A Natural Secret
FEAST-May 2009 (from Maine Home+Design)
By Rebecca Falzano
Photographs by François Gagné
Walking for the first time through the bright red doors of Bandaloop in Kennebunkport’s Dock Square, one cannot help but feel as though they are stepping into the unknown, about to encounter an exquisite secret. The restaurant is shrouded in mystery; it is located a bit off the beaten path, and its ambiguous name offers no clues to its setting or cuisine. Once inside, the eclectic decor is not easily categorized, nor is the menu, which is as vegetarian and vegan friendly as it is a meat-lover’s delight. For husband-and-wife team chef W. Scott and Bridget Lee, this enigmatic experience is entirely intentional. “We don’t want people to have any preconceived ideas before they come in,” says Scott, who explains that the name came from Jitterbug Perfume, a novel by Tom Robbins, the couple’s favorite author. In the book, Bandaloop is the name of a fictional tribe that knew the secret to eternal life. While true immortality might forever remain unattainable, Scott and Bridget believe that fine food and wine must have something to do with it. To enrich their own lives and those of their customers, the couple has built a menu founded on healthy and fresh ingredients—most of which are organic, all-natural, and purchased from local suppliers such as Wolfe’s Neck Farm.
Perhaps Bandaloop’s most enduring mystery is how its wide array of nightly offerings could possibly come out of one tiny open kitchen. “It was hard to make a big menu because there’s such limited space—it’s like a little submarine back there,” says Scott. Primarily vegetarians themselves, Scott and Bridget serve a menu with robust, carefully considered vegetarian selections that are not in any way afterthoughts. Similarly, carnivores can enjoy an ample selection of meat and seafood dishes. In the choose-your-own-adventure spirit, an unusual entree menu gives diners the option of designing their own meals by selecting a center-of-the-plate item plus a sauce. Protein options vary from free-range chicken, all-natural organic beef, and farm-raised organic salmon to tofu and tempeh. “There’s this misperception that we’re a vegetarian restaurant. It’s not true. We just like to give people lots of choices and try to be flexible and accommodating,” says Scott.
One thing Scott will not budge on, however, is not putting salt and pepper on the tables. “I try to keep the food seasoned the way it is intended to be,” he says. His belief is that the bold, worldly flavors showcase the natural tastes of the food. As a finishing touch, Scott makes his mark on every plate—literally—painting the rims with a dash of blueberry wasabi sauce for some kick.
Like any restaurant in a vacation town, Bandaloop has a diverse mix of patrons that vary with the time of year. Scott changes the menu seasonally, but has had a hard time removing certain items because of his customers’ attachment to them. “I stopped serving the eggrolls once and people revolted,” he says. The wilted spinach salad is another customer favorite that will die hard—red onions, marinated artichoke hearts, grape tomatoes, and fresh broccoli sautéed over fresh spinach and topped with sheep’s-milk feta, house dressing, and toasted pine nuts. To spice things up once a week during the winter months, Bandaloop transforms into “Banda-Lupe’s,” in which Scott tosses aside the regular menu in favor of Mexican cuisine.
To understand the essence of Bandaloop, one must get to know the creative collaboration behind it. Scott and Bridget have known each other since high school, though they did not start dating until four years later, after running into each other on a night out in Delaware. “He was wearing flannel and ripped jeans in a sea of khaki pants and Docksiders, and I said to myself, ‘Oh yes, thank God,'” says Bridget, the two erupting into laughter. Scott, a native of Georgia, has worked in kitchens since the age of 14, and was a chef at an upscale restaurant in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware, by the time he was 17. In 1990, he graduated from the College of Culinary Arts at Johnson & Wales University, and worked throughout the country before the couple, in search of a small-town New England community, moved to Maine in 2000. In Kennebunk, Scott helped open On the Marsh restaurant, where he was executive chef and then general manager for four years before he and Bridget opened Bandaloop in 2004.
While Scott has spent most of his life in kitchens, it is his mother whom he credits with pushing him toward culinary school. “My mother was a good cook. We always had home-cooked meals,” he says. “Scott’s mom has a gift of making something out of nothing in the kitchen, which Scott can do as well,” adds Bridget. “I’ll think there’s nothing to eat, and then he’ll go in and create this incredible meal.” Though Bridget has degrees in both wildlife rehabilitation and criminal justice, she devotes much of her time to the restaurant and their two children, whom they are raising vegetarian. In addition to working a few nights a week as a server, Bridget handles the restaurant’s front-of-house duties, including the interior design. Scott values her input on the menu as well, which Bridget readily offers: “I won’t let him serve octopus. I couldn’t see a dead octopus go through this place,” says the former marine biologist with a slight cringe.
Bandaloop’s funky, colorful cuisine is complemented by its funky, colorful atmosphere. Exposed beams and high ceilings give the space an airy feeling without detracting from the intimacy and warmth of the wine-colored walls and occasional glow of flames on the grill. The location of the kitchen, which faces the restaurant’s long wooden banquettes, creates a communal feel and allows Scott to remain in the center of the action: as diners watch him work on his creations, he can watch as they indulge in them. Bridget is responsible for much of the eclectic interior, with the help of fellow server and interior designer Krista Stokes, owner of nearby Favela Chic. “We couldn’t do anything without asking her opinion,” says Bridget of Stokes, who was also the imaginative force behind the interior designs of a cottage at Kennebunkport’s Hidden Pond resort. Upstairs, a mezzanine offers additional seating and a bird’s-eye perspective of the bar. Bridget created several of the wood carvings that decorate the space, including decorative spoons and a hand-carved sign out front. “We wanted it to be friendly and warm to make people feel comfortable,” she explains of the whimsical design.
On a busy, off-season Saturday night, a particularly warm one for March, Bridget gracefully handles several tables of regulars who all seem to know one another, while Scott channels his lifelong passion into the continuous stream of dishes emanating from his tiny kitchen. The two have created an enigmatic dining experience for their patrons who—at this time of the year—tend to come in a few times a week. Some of their orders may be predictable, but Scott and Bridget could never tire of this ever-changing business. “Every day is a new one. You never know what’s going to happen,” says Scott. “I may complain about my feet hurting, but I’m happier standing on them all day than I would be at a desk job,” he adds. The secret to everlasting life might remain a mystery for a while longer, but here at Bandaloop, the secret to happiness has been found.