Saturday, October 2, 2010

Restaurant Review: SHEPHERD'S PIE, Rockport, Maine

The lovely, sleepy town of Rockport, Maine is a thriving summertime destination -- despite the fact that it's not a terribly easy spot to get to, nor is it terribly inexpensive. But it is picturesque, temperate (3 months a year, anyway), and manages to strike a balance between 'Unspoiled Nature' and 'Manicured Lawn.' Rockport's sister village is Camden, which perhaps grabs a bit of the spotlight from Rockport itself, with its perfectly-preserved New England Main Street and Harbor, pretty inns and a handful of sophisticated dining spots. The owners of one of these spots, Francine's, realized that Rockport could use a locale that serves what the locals (and visitors) crave. And so, Shepherd's Pie opened last year in an old warehouse building next to an art gallery, on the main street above Rockport's harbor. And what a welcome addition to the dining scene it's proved to be.

The 'theme' of Shepherd's Pie could be labeled Sophisticated American Gastropub Fare with eclectic international touches -- though it's best to leave the idea of labels behind and just stick to the notion that Shepherd's Pie serves good food and tasty drinks in a great atmosphere. Period. The bartenders get creative with their cocktails, and they feature a few interesting concoctions each night. This included a peach-raspberry "shrub" one warm August evening -- a southern drink with rum and a fruit syrup and vinegar base that takes the edge off of a potentially too-sweet libation.

Appetizers run the gamut from fried calamari with hot peppers and herbs that's all traditional crunchy deep-fried squid with the tang and heat of Italian marinated antipasti thrown together. Also on offer is a crab ceviche (tasty, though could have used more kick from chiles), and shrimp tacos. 

Second courses include bar food like burgers, duck hot dogs (great idea!), and a pork belly sandwich that will convert any "Skinny Bitch" to Atkins devotee with the first unctuous, memorable bite. Also savory and delicious are the spice-rubbed ribs, packed with loads of concentrated flavor. 

We enjoyed the grilled pork with caramel sauce, too -- a take on Vietnamese pork ribs cooked down to sweet, sticky goodness -- but the scoops of canteloupe were a bit too one-note with the sauce. Better to amp up the contrasting flavors and add more cilantro, cucumber, and other crunchy, cool elements. But overall, the menu that globe-hops is a success in its comforting flavors and generous portions. We're sure the desserts are tasty as well, but we only had room for liquid left: a dessert of Dark and Stormies? Yes, we can. Perfectly sweet enough to send us off along the harbor, to bed.