The patio in back of Orono Brewing Co. in Orono is festive and fun – and must look smashing with those party lights at night. Deirdre Fleming photo

ORONO — My first trip to Orono Brewing Co. occurred on the way back from an epic wilderness camping trip with my husband. So in all honesty, how’s it not going to be a grand memory?

Since we had only just come out of our off-the-grid and out-of-cell-service week in the wilderness, we were pretty happy campers. But after breaking camp and traveling two hours back to civilization, we also were darn hungry.

Having seen Orono Brewing Co. in Bangor, we decided to try the brewery in Orono. Searching for it was another adventure. Because I lived in Orono for seven years two decades ago, I expected the brewery would be in town near several other popular eateries. Not so.

A short drive away, outside town, down a hill, and tucked near the Penobscot River, the brewery is located on a significant piece of real estate. A trailer painted graffiti-style with “Welcome to Orono” greets you before you walk around a massive commercial building to an equally massive and festive outdoor patio equipped with a fenced-off basketball court, amazing succulent planters, and – best of all – some two dozen picnic tables spaced far apart, to assure a relaxed meal during this crazy pandemic era.

The fish tacos at Orono Brewing – a treat this far from the coast. Deirdre Fleming photo

We arrived early on a Sunday, on one of the many blue-sky, sunny days in late summer, and the friendly staff walked us through the COVID-19 protocols. That involved ordering at a beer shack that looked like a hippie-style, street-art kind of snack shack, except with Plexiglas. And after we paid with a debit card, the bartender wiped down everything we touched and offered hand sanitizer. The brewery’s staff clearly was dialed into COVID-19 protocols.

Since we are more wine drinkers than beer lovers, we tried the canned rose ($8), and it was surprisingly dry, refreshing and flavorful. And we liked the moose on the front of the can. Then our blackened haddock fish tacos ($13) and fish and chips ($14) arrived. Both dishes were incredibly juicy, and the veggies tasted farm-fresh. Plus, the fries were spicy and flavorful, clearly homemade. A home run for this spud eater.

The brewery claims on its website that, after opening in 2014, it has remained committed to producing the best beer possible to share with friends, while paying attention to every detail with an “all-star team.” That sense of camaraderie and dedication came through from the friendly bartender to the hostess, who explained that her colleague’s partner took pride in taking care of the amazing plantings.

If this reporter lived in Orono again – the fish-and-chips at Orono Brewing would be regular fare. Deirdre Fleming photo

We were looking forward to trying the brewery’s Bangor location on a trip Down East this fall, but it appears to have closed temporarily because of the pandemic. Too bad, as I was looking forward to trying the spicy tots ($5), and either the chicken or pulled-pork quesadilla ($9) or the local grass-fed burger ($9). You can sub a $2 gluten free bun (thanks in advance) or make it a double patty ($4). That will be in order after another fishing trip up north.

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