In Italy and other parts of Europe, it’s not unusual to find a restaurant attached to a service station. In fact, while not gourmet, some surprisingly excellent meals can be found at these roadside stops. William Holmes was aware of this when he drove by the abandoned gas station in Bridgton several years ago. “There was a For Lease sign,” he says, “and the idea just popped into my head.” Holmes had recently returned to the Lake Region after working in Boston, and was looking to open a business. “If you put a restaurant in a gas station, people will always come,” he continues. “But the biggest question was: are we allowed to do this?”
At first the answer from the town was no, due to water shortage problems. But Holmes put his creativity and knowledge of the restaurant industry to work. “We found ways around the problems,” he says. Holmes was trained as an architect, and admits that this project was “a test to see how much you could do with very little. We embraced anything that enforced creativity.” Menus are cut from rolls of butcher paper and printed in-house. Food is served on metal trays, and fries are piled into paper cones in Mason jars, a riff on the traditional Belgian-style presentation. Picnic tables provide seating for the moment, but Holmes has been industriously building new tables with custom metalwork legs and wood reclaimed from a shop his grandparents owned in town. It all adds up to a look that’s slightly industrial and simple, but not without a sense of design. Perhaps the most striking design element is the refrigerator beer wall. Holmes honed his craft beer knowledge during his bartender days in Boston. “The beer wall was the first thing that came to mind when I saw the space,” he says. Stretching the width of the restaurant, the refrigerator holds over 200 kinds of beer, plus 15 draught lines. The colorful cans from all over the world make a striking display and encourage customers to take a closer look. “This is a visual solution to the problem of a beer list that’s always changing,” says Holmes. “Drinkers can see what’s actually available on any day.” The selection is diverse and far ranging with plenty of small and large Maine breweries represented, such as Banded Horn Brewing Company, Maine Beer Company, Bunker Brewing Company, and Allagash Brewing Company. Iconic domestic brews like Pabst Blue Ribbon and Narragansett share shelf space with international specialties. Holmes tells me his new favorite is the refreshing Zoller Zwickel, an unfiltered German lager that’s perfect for summer.
Holmes envisioned a restaurant serving the kind of food he felt was missing from the area—high quality, from scratch, and responsibly sourced. “I was bored with the same old stuff,” he says. “I wanted something different that was also healthier.” Inspired by his extensive travels, the menu offers dishes with global elements, as well as good old American favorites. Twice-cooked, Belgian-style fries are fantastic, made from Fryeburg’s Green Thumb Farms potatoes. Dip in the curry ketchup or a tangy wasabi sauce, and just try to share nicely. Flash-fried Brussels sprouts in a sweet and salty glaze are irresistible. But it’s the burgers and barbecue that bring back hungry diners again and again. The Double Standard is a fast-food-style burger made of dry-aged, fresh Maine Family Farms beef, and is topped with American cheese, shredded lettuce, pickled red onions, and Standard sauce, a Southern-style remoulade. “It’s like your favorite fast food burger, but at a much higher standard,” explains Holmes. Russell Caron, a photographer for this assignment, declares this burger, “The best I’ve had in Maine.” Holmes accepts the compliment graciously, explaining the custom blend of meat and saying, “We put a lot of thought onto it.” I also love the veggie burger, a hearty blend of black beans, sweet potato, and quinoa, topped with cilantro cream. A smoker in the open kitchen turns out chicken, pork, and brisket with house-made barbecue sauce and a choice of slaws. Corn on the cob is partially smoked, too, then grilled for elote, Mexican street corn. It’s slathered with chili-spiced mayo, cotija cheese, and fresh herbs. Chicken wings are incredibly popular, too, and come in a variety of flavors, including honey sriracha, Korean, and rotating specials.
Holmes is happy to be back in the area where he grew up. Now in the fourth summer, Standard Gastropub is bringing new energy with live music by popular Portland artists every Thursday evening. They play on the outdoor patio, just right for a beer and a burger. “There are people who make this their first stop before getting to camp,” says Holmes. “This is a great community, and it’s nice to see things going in the right direction.”
Standard Gastropub | 233 Main St. | Bridgton | 207.647.4100