Adoperarsi per eccellenza
Don’t worry if your Italian skills are rusty and you don’t understand these words, which translate to “strive for excellence.” Just be glad that you are on the receiving end of this motto, which is etched onto a large plaque above the brick ovens at Tuscan Bistro in Freeport.
Tuscan Bistro has a lot going for it—a location in the heart of busy Freeport, a welcoming, comfortable vibe, a menu full of authentic Italian dishes, terrific cocktails, and best of all—chef Chris Geer, who makes sure everything lives up to those words above the ovens.
Freeport is Geer’s hometown and the locals are happy to support one of their own. Geer left to study cooking at Johnson and Wales University, but it was an externship in the town of Asiago in northern Italy that taught him the most. “The Italian culture is all about food and there’s a pride in the product there,” he tells me. He learned to make pasta by hand and adopted a rustic style of Italian cooking. The experience served him well when he returned to Maine. He landed a job at Cinque Terre in Portland, where he had worked weekends while in school. There, owner Lee Skawinski, gave Geer a hands-on education in farm-to-table cooking. He also had the opportunity to travel to Italy again, always learning, always bringing those lessons back to Maine.
The chef has created a menu at Tuscan Bistro that reflects his many experiences abroad and locally. He also tells me that he picks up a cookbook everyday for inspiration and keeps them in the kitchen for other cooks to peruse as well. The Silver Spoon long considered the bible of authentic Italian cooking is a favorite. Geer and his team make fresh pasta every day, as well as gnocchi. “Gnocchi is best with elevated ingredients, not just red sauce,” he says. To prove his point, Geer presents us with a bowl of his hand-rolled Maine potato gnocchi with shredded duck leg confit in a savory duck jus, enriched with Madeira wine and herb butter. Roasted tomatoes, shiitake mushrooms, and other vegetables lighten the richness. When I comment on the duck’s tenderness and favor, the chef tells me it takes four days to cure the meat, then it spends five hours in the oven. This is not fast food.
The two wood-fired brick ovens were imported from Italy and installed piece by piece. They’re fired up every morning, then used for menu items from roast Cornish game hens with root vegetables to pizza. The beautiful pizzas created in the hot ovens are hugely popular at Tuscan Bistro with a crust that’s chewy and lightly charred and toppings that are fresh and tempting. I sample the Farmhouse pie, covered in walnut-basil pesto then topped with roasted chicken, artichokes, spinach, and four types of cheese. The Funghi has an alfredo sauce base and four kinds of roasted mushrooms, and the Black and Blue has sirloin steak, roasted garlic, onion jam, and blue cheese.
Sharing boards of top quality charcuterie are bountiful and great with a beer. The restaurant is now offering beer flights, which are smaller servings of any four Maine beers on tap. It’s a fun way to have a taste of something you haven’t tried before. Manager Allie Gagne has created a concise wine list, choosing bottles that pair well with chef Geer’s dishes. About half of them are also available by the glass, including the Melini Chianti, a smooth, easy-drinking red, similar to the house wines you’d find offered anywhere in Tuscany. Gagne is also proud of Tuscan Bistro’s specialty cocktails. The antipasto bloody mary is practically a meal—not too spicy and it is topped with a skewer of pepperoncini, fresh mozzarella, and salami. There’s also house-made limoncello, a smooth and tart way to end a good meal. If you prefer a sweeter ending, I highly recommend the homemade cannoli. It’s stuffed with a luscious cinnamon-basil ricotta and served on Maine blueberry sauce with candied pistachios.
“With the amount of stuff we make in-house, this is pretty close to a real Tuscan bistro,” says Geer.
Tuscan Bistro | 140 Main St. | Freeport | 207.869.7200 | tuscanbrickovenbistro.com