Review – The Fiddlehead Restaurant

By Peter Jensen Bissell

Read on Peters Blog

I had never heard of this place before my brother and I took our parents there last Friday for an early Mother’s Day celebration. Noah had to work in Farmington on the actual holiday, so we convened at the Bissell homestead on Friday afternoon and then headed to Bangor for some eats. It ended up being the best Mother’s Day our family has had in years, largely due to the amazing time and incredible food we had at The Fiddlehead, on Hammond Street in downtown Bangor.

The Fiddlehead Restaurant - Downtown Bangor

We rolled in, the Bissells four, STARVING and ready to go. GM/Owner Laura Albin met us at the host stand. She asked where we were from, and immediately found common ground with our answer. (She would drive through Milo on her way to Gulf Hagas) Also, after seating us, she gave us a quick overview on the restaurant’s policies (emphasis on local-sourcing, changing seasonal menu, etc) that was genuine, and not at all scripted. Even after having been seated for under one minute, I already felt super appreciated as a customer.

We got a killer corner table that was against a beautiful brick wall and the glass wall that looked out on to Hammond Street, and from here we could survey the premises. The servers dressed in black, a trend I have noticed and appreciated in Portland, and was glad to see employed here. Diners don’t want to see disgusting white sleeves that haven’t been washed in 3 shifts reaching out over your food to refill your water (I was that guy many times, working at several different establishments). The natural light spilling into the dining room was gorgeous, and the ambiance was nice – the restaurant was mostly full, but the noise level was one of comfortable, buzzing energy, not the cacophonous din experienced in larger joints on Friday and Saturday nights.

Time for drinks – I went right to the beer, since Noah was present, who is currently studying the science of brewing at UMF (Don’t ask me how he swung that). The beer list was diverse, with tons of exotic specialties like espresso stout, hard pear cider, and rauchbier, as well as a few staples like Bud Light and Corona (for people who order their meat well done), as well as the obligatory 2 dollar tall boy, which in this case was Narragansett (I’ve noticed this dive-bar trend trickling over to fancier establishments, and I like it). It was a SOLID beer list, and Noah and I started things off with a 25 oz bottle of Weyerbacher double Simcoe IPA, which was served to us like a bottle of wine, with the server presenting it, using a corkscrew (not sure if that was necessary but it was entertaining for sure) and pouring us each a glass into oversized snifter shaped goblets. AWESOME.

We ordered the grilled pizza appetizer, and while waiting for that, the server dropped off the house table offering – cornbread with pure molasses (mouth is starting to water as I write this). I thought this was cool and unexpected – I’ve been served table cornbread before, but mainly at BBQ / Southern places. It was amazing.

Cornbread & Molasses

The pizza arrived shortly. I love the crusty air pockets that develop when a pie is done on a grill. The waitress told us that the pizza is finished in the oven to melt the fresh mozzarella that adorned the top. Perfect.

Minor points were deducted due to the fact that the waitress never told us it was a serving of two small slices, and we were obviously a party of four. Small potatoes, but worth noting. If you are a server and your party is ordering an item that may not be conducive to the number of people at the table, you should tell them. After the cornbread though, my hunger had been temporarily sated, and I was OK with the fact that my portion of the appetizer amounted to a single, albeit ridiculously delicious bite.

I wasn’t worried about choosing what to get for my main dish, since my family is all about sharing when we go out to eat together. I finally decided on Pad Thai, since I was curious as to what their spin on a take-out staple would be. Dad ordered the same, and Mom opted for the delicious sounding Fiddlehead Burger. Noah ordered the tuna.

Arugula Panzanella Salad

Pad Thai

Ahi Tuna

The food was served promptly in interesting, angular plateware not unlike Grace in Portland. The portions for all our meals were also very welcoming – At many restaurants that emphasize quality over quantity, the portions, while delicious, are just too small. I’m not expecting a Governor’s-sized orgy of food, but I want to leave satisfied. The Fiddlehead accomplished this well, with sizes that let you nosh a little and do some shoveling, while paying appropriate respect to the quality of the materials used. My pad Thai was incredible. In every bite, I could taste every single ingredient. However, my eyes were immediately drawn to Mom’s dish – The “Fiddlehead Burger”, was a visual masterpiece. Pickled fiddleheads sat on a pale orange deposit of house-made Thousand Island sauce, which coated a patty made of a top quality beef and bacon mix. WOW. I had never seen, nor heard of a burger using this vitamin-enriched fern and traditional Maine springtime dish as a topping. It was such a surprise and a treat to consume.

The Fiddlehead Burger

We were just about finished, but there was one more totally unexpected surprise. While Noah and I were getting the bill, I popped into the bathroom, which was decked out like a Victorian powder room – amazing. I refrained from taking a picture, as this is something you should just see for yourself if you decide to check the restaurant out, but it was the last in a long string of pleasant surprises that this restaurant offered. Check it out immediately if you’re in the area, and southern Maine foodies should plan to make the trip up within the next few weeks – That’s when I hear this year’s fresh fiddlehead harvest will be incorporated into the menu. Cheers!