If disappointment had a flavor, it would be the taste of dinner eaten in a gas station.

Grim, grayish egg-salad sandwiches careening towards expiration, sticky wax-coated cups of diluted fountain soda, and if you’re really desperate, a fistful of pork rinds that might as well be decommissioned packing peanuts. It’s food as fuel, and not much more.

But Will Holmes, the owner of Standard Gastropub in Bridgton, is out to change that perspective by reinventing service-station dining. His commitment to offering locally sourced, from-scratch dishes is more like what you’d expect from an upscale restaurant. Add an entire wall of reach-in coolers stocked with craft beers and ciders – many local, some imported and rare – and Standard Gastropub starts to feel like a destination, not a mere stopover.

At the same time, the restaurant remains tethered to its role as a working gas station. Every one of the many times I’ve visited over the past few years, I have seen at least one driver come in to pay cash for a fill-up, only to wind up remarking at how great it smells indoors.

Standard Gastropub’s enduring connection to motor vehicles also percolates into its menu, where comfort- and street-food plates live together harmoniously. “When we first opened, television food shows were really starting to make food trucks popular, and we wanted to carry that theme through into the space.” Holmes said. “So we operate the kitchen as if it were a big meetup of food trucks, all in one place.”

Conceptually, that idea could go in a thousand directions at once, but head chef Cameron Fernald (Fore Street, Lolita), who came on board in early 2017, has reined things in by using barbecue as a focal point.

Three house-smoked proteins (all from Maine Family Farms) are permanent fixtures on the menu. Best among these is the sweet-savory boneless pork butt ($11 for 1/3 pound) that the kitchen rubs with a blend of za’atar spices, chili pepper and coffee, then cooks for more than eight hours in the restaurant’s high-efficiency smoker.

Fernald was quick to tell me where they keep that particular piece of equipment: “Being that there are gas pumps right outside, we can’t have outdoor flames,” he said. “Yeah. That eliminated the idea of an outdoor pit, so we have an indoor smoker on the line that runs all day. Plus we don’t have Texas weather around here, so it’s convenient for us that we don’t have to go outside and deal with it.”

The smoker produces top-notch overnight-smoked brisket ($12) and boneless chicken thighs ($10), both rubbed with the same spice mixture and sauced sparingly in a vinegary, hoisin-based sauce.

And the smoked meats don’t stop there. Standard Gastropub also offers chicken wings that are quick-smoked, then fried crisp and ladled with your choice of sauce ($8). Among these are a few unusual options, including a blend of horseradish, maple and Tabasco sauce that is both sweet and sinus-clearing, even a little reminiscent of lemongrass or ginger.

When our then-reviewer visited in 2013, she too praised the restaurant’s wings in her four-and-a-half-star review, noting the powerful punch of flavor from the honey-Sriracha sauce she tasted. She’s right; but if you’re after a surprise uppercut of fiery chile, head straight for the Red Dragon sauce.

Servers also know quite a bit about the beverage menu and are able to guide you to a lager, stout or ale that will help ease the pain of an inflamed tongue, so be sure to ask for help navigating the 250-275 ciders and beers available. And no, that’s not a misprint.

“We try to have something different and exciting for customers, even if they come in three times a week,” Holmes told me. “I did a review about a year ago and found we had about the same number of beers in our system as days we’ve been open.” That’s an impressive 1,200 different brews, with new options appearing every week.

I especially enjoyed a Danish sour cherry Christmas ale, To Øl ($8), a fruity, extremely tart beer that was ideal for cutting through the cheese and mayonnaise in the Standard Burger ($7). The burger is engineered – through not-so-lean grass-fed beef, shredded iceberg lettuce and tangy “Standard Sauce” (also available for dipping for an extra $1) – to remind you of a Big Mac. It’s a major upgrade from fast food.

Served on a paper-lined quarter-sheet tray, just like all the larger-format dishes at Standard Gastropub, the burger also fits right in with the laid-back, yet quietly refined vibe of the restaurant. Black ceilings and light-gray walls draw your eye past an aquamarine curlicue of a bar, toward new glass double doors that lead out to an expansive patio at the rear of the restaurant. On a sunny winter afternoon, it feels as bright inside as it does on the glinting slopes of nearby Shawnee Peak.

During my visit last week, the family sitting next to me at one of the custom-built wood-and-steel picnic tables had just come from the slopes. Their two tweens struggled with the extra-wide spacing of the benches, barely able to reach their plates, but as I watched them eat, it became obvious that they weren’t especially interested in the Greens & Grains salad in front of them, a super-funky dish of black rice, kohlrabi, roasted North Spore mushrooms and nori vinaigrette ($11). I sympathized, finding it heavy on the umami without enough sweetness or acid to balance it out.

But they certainly weren’t going hungry. Both were within an outstretched-arm’s reach of an oversized basket of hand-cut French fries ($7). They dunked their fries in the same sweet-tart Standard Sauce used to top the burger, while with my own enormous portion, I dipped into excellent curried ketchup (a condiment almost nobody executes well) and a tiny cup of Green Goddess dressing.

Long after I stopped being hungry, I kept going back for another taste of the dynamic tarragon, parsley and fennel-top sauce, glancing up at the pumps outside, and wishing every gas station could be just a bit more like Standard Gastropub.

Andrew Ross has written about food and dining in New York and the United Kingdom. He and his work have been featured on Martha Stewart Living Radio and in The New York Times. He is the recipient of two 2018 Critic’s Awards from the Maine Press Association. Contact him at:

[email protected]

Twitter: AndrewRossME

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