Custom Deluxe is immediately welcoming and homey. It has the slightly cobbled together, casual look of Craigslist finds and hand-me-downs, which actually happens to be the case. The benches that line the exposed brick wall are old church pews. Mismatched, vintage dinnerware was a gift from co-owner Megan McVey’s parents.
McVey and her fiancé Thomas Malz, who are planning to get married next fall, opened the restaurant last summer. Malz’s father had recently passed away, pushing him to re-evaluate his life and goals. He and McVey had made a deal a few years earlier. “We actually shook hands agreeing that we would open our own place together someday,” McVey recounts in a slight Southern accent, punctuated with “yes ma’am.” She’s from Virginia and had never even visited Maine before they decided to open their place in Biddeford. “We were looking for a place we could build a life,” says Malz. “We liked the feel of Main Street, the rent was manageable and there are lots of young people like us in town.” McVey chimes in, “Now my closet is all plaid and flannel.”
Malz is a New England native but honed his cooking skills in other parts of the country, including New Orleans and and Washington, DC. He graduated from the Culinary Institute of America, and an internship at the Greenbrier followed, where he and McVey first met. As the third generation of her family to work at the venerable resort, hospitality runs in her veins. Together, the pair bring a wide skill set and depth of experience to their own place.
Custom Deluxe is named for Malz’s grandfather’s 1973 Chevy truck that he used to drive around New Hampshire’s Upper Valley. The chef gets much of the restaurant’s inspiration from his family and childhood spent in that region. He speaks respectfully and longingly of those roots, and his food is a clear reflection of that background. The menu is full of dishes that sound like New England classics, but Malz has added some surprising elements, picked up from his previous restaurant experiences. For example, the Bean Supper has the essential elements—slow-cooked beans and that questionable, but much loved Maine red hot dog, but the generous bowl also contains dashi rice with vinegar, garlic oil, a touch of maple, slices of green cabbage, and crispy shreds of parsnips. Combining these ingredients requires a leap of faith for both the cook and the diner, but the flavors work beautifully and every bite varies with sweet, spicy and salty elements.
A serving of house-smoked pork ribs has the kind of texture we all long for—tender, falling-off-the-bone meat with a crunchy exterior developed from a quick trip to the fryer. The ribs are served on homemade applesauce and topped with a tasty slaw of parsnips, cheese curds, dill, and almonds dressed in cider vinaigrette. Because we yearn for something green in the depths of winter, Malz created a new menu item, cream of broccoli soup. The presentation is lovely, with all the solid ingredients, in a deep bowl, waiting for the velvety soup to be poured over it from a separate pitcher. Each sip is warm and comforting and the flavor is bright and fresh.
In the restaurant is a gentleman who had just stopped in for something sweet and a cup of tea. He decides on the yeast doughnut with smoked cheddar set under a generous serving of incredibly delicious frozen maple mousse, cider ice, and applesauce. “It’s every New England ingredient that I love in a dessert,” Malz says. The flavors taste traditional, but once again, the chef has taken them in an unpredictable direction. It should not be missed.
As the evening winds down, Malz reflects on their decision to open up their 28-seat Maine Street bistro. “When I was starting out, I chose to work in the places that represented what I wanted to be some day. I absorbed what I could and now it comes out here, reflected in my own food.” He and McVey are succeeding. “We jumped off the big city train,” they say, “this is our life.”
Note: Malz and McVey are taking a much-needed vacation and Custom Deluxe will be closed January 28 until February 14. There will be a special Valentine’s Day dinner and you can request reservations at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Custom Deluxe | 140 Main St. | Biddeford | 207.494.7110