When Kit Paschal was looking for space to open his new restaurant, the real estate broker gave him a tour of the eastern end of Washington Avenue, pointing out new businesses and describing the future of the area. The neighborhood is being reborn as the next hot spot for Portland’s ever-growing restaurant community. Joined by business partner and chef Anders Tallberg, Paschal chose to place Roustabout firmly at the center.
The space, previously occupied by an Asian market, is cavernous. Paschal handled the interior design work himself, cleverly maintaining an airy, contemporary feel but bringing it into human scale. Soaring ceilings are painted bright white with exposed ductwork and pipes. Hanging lights fashioned from thick rope tied in fanciful knots accentuate the height and add a handsome design element. The rest of the room is painted a soothing steel gray. There’s purposefully little ornamentation, giving the room a serene feel. Several people I know have commented that “this doesn’t feel like Portland” referring to the sophisticated, urban ambiance.
Paschal came to Maine from Boston a few years ago, looking for a change. He tells me, “I took a leap and found myself completely submerged in the restaurant network.” He worked first at Hugo’s, and met Tallberg, a sous chef at the time, then Paschal moved to Portland Hunt and Alpine Club. When Paschal was ready to open his own place, conversations with Tallberg led the two into partnership. “We shared this vision and a commitment to high quality but accessible food. We wanted a neighborhood kind of place where people could come any time of day,” says Paschal. Roustabout is open from lunch straight through until midnight.
Both the lunch and dinner menus are compact. The food is inspired by Tallberg’s childhood, growing up in a Sicilian immigrant family, where “food was always a gathering point for family and friends.” When Tallberg was just a young boy, his godfather taught him to make a simple, quick tomato sauce. Today, that same sauce is the basis for many of his pasta dishes. You can find it in the hearty bucatini all’amatriciana, an updated version of one of the first dishes Tallberg ever learned to cook for himself, when he was just 12 years old. The thick spaghetti is bathed in a sauce that’s slightly spicy, full of sweet roasted onions, and flavored with meaty pancetta.
“This is food you might make at home,” he says. “It’s recognizable but more delicious.” Tallberg’s chicken saltimbocca is a riff on the classic Roman dish, traditionally made with veal. Here, a deliciously moist breast is stuffed with prosciutto and fresh sage. Searing it in a blazing-hot cast iron pan renders the skin crispy. The sauce on which it’s served is deeply flavored, made from caramelizing chicken bones and aromatics, Madeira, and butter. It’s delightfully salty and barely sweet, a perfect match for the chicken.
Between lunch and dinner, as well as late at night, there’s an enticing bar menu. Snacks such as creamy chicken liver mousse with Calabrian chili oil and fried capers, or house made ricotta and crostini are perfect for nibbling on with a cocktail. You’ll often find Paschal there mixing drinks, many of which are his own creation. The East Bayside cocktail is subtitled “the crowd-pleaser” for good reason; it’s a mix of vodka, fresh herbs, and bubbles. A hot mulled apple cider with apple jack brandy and chai spice-infused vermouth is irresistible on a wintery day. At Sunday brunch, the Bloody Mary is offered with a choice of vegetable-infused vodka or peppery tequila, or both. If you’re not sure what to order, ask about the Bartender’s Choice. Paschal will quiz you on preferences and mood, before putting together something special to sip on.
Roustabout seems to be a good fit for the ever-expanding Washington Avenue neighborhood. And the area was certainly the right choice for a Roustabout, too—a little edgy but definitely friendly and fun.
Roustabout | 59 Washington Ave. | Portland | 207.536.4008 | roustabout.me