Bred in the Bone, the newest venture by local restaurateurs Warren Busteed, Beth Polhemus, and Florin Ungureanu opened in Damariscotta Friday, May 12. The restaurant is the latest offering from the trio who operate both The Contented Sole in Pemaquid Harbor and the popular Salty Boyz Food Truck.
“We wanted to create a place where people can cook passionate food passionately,” Ungureanu said.
For their newest venture, the trio chose to focus on Mediterranean fare. The decision was inspired by the cuisines’ interesting flavors, and also for its inherent freshness and vitality and its focus on sustainable and locally sourced ingredients.
The menu is built around fresh meats and organically raised vegetables from places like Goranson Farm in Dresden, High Hopes Farm in Bristol, or WanderWood in Waldoboro. It features seafood purchased directly from licensed local fishermen and oysters from Glidden Point and John’s River.
There are crudos of scallops or tuna featuring flavors of fennel or Calabrian chili. Duck breast is spiced with za’atar. A halibut dish features manilla clams and new potatoes. Skate wing is served with maitake mushrooms and crispy leeks.
Ungureanu said he considers the Pappardelle Bolognese to be one of the restaurant’s signature dishes. Deeply rooted in tradition, the Bolognese at Bred in the Bone is more meat than tomato.
A combination of veal, pork, and bison is cooked, deglazed with red wine, and folded into crushed tomatoes. The sauce coats the pappardelle and is finished with a generous grating of Grana Padano, an aged raw milk cheese.
Busteed has built a wine list that leans heavily on the Italian because those grapes pair so well with the food being served. There are Portuguese, Spanish, Greek, and Armenian offerings as well.
The dessert menu features familiar favorites like tiramisu and olive oil cake that have their roots in Mediterranean cooking. There are traditional Italian treats too: an affagato of vanilla gelato drowned in espresso; a mango sorbetto made in house. And going forward “we definitely want to incorporate seasonal fruits,” Polhemus said.
The food at Bred in the Bone is upscale but in line with area pricing for house-made, locally sourced, primarily organic fare, according to Polhemus. Most entrees are in the $30-$40 range with a number of the smaller plates coming in at $11 -$20.
The wine list features several affordable options, including a house wine with a $7 per glass price point.
The lunch menu features a grain bowl of farro, yogurt, and smoky eggplant as well as a pair of intriguing sandwiches, one with mortadella, stracciatella, and pistachio cream, the other with prosciutto, speck, pecorino, and truffle cream. Most lunch items are under $20.
Bred in the Bone is a creative endeavor for Ungureanu and the restaurant’s enthusiastic staff, and it’s an opportunity for Polhemus and Busteed to contribute not just to the local economy, but to the local community.
Bred in the Bone is more experimental, less casual than The Contented Sole, but the two restaurants share the same philosophies around sustainability and the benefits of locally sourced products.
Bred in the Bone seats 40, and diners quickly filled the tables on opening night with the kitchen sending out food almost as soon as the restaurant opened.
A repeated refrain from guests as well as passers-by checking out the menu was appreciation that a vacant storefront on Main Street was once again a bustling hub of activity.
Bred in the Bone fills the space once inhabited by Cupacity, and retains some of that establishment’s sense of fin de siecle cool: the tin ceilings, the exposed brick, the back bar with its view of the sun setting over the Damariscotta River.
Polhemus designed the space around its existing floor plan and took the building’s age into account.
“It seemed to call for vintage appeal,” she said.
Bred in the Bone inherited a Ferrari espresso machine from its predecessor, so inspired by Cupacity, a coffee program became part of the plan. Starting Wednesday, May 17 the restaurant will be serving cappuccinos and lattes along with a few light pastries to those in need of a morning caffeine boost.
Overstuffed cushions line the banquette seating against the walls. Knotted napkins and flickering votive candles brighten dark wood tables. There are touches of distressed wood on picture frames and accents of oxidized metal in the shelf brackets and wall sconces. The mosaic sign above the door with its echoes of Ravenna and Pompeii was crafted by Liz Martone, a talented glass artist from Round Pond.
The restaurant’s unusual name came out of brainstorming sessions between the three owners, each throwing out ideas until something stuck. The phrase “bred in the bone” spoke to each of them with its concept of being born into the roles they fill.
Busteed grew up in the hospitality industry; his mother was an innkeeper and a chef. He started waiting tables at 24 and by 25 he was managing restaurants. He and Polhemus became proprietors of Pemaquid Point’s Bradley Inn and ran it for more than 25 years.
Polhemus worked on the corporate side of a Vermont restaurant group, but when she and Busteed moved to Maine her skill set adapted and she became more hands on and community-facing. She sits on several local boards, including that of the Rising Tide Co-op, and has been a force in the sustainability movement, helping to spearhead a composting program for the restaurant industry in the area.
Ungureanu grew up on a small family farm in Romania where much of what he ate came from the land. He arrived in Maine as a temporary worker in 2008, starting out as a dishwasher at The Contented Sole. He became a U.S. citizen and spent off seasons working and learning at fine dining establishments in New York and Chicago, as well as several notable restaurants in the Portland food scene, but he always came back to New Harbor.
“It’s so true and intrinsic to who we are as people,” Polhemus said of the restaurant’s name and its approach to food and hospitality and community. “It’s deeply rooted in us, it’s authentic, and it’s bred in the bone.”
Bred in the Bone is located at 133 Main St. in Damariscotta and is currently open for dinner Wednesday through Sunday, 5 – 9 p.m.
Starting Memorial Day the restaurant will be open 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. six days a week. Bred in the Bone will be closed Tuesdays.
Call 207-563-6124 or go to bitbmaine.com for reservations or for more information.