilitsa restaurant, also pays stricter attention to seasonality than some of his colleagues do: “I never saw the point of having a flavorless tomato or seedy eggplant on the menu. So we’re not doing Greek salads year-round or moussaka when it’s not time. When we see the eggplants at the farmers market, then we do it.”

There’s still plenty to choose from in colder months, however. Some of Provencher’s best dishes are his all-weather menu staples, especially his housemade desserts. Among these, ekmek ($7), a trifle-like confection built by layering kataifi (shredded phyllo dough), lemon custard and whipped cream, then topping the entire thing with shredded coconut. As the sweet dairy soaks into the kataifi, the thin shreds soften to the texture of angel-hair pasta, so that all you need to eat your ekmek is a spoon, and perhaps a cup of thunderously strong Greek coffee ($3).

Ekmek has layers of shredded phyllo dough, lemon custard and whipped cream, topped with shredded coconut.

Coffee is an equally good match for a scoop of ice cream ($3) that Provencher flavors with mastic – crystals of hardened tree sap imported from the Greek island of Chios. “They look like sparkly dragee candies before he puts them in the mortar and pestle,” our server told us.

Once they’re crushed and mixed into a rich vanilla custard base, they glitter less, but do lend an inviting, resinous flavor – what you might get if you spooned soft-serve out of the center of a hollowed-out pinecone.

If you can’t get enough of mastic’s singular flavor, you can also sample it in liquid form, in a small glass of Loukatos Mastic liqueur ($8), essentially an infused Ouzo. Be forewarned though, you’ll need a designated driver if you do, especially if you have also taken advantage of Taverna Khione’s wide-ranging wine list that includes bottles and glasses from across the region, including a sensational Kokkinos Xinomavro ($10/glass, $38/bottle) with a lovely tannin structure that makes it a great match for spice.

In particular, it was exactly the glass I wanted next to me as I slathered fiery htipiti ($4) – a puree of feta cheese and roasted red and jalapeño peppers – onto slices of homemade sourdough bread. Provencher bakes the bread for all his mezethes (appetizer spreads) because it allows him to control its density: “We tried buying bread from other places, but you’d cut the loaf open and the holes were just huge, too big,” he said. The moist, tight crumb of his “village style bread” keeps loose spreads in place, but it works just as well with stiffer mezethes like skorthalia ($4), a scoop of vinegary, garlicky mashed potatoes that could easily do double duty as an accompaniment to a piece of grilled meat.

Htapodi Scharas, aka grilled octopus with Santorini Fava, caper berries and onions.

It’s an idea not lost on Provencher, as I discovered when I found a dollop of his aromatic, bay-and-onion-infused Santorini Fava meze ($4) levering up the tapered end of a seared octopus tentacle ($14). The yellow-lentil puree acts as an anchoring element to the plate, balancing out pungent slivers of white onion and tart caper berries. But really, all the components are there in service to the octopus, which is first braised in its own liquid, then grilled until barely cooked through.

I hesitated before I took my first bite. Octopus is a legendarily unforgiving ingredient, and I wondered if a restaurant built on second chances could get such a delicate dish right the first time around. The answer? An emphatic, mouth-watering yes. No second chances needed.

Andrew Ross has written about food in the United Kingdom and in New York, where he co-founded NYCnosh, a food website. He and his work have been featured on Martha Stewart Living Radio and in The New York Times. He is an internet researcher and higher education consultant. Contact him at:

[email protected]

Twitter: @AndrewRossME

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