Originally published in the July Issue of Down East Magazine
Photographed by Douglas Merriam
Until recently, people getting dinner in Pine Point had two choices: 1) Where to get our fried seafood? 2) Crumbs or batter? Most were probably either avoiding the drive to Portland or the crowds at Old Orchard Beach, both of which have plenty of places serving top-notch fish and chips and fried clams.
When Pine Point Grille opened two years ago, chef Ryan Hickman’s challenge was to create a menu that would keep him engaged creatively — his résumé includes stints at two of Maine’s finest restaurants, Portland’s Back Bay Grill and Ogunquit’s Arrows — and also be universally approachable. On the one hand, few things so dishearten diners as simple dishes needlessly made complicated. If a classic comfort-food dish has been prepared without an immersion circulator for 100 years, it probably doesn’t need to be cooked sous-vide now.
On the other hand, Hickman understands that no fan of shrimp tacos and salsa verde will complain if they’re made with fresh, warm flour tortillas pressed by hand. Such tortillas demonstrate care and skill without disrupting the simple harmony of the taco-eating universe.
Or consider pizza. “Everyone has an idea of what a perfect pizza is,” Hickman says, “which turns a simple thing into a great challenge.” So at Pine Point, Hickman makes fresh dough — no one, after all, can argue with delicious crust — while providing both classic toppings (pepperoni, meatballs, red sauce, mozzarella) and some avant-garde combos (fig and honey, or smoked duck, pickled ramps, and goat cheese).
Sheila Masselli envisioned this kind of artful crowd-pleasing when she opened the doors to Pine Point Grille in May 2014. Her family has long been in the food biz, and Masselli wanted to continue that tradition in a place where she has deep ties. “My family has been vacationing in Pine Point for over 60 years, ever since my mother’s father purchased a summer cottage here,” says the Lewiston native, who spent the previous 20 years working in Boston and New York. “I have both family and friends who now call this area home year-round. We joke that Pine Point has become South L/A.”
The environment Masselli has created appeals to a mixed crowd of summer tourists and locals. The décor is simple and warm, with a neutral color scheme and straightforward wood furnishings. And with each visit I’ve made, Chef Hickman’s food has increasingly impressed. Take the roasted brussels sprouts appetizer, a dish I’ve grown bored with elsewhere: Hickman’s preparation involves another ingredient that has long overstayed its welcome on menus — truffle oil — but its presence in the lemony vinaigrette that adorns the perfectly charred sprouts creates a deliciously umami-rich affair when topped with a liberal grating of salty Parmesan.
Another favorite is Pine Point Grille’s crab cake — a hefty amount of crabmeat with just enough binding in the form of mayo and panko to retain its form in the fryer, so it actually tastes like crab and not breadcrumbs. Wow.
Hickman’s preparations of tender seared scallops, meats (think a beautifully marbled rib-eye steak, fat nicely rendered, served alongside farro risotto and ramps), and pasta (pappardelle with fresh English peas, mint, and ricotta) always reflect the season. He doesn’t shy away from the unconventional — he’ll experiment, for example, with unexpected flavor combinations, like the sweet cauliflower-and-almond puree and bitter broccoli rabe that currently accompanies the scallop entrée.
As simple and nostalgic as the rest of the menu, Hickman’s ice cream sandwich is a fitting end to the meal. Freshly baked chocolate chip cookies drizzled with chocolate ganache gird a thick layer of vanilla ice cream — eat it slowly so the cold won’t numb your taste buds.
Drive by Pine Point Grille on any given night around 6 these days, and you’ll see a parking lot overflowing onto the street. Inside, you’ll see a bar and a dining room filled with happy patrons, and more often than not, Sheila Masselli will be right there with them. She and Hickman have given the community a much-needed respite from the old crumbs and batter.
240 Pine Point Rd., Scarborough