New restaurant helps Falmouth's Handy Boat return to roots
FALMOUTH — While much of the Maine coast is winding down for the season, a new waterfront restaurant is just getting started.
And that's partly the point.
Dockside Grill, at 215 Foreside Road, opened Sept. 20 at a familiar location. For more than half a century, this seaside spot has served seafood to a community of boaters at Handy Boat boatyard. Now, under a new name and management, the restaurant hopes to embrace old and new, and also breathe economic life to the property during winter.
On a recent chilly morning in late September, the restaurant's general manager, Andrea Marr, prepared for lunch service and opened the restuarant's glass doors to the patio. Outside, the faint outlines of boats were visible through the fog, each drifting slow circles around their moorings in outer Falmouth Anchorage. Nearby, several boatyard workers were hauling out a sailboat.
Marr said the plan for the new restaurant is to drum up business during the leaner winter months by emphasizing functions – corporate events for groups of 50 or less.
"It's the perfect place for that," she said. "It's definitely something we can push in the off-season so we're busier."
During the summer months, the plan is to tout the restuarant's affiliation with Handy Boat, and bolster its reputation as a destination for sailors who cruise Maine's coast.
Handy Boat is one of three boat landings in Falmouth and a town institution since 1934. Five years ago, the property was purchased by Marr's parents, John and Rebecca Marr, who have been renovating and expanding the facilities and services.
Until recently, the restaurant was a separate entity leased by Laura Argitis, who had run the Falmouth Sea Grill since 1999 and still runs The Old Port Sea Grill in Portland. Now, the restaurant has returned to its historic place under the Handy Boat umbrella. (Handy Boat's founder, Merle Hallet, ran The Galley restaurant at the location for decades.)
"It's one big business, and it's a great opportunity for us and the Handy Boat community in general, to try to bring it all back together the way it was; to really tie in the marina with the restaurant and market it as one big business," Marr, 24, said.
Handy Boat provides mooring services, haul-outs, boat storage, parts, supplies and more for about 250 members, but it's not a yacht club, Marr said. The public is welcome at the restaurant and about 25 moorings are available to boaters to rent on a per-night basis.
"Handy Boat is definitely more casual," she said. "I think it's more inviting."
The company has also developed overnight dock space with utilities, plus showers, laundry facilities and a convenience store to capture more of the cruising market.
"A lot of boaters will go to Portland or farther north, and this is like a hidden gem," Marr said. "I think more people would stop here if they knew about it, because it is very sheltered by the islands, and it's not the same hustle and bustle as Portland."
The new restaurant goes hand in hand with that broader vision, she said.
Marr is one of three sisters, all of whom worked at the Sea Grill as hostesses and servers while they attended Falmouth High School. Each of the sisters also maintained about 50 lobster traps in the bay and sold their catch to the restaurant. Her sisters now live in other parts of the country; Marr still maintains five traps on Casco Bay for personal use.
That sense of home is imbued in the new restaurant, she said. The Marrs worked closely with chef Jeremy Donovan, formerly of 76 Pleasant Street in Norway, to develop a menu that fees true to the seaside community.
"I grew up a mile down the road. We know the clientele and what they want. (Donovan) has a great creative vision and we blended that with what we've heard from customers," Marr said. "We set out to create a menu of 'New England fare with a modern twist,' and I think we've accomplished that."
The restaurant features three menus – lunch, dinner and all-day – all of which are front-loaded with seafood options such as pan-roasted halibut, pan-seared scallops and paella.
Notably absent are the words "deep fried."
The restaurant employs 25 people, several of whom worked at the Sea Grill, including the front-end manager and many of the servers and kitchen staff.