OFF THE GRILL: Mini-burgers, fries, and massive onion rings.
It's clear Portland's city leaders don't like unruly drunkenness. They're not even really fans of people drinking without eating. If this were Singapore they might have some young government employees on either end of Wharf and Commercial streets handing out pieces of bread.
And while there are always ways around the intentions of laws, Andy's Old Port Pub actually embodies this spirit. It's a bar whose dinner menu seems to reflect the simple idea that when you have a pleasant place to hang out, drink, and socialize, people get hungry.
The space used to be a grimy bar for guys who drank hard after they finished working on the wharf in the afternoons. It's not grimy now, but it's not over-polished either — mostly wood and white paint. There are still plenty of regulars who work on the water, but now mixed in are young professionals.
To get the menu you flag down one of the bartenders — seasoned thirtysomethings who suit the place. It's the standard pub approach for the most part: burgers, pizza, fried stuff, something Mexican — with a few more ambitious entrees. The servings are big, and the food's not bad. A basket of onion rings was massive, as were the thick-cut rings it held. The onion had enough bite that I might believe they had never been frozen, and a tempura-style breading that was not too greasy. The problem with the mini-burgers was that while the buns were mini, the burgers were mini-er. With a sort of old-school diced-onion thing, they might have been good if they hadn't been overwhelmed by bread.
The roasted chicken at Andy's is "nearly boneless," which seems like a good idea — sure, get most of that pesky skeleton out of there, but there's no need to go crazy about it. The breast was just a bit tough, but the skin crackled and the dark meat was juicy. A sweet dark rum sauce covered the bird and the very good mashed potatoes, which had a mild flavor of horseradish.
A very crisp haddock quesadilla was bigger than the big plate it came on. Housed in something more like a pita than a tortilla, it had a lot of fish and jalapeno but could have used more cheese. The seared catfish, on the other hand, might have benefited from less of the "lemon/smoked paprika aioli" — a thick, sweet sauce that mostly covered the fish. It was hard to note the lemon or paprika in it, and it obscured the flavor of what seemed like a pretty good, moist piece of fish coated in a nice cornmeal and parmesan.
You should not go to Andy's for vegetables. And don't go for wasted dancing either. There was some very pleasant and mellow live music there — covers from Neil Young to Oasis. The long space provides room for conversation at the back without disturbing, or being overwhelmed by, the music up front. While leads to one last thing to know about Andy's: if someone is going to get up and dance it will be because the spirit moves them in the moment. That's precisely what our city's leaders intended.
Brian Duff can be reached at email@example.com.
ANDY'S OLD PORT PUB | 94 Commercial St, Portland | 11 am-1 am (food until 10:30 pm) | Visa/MC | 207.871.8030