Finally, spring has arrived. After one of the most mentally arduous winters in recent memory, embracing every opportunity for sunshine and warmth as soon as possible is critical. What restaurant with outdoor seating for 15 is available before May 1 in Maine? Boone’s! Ok fantastic let’s go to Boone’s.
The jaunt down Commercial Street toward Custom House Wharf was sunny and pleasant. I thought back on my last visit to Boone’s – when it was still simply Boone’s with gingham table cloths – my grandfather was with me reminiscing how it was the first restaurant he had been to in Portland back in 1968. Now it is Boone’s Fish House & Oyster Room, the newest in Harding Lee Smith’s string of “Rooms”. Some of us came into the experience knowing of the owner and having personal opinions about how he operates, and others did not. Generally it was not discussed, however, and I think minds were fairly open regarding our impending dining experience.
We were seated at two tables vaguely adjacent to each other. One in the sun, the other under a top deck. Emmie looked fairly glamourous in the sunshine from my spot in the shade with the other Morlocks. The view from our tables were of a parking lot with a dumpster in it, and the deck behind the Porthole (another Custom House wharf restaurant with an old name but new owner).
Our friendly waitress gave us lunch menus, and specials menus. It is critical at this juncture that I attempt to describe these menus. Remember when you used Word Perfect for the first time in the early 90s on a real computer after only having the serif or sans-serif font options on your electric typewriter, and so you tried out every font there was, with options for outlining and colors and variable kerning? A giant page of laminated madness. The design and layout were so bad it was difficult to focus on the actual offerings. The specials menu was more traditional for the price points, being little papers clipped to a board. However, it suffered from the same schizophrenic fate of roughly 90 different fonts. Seriously, though – look at this thing: http://www.boonesfishhouse.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/06/Boones-Lunch-Menu-20141.pdf
Aside from the visual atrocity that is the menu, we noticed how the actual items on said menu were all over the map. Shamus astutely observed, “Wok/Asian Stir Fry dishes at a seafood restaurant is like buying underwear at Jiffy Lube.” Max lamented, “If you want really great seafood, really great Asian, or really great bar food, skip Boone’s. If you want a varied array of mediocre cuisine from all over the globe, Boone’s might be for you.” Noella offered some advice, “I think this place just needs to pare down their menu and do fewer things well. Why are there pizzas on the menu, ya know?” There were more pizza offerings than fish sandwiches, or “Maine plates.” Or burgers. Between the middle school layout and the master-of-none selections, the price points on the items started to seem a bit uncomfortable.
Clearly we needed drinks. That is the first step in easing discomfort with an establishment, right? All the cocktails on the menu were $9. They better be pretty good, right? After a couple of false starts when Jeremy and I had both ordered cocktails from the menu that they didn’t have all the ingredients for, we both ordered the Casco Bay Breeze: House infused pineapple vodka, cranberry juice and soda water, on the rocks. Because I care for you, gentle reader, I feel obliged to warn you against all soda water-added cocktails, for they will be flat and watery.
The Great Diamond Island Margaritas (jalapeno and cucumber infused tequila, simple syrup and lime juice), however, were a hit with all who ordered them. “It tasted like a ginger beer and tequila had a wild weekend in Vegas,” gushed Shamus. This was the greatest unilateral triumph of Friday lunch. As the meal went on, glasses were empty a bit longer than they should be, particularly for the non-boozing set. But, overall the waitress was friendly, attentive and easy enough to flag down, despite being a bit scattered at times by our large party across two tables.
The appetizers arrived without silverware or napkins. I am not sure if this is standard procedure, but it was experienced at both tables, and so I was happy I was wearing jeans and not a fancy outfit like some of the other patrons. Because, you know, emergency hand wiping.
Both tables got the Housemade Chips and Guac, and overall enjoyed it very much. I should certainly hope so, as it was $11. My table also got Fried Calamari that was soggy, mushy and greasy and for Pete’s sake where are the napkins?! The sunny table got Scallops n’ Bacon, which was as easily rejoiced as the margaritas.
A nice pre-meal feature was a basket of miniature biscuits and some sort of blueberry coffee cake. By this time there must have been silverware because we had to spread the butter somehow.
Eventually, our entrees arrived. Several people ordered fish tacos, with mixed results. The highest praise was qualified having added lefterover guac. Everyone found them to be soggy, and while a few people enjoyed them, others were disappointed in a general lack of fish and overabundance of sauce. Most entrees were as-described or expected, from Scott’s Goat Cheese Grilled Cheese (“It came with goat cheese between two pieces of toasted bread – so very much what I expected.”) to Max’s hard-to-screw-up Bacon Cheeseburger, to my Beef Tataki special. Variations on fish sandwiches and other fried fish entrees were pleasing to all. Sides were all a la carte, and the Crispy Brussel [sic] Sprouts were delicious by all accounts, the fries underwhelming (and delivered after the entrees were done). Jenika’s salad had some dirt in it. The chief ordered the “Kung Pao Dragon & Phoenix” which had been recommended by the waitress, and found it to be very good until a hidden chili pepper attempted to destroy him.
Despite the overpriced, unfocused menu and weak drinks we had a good time. We were outside, we have a great crew and we enjoy each other’s company very much. We ventured to Beal’s afterward which is happily open for the season, which was a resounding success. Ice cream heals all culinary wounds, except the wounds of lactose intolerance. Spring is surely here.
Most-Favorited Dish: Scallops and Bacon
Honorable Mention: Duck Buns
About half of Page One employees would enthusiastically return to Boone’s.
Words Used by Our Team to Describe the Experience:
Address: 86 Commercial Street (on Custom Wharf), Portland, ME 04101
Hours: Monday-Thursday – 11:00am-10:00pm
Friday-Saturday – 11:00am-12:00am
Sunday – 11:00am-10:00pm