The Grill Room

It’s never easy to please a crowd, especially when they’re family. Malcolm’s sister and her BF are visiting from L.A., and we’ve been eating seafood every few hours for the last four days. It has been decadent and delicious and occasionally outstanding. The dilly haddock chowder at J’s Oyster; sweet fried scallops at Dimillo’s; a superstuffed lobster roll from Patti’s Seafood take out shack in Edgecomb. These morsels were divine. Get down and lick something good. We went up to Rockland for the Lobster Festival, where we sat with the masses under striped tents dipping and dripping in butter. Our dinner at the Boat House there was terrible with sluggish steamers and tepid chowder, but at least the view is amazing. Out and about around town I had two bowls of very respectable mussels (though not as nice as those at 555) in savory broth with lots of crusty bread for sopping up the sweetness. We shared dozens of Pemaquid oysters, all salty and briny, that need little else but a bit of lemon and maybe a smear of horseradish. After supping on fruits of the sea all the long weekend, last night everyone was ready for meat. We also wanted to spend a little less and accommodate the needs and desires of five incorrigible individuals. Using the handy dandy Eat Maine guide I decided on going to The Grill Room. I called at 6:27 and was told we could be seated only outside, only if we hurried. We jumped in the Jeep and drove fleetly to Exchange Street.

We were in time, and hurried through the cool and crowded dining room, where I wish to return for a drink and snack some late fall afternoon, it was so cozy inside. Outside on the little patio, adjacent to a park where derelict children congregate, we enjoyed each others company and some of what was served. The menu is extensive, but manageable and well organized, in logical columns and groupings. Specials should not be ignored. The cheese board was simple but fulfilling, enhanced by honeycomb and quince paste. I found the thin crisps a little oily but fresh baked foccaccia was soft yet toothsome, and I could have gladly taken down the loaf in its entirety, with olive oil and sea salt sprinkled on top. My sister-in-law ordered a delightful tuna in ponzu sauce, molded with avocado and other harmonious flavors. It was palate-cleansing, aperitiffy food, something to savor but not devour. Devouring happened after appetizers. I chose, from the a la carte part of the menu, hanger steak with a side of truffled creamed spinach. Served in a hot crock, the spinach was exactly what you want a side dish to be, rich and almost unctuous. My steak was overdone, though well-seasoned. Our very patient waitress expressly stated that their medium rare boasts a cool pink center, which I wanted but did not receive. She also recommended the Bearnaise sauce – I believe she used the phrase “drink with a straw” – an endorsement I do not take lightly. I thought it added little to the dish. Overall I was contented, which is more than I can say for some of my companions.

Malcolm debated between burger and duck and chose the latter, unhappily. He also went the way of choose-your-own-meaty-adventure, adding grilled asparagus and duck fat fried potatoes. He tells me the potatoes were thick and crispy and that he enjoyed them, though without much superlative, which means they were nothing special, I am sorry to report. And his duck was overcooked. Not at all delicious.

We’re in agreement that the quality was closer to a chain steakhouse than gastro dining in a burgeoning food town. Someone else in our party ordered, as his entree, the “fried shrimp bang bang,” which had a creamy snap; I realize now I don’t know if that’s a positive attribute. Again it seemed more TGI Friday’s than classic fare. But because I enjoy a kicky shrimp I might be inclined to try that one again.

Certainly there were other items that intrigued. The warm ricotta appetizer and bacon and egg salad could be worth revisiting. It was with a sad sigh I exited, stuffed and unsatisfied. It wasn’t cheap either. Two rounds of cocktails did augment the bill, but still. I must say, I was disappointed. The chef, Harding Lee Smith, seems very pleased with himself, plastered all over his restaurants websites. I hope last night’s dinner would not be considered up to his standards, as our group concensus was that our experience at The Grill Room deserved a solid 7.

When family is visiting, you want to show off what is best about your town, to validate your life and make loved ones happy with food and drink. That objective was accomplished many times over, as we nibbled on shellfish and other oceanic offerings up and down Maine’s coast. I only wish we had made a wiser choice for our last dinner together.

Photo: johnny neutron

Jillian Bedell

Jillian Bedell is a writer and mother living in a farmhouse in Cushing, Maine. She is very good at talking about herself in the third person. She is co-author of Eating in Maine: At Home, On the Town, and On the Road. She creates content on the internet, on subjects ranging from summer camps to semi-precious stones to the folklore of food. With Malcolm, Jillian was one of the original “Insiders,” for the Visit Maine tourism campaign. She loves telling the stories of her adopted state, finding out-of-the-way places, and people making interesting things. Watching her daughters play in the wild woods and fields of Cushing makes her very happy.


  1. Why make it a point to warn diners that “medium rare,” as interpreted by The Grill Room, will have a cool red center, and then cook everything, regardless of cut or even type of animal, the same well-done gray? Why put a perfectly serviceable burger on worthless foccaccia bread? Why eat here instead of Applebee’s? Why, why, why?

    I will say, however, that our waitress was awesome, friendly and attentive, which contradicts a lot of negative reviews I read that specifically mention service. And whoever was bartending that night knows their way around a Guinness pour. That is all.

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  2. um, call me a heathen, but I love it there. and I don’t care for mr. smith or his attitude, but love the grill room (hate the front room, but drink there anyway, dammit). but in reading your review, it sounded like you liked a lot of things, so i don’t see why you were unsatisfied and sad… a 7 is pretty good, no? overcooking meat is maddening, and especially at a steakhouse, but you said you liked everything else… i just hope it’s because you were expecting more. which i understand. but go back and get the steak and cheese appetizer, it’s lovely.

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  3. Kate, thanks for commenting. I did like a lot of things about the grill room, but the group consensus was a resounding meh. Family visits are stressful, even when you like the people you’re related to, and I think wanting the food to be great! and it only being good! contributed to my feeling underwhelmed by the experience. I do plan to go back – and I will try the cheese appetizer – and I hope, under different circumstances, to enjoy my meal completely and tell the tale.

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  4. i was stalking on urbanspoon and found your review again- i’ve retracted all the nice things i’ve ever said about the rooms, harding, and his food. i’ll never go to any of his mediocre restaurants again. there, i feel better now.

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