PORTLAND — When Natalie DiBenedetto looked out her window on Walker Street last year, she didn’t just see a parking lot. She saw an opportunity.
Now, a year later, DiBenedetto has opened a business in the once-empty lot that she believes will fill one of the city’s last foodie niches: up-scale comfort food and skillet fried chicken to go.
Figgy’s Takeout & Catering officially opened this week at 722B Congress St., behind Yordprom Coffee. Patrons must walk up to a window on Walker Street to order, and will have to take the food to go; there is no dine-in option at Figgy’s.
The soft opening will feature an abbreviated menu of wings, skillet fried chicken, a few sides and a homemade desert. But even when the full menu is available, it won’t be very large.
“I wanted a small menu,” DiBenedetto said. There eventually will be nightly specials, including entrees like meatloaf and shepherd’s pie, she said, and everything on the menu will be homemade.
Carrie Allen, who will be working in Figgy’s with DiBenedetto, said the specials will change with the seasons. There will be lighter options in the summer and heavier ones in the winter.
“We’re definitely rolling with the comfort food theme,” Allen said.
Allen will also be making ice cream-and-cookie sandwiches. She said there will be one or two flavors available per week, and she has “thousands of combinations” to consider.
“We’ll start out with homemade chocolate chunk and sea salt cookies with vanilla bean ice cream,” Allen said, and mentioned the possibility of molasses cookies with lemon ice cream.
DiBenedetto said Figgy’s chicken is antibiotic- and cage-free, and she will be using as many locally sourced ingredients as possible.
“The last few months I realized there is a need for take-away food in Portland,” DiBenedetto said. “You end your day at 6 p.m., the last thing you want to do is cook. People are overworked, and cooking at home has become a lost art.”
DiBenedetto (“Figgy” is her nickname) is from Missouri, and said she has wanted to start a cast-iron chicken restaurant ever since moving to Maine five years ago. She previously operated two restaurants in Duchess County, New York; one was for fine dining, and the other served breakfast and lunch, which she called a “finer diner.”
The inspiration for Figgy’s was personal.
“It stems from what I cook for my son,” DiBenedetto said. “It’s stuff you want, but don’t have time to make.”
Figgy’s will be open 11 a.m.-8 p.m., or whenever they run out of food, Allen said. DiBenedetto, who owns the Yordprom property, said they will not be open late because she wants to be respectful to neighbors.
Down the road, she said, she would like to add a food truck that could serve later into the night.
“Of course I’m nervous,” DiBenedetto said. “If you’re not nervous you’re doing something wrong.”
Carrie Allen, left, and Natalie “Figgy” DiBenedetto, in front of Figgy’s Takeout and Catering, behind Yordprom Coffee at the corner of Congress and Walker streets in Portland. Figgy’s will specialize in skillet chicken and comfort food to go.