In their new Arundel location, Scott and Bridget Lee have more room for their own brand of magic.
In Tom Robbins’s 1984 novel, Jitterbug Perfume, the Bandaloop Doctors are a Himalayan mountain tribe who live in caves and dance to ensure longevity. Recurring themes in the whimsical story include the importance of individuality and lightheartedness, both of which are embraced at Bandaloop in Arundel. Scott and Bridget Lee launched the restaurant in 2004 in Kennebunkport’s Dock Square, where they developed a devoted following for their largely organic, locally sourced, wide-ranging menu. After a 10-year search for the right property and an 18-month renovation of an old barn on Route One in November, the Lees opened a new Bandaloop three times the size of the original. (Once an old barn dating to 1730, the building housed Samuel Hill Tavern for many years and most recently was the Yankee Fireplace and Patio.) The fully ADA-compliant building boasts an airy main dining room ringed on three sides by a balcony, a stylish bar, a separate area for takeout, and a second-floor event space. Similar to the old Bandaloop, which occupied a smaller renovated barn, timber framing defines the interior. The expansive dining room has an airy, relaxed feel, with a wall of windows at one end, butter-yellow walls, and widely spaced tables interspersed with lounge areas, where midcentury modern–style furniture provides an attractive contrast to the rough-hewn beams. Both the dining room and bar feature gas fireplaces that throw off some heat, which is especially welcome in the dining room, where the impressive granite slab and fieldstone fireplace was built by the Lees’ friend, local stone mason Brian Fairfield. “When we talked about leaving downtown Kennebunkport, so many people thought we were crazy,” says Bridget. “But we were stuck down a little one-way street, and Scott had to work in a tiny kitchen—that whole restaurant could fit in his new kitchen.”
On a snowy evening, my companion and I ask for a table in the bar, livelier at the early hour and cozier than the mostly empty dining room (which will be nearly full by the time we leave). I start with a bracing yet warming Paper Plane cocktail—a modern version of the old-school whiskey sour—made here using Langsford Road bourbon from nearby Batson River Brewing and Distilling, Aperol, Amaro Averna, and lemon juice, served up in a coup glass. There are plenty of intriguing starters on the menu, and while the cheerful server recommends the Pemaquid mussels, steamed with Dijon mustard, roasted garlic, basil, and a little cream, I can’t resist the pan-seared organic lion’s mane mushrooms from Mousam Valley Mushrooms in Springvale. The meaty nuggets are scattered on a long plate over a swath of maple syrup–sweetened winter squash puree and sprinkled with pepita gremolata. We also share a hearty wilted spinach salad with sautéed vegetables, grape tomatoes, sheep’s milk feta, and toasted pine nuts. “The spinach salad was the birth of Bandaloop,” says Bridget. “When we were first talking about opening a restaurant, Scott made that salad for lunch and I said, ‘It has to be on the menu.’”
While a number of excellent options make Bandaloop a favorite of vegetarians and vegans, all of Scott Lee’s dishes, from tofu to steak, are boldly flavored and generously portioned. Two cases in point are our entrees. My companion opts for a special: perfectly cooked duck breast sliced over mushroom and barley risotto, drizzled with chili oil—a dish that is earthy and sophisticated. Maine-style palusami, a Samoan stew that is one Scott’s signatures, is a colorful bowl of healthy comfort food: roasted sweet onions, red and poblano peppers, baby spinach, chickpeas, and whole roasted garlic cloves in a coconut milk-based broth. Like Bandaloop’s take on macaroni and cheese—cavatappi with Vermont cheddar, roasted tomatoes, broccoli, and basil—the stew is available in whole and half sizes, and can be enhanced with grilled chicken or salmon, baked or fried tofu, or andouille sausage.
The downside of developing a following for signature dishes is that chefs can feel pigeonholed. This winter the Lees plan to host monthly chef dinners in the second-floor event space, giving Scott and new sous chef Natalie Allesee a chance to spread their culinary wings. “Scott has been making some of these dishes for so many years—for lunch and dinner—he wants to show that he’s more than mac and cheese and quesadillas,” says Bridget. The couple also plans to take an extra day off, closing through the winter on Sundays and Mondays to catch their breath after being busy from the day they opened the new location. “I think people around here were really hungry for a new spot that they could easily get to and that has parking,” she says. “They’ve been really patient and really happy.”
Despite the stress of opening a new restaurant, the Lees seem happy, too. And while they may not have found the secret to immortality, they seem to have discovered the way to success. “We both read Jitterbug Perfume when we were in our 20s and living in Montana, and when we needed a name for the restaurant, we called a friend out there who had also read it; the first thing she said was Bandaloop,” says Bridget. “It’s just a fun name that we put out there; we grew into it, and it grew into us.” By doing what they love and dancing to their own tune, the Lees are bringing a little of the Bandaloop’s magic to everyone who walks through their door.