Small plates, off-beat wines, old-stuff chic
Written + Photographed by Jonathan Levitt
Grape vines can live for over 100 years. With time the trunks grow thick and gnarled, and the roots reach deeper and deeper down into the ground. These twisted, aged vines produce fewer clusters of grapes, but according to many, they are the most prized grapes of all—the brightest, most intense, most concentrated, most complex grapes. Others dismiss this as romantic imagining.
Either way, ancient vines are an appealing notion, and many of the world’s great wines are made from their grapes. And so it was that Mike Farrell chose the name for his two-month-old wine bar in a renovated barn in the lower village of Kennebunk.
The Old Vines building sits high and handsome, painted blue, surrounded by a gravel parking lot and gardens of raspberry bushes and perennial flowers. Inside, it is finished with the familiar Maine brand of do-it-yourself-with-old-stuff-chic: wide-plank pine floors, pieces of wine crates on the walls, the bar banged together from wood salvaged from a fisherman’s shack and a foot rail made from reclaimed plumber’s pipes.
Three years ago chef and owner Mike Farrell moved to Maine with his wife, Jodie. “We wanted a change,” says Mike. “We were really tired of the fast pace of life in New Jersey, it was never quiet, there was always a horn, always a siren—we wanted something different.
The couple rented a house on Biddeford Pool for the summer and then bought a cottage in Kennebunk. Mike worked as a line cook at Pier 77 in Cape Porpoise and as sous chef at the Wells Beach Steakhouse. “The whole time I wanted to open my own restaurant,” he says. “Jodie and I were driving around and we found this old barn, we walked in and looked around. It was being used as an art studio. It was just a shell really, but perfect.”
Interior Resources in Portland designed the space and The Old House Parts Company, an architectural salvage shop in Kennebunk, did the renovation. “Everything is reclaimed,” says Mike, “it’s all old wood.”
Before moving to Maine, Mike went to culinary school at The Institute of Culinary Education in Manhattan and worked at a few well-known places—Five Points Restaurant, The Four Seasons Restaurant, and Eleven Madison Park. Originally, he wanted his own big, busy, hot kitchen with a deep fryer, a grill, and a line of cooks, but soon realized that there was less risk in a simple menu prepared in a corner of the restaurant using only electric equipment.
“I settled on small plates,” he says. “Small and flavorful but not necessarily tapas, I didn’t want to commit to Spanish food.” He hired chef Melody Polakow. “I wanted somebody who I could hand the thing off to.”
Mike says that he buys as much as possible from local farmers. The menu is appealing and sophisticated—panzanella, niçoise salad, white gazpacho, imported artisanal meats and cheeses, olives, nuts. “It’s food that goes well with wine,” he says, “and we have interesting, offbeat wines—Portuguese reds like Vinzelo from the Douro region, Albarino from Northwest Spain, and red Burgundies. We also make our own red wine vinegar, it’s a lighter style that won’t kill the wine with acidity. Off the shelf most vinegars are acid bombs—they’ll make your mouth pucker.”
Old Vines will be open ten and a half months of the year. In March, Mike and Jodie will leave town for a few weeks and head out to California to visit wineries on the Monterey Peninsula and up in the Santa Cruz mountains.
For now, though, Mike is in the thick of it—sharpening knives, ordering from distributors, and making recommendations from behind the bar
“We’re trying to make a name for ourselves,” he says. “That’s a lot of work.”
173 Port Rd. | Kennebunk | 207.967.2310 |