It is my understanding that the most successful restaurateurs are those who pay attention to every single detail, no matter how seemingly minuscule, as they all eventually amount to the sum of the dining experience. In this regard, Rudy’s owner Paul Woods is a renaissance man of sorts and he fully immerses himself in the thought process behind each and every element of his newly constructed Cape Elizabeth eatery.
I’ve personally known Woods as a patron while tending bars in various Portland restaurants, and the man’s passion for dining out has always been readily apparent. Another of his characteristics is his enormous attitude of goodwill towards his fellow restaurant owners. He goes to great lengths to bring elements of his favorite places into his own and he openly cites whoever inspired him for each detail. Having the opportunity to build the restaurant from the ground up was a dream come true for Woods.
As I tour the kitchen, I meet executive chef Daron Goldstein, a Boston transplant whose primary influences include the likes of Nancy Oakes from Boulevard in San Francisco and Daniel Humm of Eleven Madison Park in New York City.
As I tuck into a plate of “Daddy’s Fried Chicken,” Woods’s own recipe that utilizes buttermilk brine to keep the meat tender before deep-frying in a batter made from three different kinds of flour and a blend of spices, I notice the high quality of the earthenware plate it arrives on. Woods explains that they are custom made by CBFB Tablescapes in Charleston, a company most well known for outfitting Sean Brock’s restaurant, Husk.
The rest of the sleek dining room interior follows suit, with a large communal table constructed from 150-year-old wood salvaged from cabins in the Moosehead Lake region as well as smaller ones made in Millinocket by Maine Heritage Timber.
While enjoying a plate of salt-roasted Spinney Creek oysters with leeks, panko, and smoked paprika beurre blanc, the flavors and textures which are spot on, I note how comfortable the dining room chairs are. Designed by Emeco, they are based on chairs utilized by the U.S. Navy in World War II, and are constructed entirely out of recycled Coca-Cola bottles as a collaboration with the soft drink giant, effectively making use of over 15 million bottles in only five years. Most of the chairs, including the bar stools, are slate grey, except for a single table for two in the window that is outfitted with a color the company refers to as “persimmon,” effectively contrasting the rest of the room quite nicely.
From the outside, you will notice two things: the shingle meets modern roadhouse look of the building as well as the dining room’s centerpiece, a gorgeous Jotul freestanding direct vent stove, chosen specifically by Woods due to the glass on all sides making the fire visible from all around the restaurant.
Goldstein’s menu is specifically designed to accommodate a very wide range of dining tastes. The burger is simple yet perfect, utilizing high-quality bacon, a juicy patty made from brisket, short rib, and chuck, Shelburne cheddar and a bun from Southside Bakery in South Portland. I note that the fries are akin to those from McDonald’s that I love with every inch of my being, and it comes to light that they are previously frozen, hence the perfection every time. Although this may seem a bit odd, it is a practice used most notably by chefs like Thomas Keller, who freely admits that if it’s not broken, there’s no point in fixing it.
A beautiful presentation of deviled eggs alongside a beet salad that is topped with a house-made goat cheese and blood orange “gel,” showcase Goldstein’s attention to detail, while acting as palate cleansers of sorts. Incredibly fresh tuna, served very rare, is lightly dusted with cayenne and nori, resting in a pool of dashi, Chinese broccoli, and sticky rice cake.
Woods jokes that he learned everything he knows about bars from watching the HBO series, Deadwood, and while yes, there is no shortage of American whiskey available there is far more to the selection than that. A plethora of Maine beers on draught are complemented by the usual suspects in bottles—Budweiser, Heineken, and so on. There are even a few lines devoted to both wine and specialty cocktails, such as the “Cougar Juice,” a predatory blend of vodka, St. Germain, grapefruit, and Champagne. Of particular note for the beer-centric is a full menu devoted to sours in large format bottles, including Rodenbach Grand Cru, a personal favorite of mine.
The wine list is equally diverse with big hitters like Ramey Wine Cellars, Shafer Vineyards, and Heitz Cellar represented alongside boutique selections like grower-Champagne producers Baudouin from France and Cristom from Oregon. A bottle of Talbott Sleepy Hollow Pinot Noir from the Santa Lucia Highlands was particularly spot on with Goldstein’s Rohan duck breast wrapped in bacon and served with creamy spring-dug parsnips, fiddleheads, and black cherry foam.
Over a slice of passion fruit and coconut “birthday cake” from pastry chef Kristen Lawson, Woods speaks to the challenges of keeping both the patrons of the old Rudy’s, which had occupied the lot since the 1960s as more of a diner before being torn down to accommodate the new building, while attracting a more diverse crowd from surrounding towns. His heart is definitely in the right place as he acknowledges that what makes the most sense to him is to, “open the restaurant, and let the clientele make it their own.”
It’s all in the details.
517 Ocean House Rd. | Cape Elizabeth | 207.799.0270 | rudysme.com