It is now time — drumroll, please — to announce the winners of the 2015 Eater Awards in Maine. These winners comprise a diverse group of the finest and most interesting chefs, restaurants, and bartenders in the city. They've defined this year in dining, and we applaud them.
First, a quick recap: Eater's local editors in 24 cities nominated candidates for five major categories: Restaurant of the Year, Chef of the Year, Bartender of the Year, So Hot Right Now Restaurant, and Stone Cold Stunner. These awards are geared toward places that have opened in roughly the past year, or people who have become involved in new ventures or otherwise changed the game during that time, which is why many renowned veterans don't appear. Eater readers then voted to narrow the field to a final three in each category. From that final three, the Eater editorial team chose one to move forward. Without further ado, here's who came out on top in Maine.
Eater Awards 2015
Restaurant of the Year
Nominees: The Honey Paw (Portland), Union (Portland), Custom Deluxe (Biddeford), Figgy's (Portland), Dudley's Refresher (Castine)
Finalists: The Honey Paw, Custom Deluxe, Union
Winner: The Honey Paw
Adding "non-denominational noodles" to the local lexicon, The Honey Paw's flair for Asian twists and fermented goods proved that celebrated chef-owners Mike Wiley and Andrew Taylor and co-owner Arlin Smith have still got it — and that they could seamlessly integrate local pop-up hero Thomas Pisha-Duffly as chef de cuisine. It's only a matter of time before this daring restaurant is as hard to get into as its sister next door, Eventide Oyster Co.
Chef of the Year
Nominees: Thomas Pisha-Duffly (The Honey Paw, Portland), Natalie "Figgy" Dibenedetto (Figgy's, Portland), Joshua Berry (Union, Portland), Kara van Emmerik (Dudley's Refresher, Castine), Catherine Côté-Eliot (Portland Patisserie and Grand Café, Portland)
Winner: Kara van Emmerik
Without missing a beat, Kara van Emmerik transitioned from unlikely Mexican-style gem El El Frijoles to the owners' new take-out spot on the waterfront, Dudley's Refresher. In the process she helped elevate a seasonal classic — the seaside snack shack — to new heights of scratch-made greatness. As a bonus, she'll spend the winter passing along her knowledge to the next generation of culinary professionals at Eastern Maine Community College.
Bartender of the Year
Nominees: Gigi Mall (Bramhall, Portland), Trevin Hutchins (Tempo Dulu, Portland), Michael Pazdon (The Wallingford, Kittery), Chris Gatchell (Inkwell, Portland), Crystal Pomerleau (Central Provisions, Portland)
Finalists: Gigi Mall, Trevin Hutchins, Crystal Pomerleau
Winner: Gigi Mall
With an edge of dark humor, Gigi Mall brightens the dim basement bar at Bramhall — and it doesn't hurt that she's had a chance to work closely with last year's winner of this award, Guy Streitburger. Arriving from warmer West Coast climes, Mall has taken to Maine like a fish to water. She's also taken an active role in the new Portland chapter of the United States Bartenders' Guild (USBG), which means she's helping push the quality of the state's bar scene ever higher.
So Hot Right Now
Nominees: OCHO (Portland), Taco Trio (Portland), Tempo Dulu (Portland), 'Wich, Please (Rockland), Terlingua (Portland)
Finalists: 'Wich, Please, Terlingua, Tempo Dulu
Winner: 'Wich, Please
Food truck 'Wich, Please kept its legions of Kickstarter supporters satisfied all summer with a wide assortment of sandwiches, and even found a way to stay hot (and stay warm) with an intriguing winter partnership at Comida restaurant. Next step for food writer-turned-restaurateur Malcolm Bedell? Secure his own brick and mortar space, where he can continue to expand his repertoire as a chef, building on experiments like his ongoing "India Night" series.
Stone Cold Stunner
Nominees: The Treehouse (Portland), The Velveteen Habit (Ogunquit), Isa (Portland), Evo (Portland), The Wallingford (Kittery)
Finalists: Evo, The Velveteen Habit, Isa
In Portland, it can be a challenge attracting a wary, laid-back populace to a restaurant connected to a high-end hotel. With the help of Canal 5 Studio and unstoppable local design firm Might & Main, though, Evo's bold, angular architecture and branding challenged Portland's staid sensibilities. Factor in the large windows, which allow guests to see and be seen, and it appears the chic, two-story space has found a recipe for success.