Smooth Sailing at Wandby Landing
A Kennebunk newcomer delivers rustic Italian cuisine and time-honored hospitality.
The story of the SS Wandby is well known by locals in the Kennebunks. In 1921 the British steamship came ashore in a thick fog and wrecked just east of Walker’s Point, home to the Bush family compound. After it was determined the 334-foot ship couldn’t be towed off the rocks, another ship was sent from England to fetch the crew. According to records published by the Kennebunkport Historical Society, the sailors were taken in by locals and shown a good time: barbecues on the beach, dancing, clam digging, and even a trip to Portland.
Matt Dyer, whose new restaurant Wandby Landing is located on Western Avenue, some half a mile from the shipwreck site, says “that was the start of hospitality [in the Kennebunks].” He named his restaurant after the generosity the locals showed to the Wandby crew and aims to “show people what [we] love about Kennebunk—it’s very important to us to be a part of the community.” And Wandby Landing, which opened last July, has quickly become a hit with the locals of the seasonal community.
Wandby Landing serves an Italian-influenced menu and sits on a three-acre parcel adjacent to a skinny tributary of the Kennebunk River. The property was home to On the Marsh Bistro for 20 years, which closed after the owner decided to retire during the pandemic shutdown. Matt and his wife, Mariah, both longtime Kennebunkport and Portland hospitality professionals, bought the property and renovated its nineteenth-century farmhouse. The remodeling, which transformed the first floor, included removing some walls and adding a large, 22-seat bar and wine room.
The bar has become a favorite for locals as a place to chat with friends and enjoy a specialty cocktail or a glass of wine from an extensive collection curated by Matt. The couple previously worked at Batson River Brewing and Distilling’s Kennebunk location, Matt as a cofounder and Mariah as the front-of-house manager, and the two have used their industry knowledge to create an intriguing but approachable bar program. Matt tells me that the bar has become such a hotspot that the homeowners of the adjoining neighborhood have cut a path through the woods to the back of Wandby Landing’s property for easy access.
Beyond the bar, chef Michael Bergin’s menu of appealing small plates, handmade pastas, and charcoal-grilled meats is equally responsible for the restaurant’s draw. Bergin, who moved to Maine from Boston with his family in August 2020, worked for years at several fine dining French and Italian restaurants in Boston and New York City. Once in Maine, he took a job with Big Tree Hospitality, working at Honey Paw in Portland and at the restaurant group’s Biddeford commissary kitchen.
During my visit to Wandby Landing, I am seated at a large, cozy table flanked by a tall leather banquette in the restaurant’s quiet second-floor dining room. I begin my meal with fried calamari rings mixed with pickled peppers and piled in a bowl of tangy, thick pomodoro sauce. I also enjoy the miniature Mangalitsa pork ribs, a special of the evening, sourced from Gunnycreek Farms in nearby Arundel. The fatty ribs come shellacked with a smoky, sweet serrano glaze and sprinkled with fried shallots, fresh mint leaves, and scallions.
The kale and frisée salad acts as a nice palate cleanser between courses, with thick slices of pear and salty cheese that offset the bitter edge of the greens. The walnut vinaigrette delivers a pleasantly astringent finish to each bite. Next comes a round of pasta, thoughtfully offered in half and whole portions. The tortelloni en brodo is the standout. Bergin later tells me it’s a dish that he sees as an extension of himself, its intricate preparation embodying his appreciation for from-scratch cooking. “I’m not a flashy dude,” he says. “I really believe I was born in the wrong decade. I’m like a 70-year-old man in a 39-year-old’s body.” The mortadella-filled tortelloni come floating in a rich broth that takes seven days to make, each day bringing another round of clarifying and the addition of more roasted poultry bones. The result is swoon-worthy, delivering a depth of flavor that keeps me spooning up the broth long after the tortelloni are gone.
While entrees are served à la carte at Wandby Landing, each dish contains enough complementary elements to stand alone. The pork coppa, a cut of the shoulder roast, is a tender slab of meat slow-cooked in pork fat then grilled and finished with a reduced sauce made of apple cider, soy sauce, and fish sauce. The pile of thinly sliced fennel and apples topping it cuts through the dish’s rich sweetness. My husband’s grilled swordfish is unbelievably tender and rests in a pool of buttery caper-filled pan sauce with tender pieces of artichokes.
After one last course of a delicate panna cotta topped with blueberry compote and tender squares of lemon poppyseed cake, my dinner companions and I step out into the cool evening air and are met by the sounds of peepers coming from the nearby marsh. We’re a short distance from the hustle and bustle of Kennebunkport but feel a world apart. After being shown the gracious hospitality of Wandby Landing, I momentarily wish I was a shipwrecked sailor, stepping through a wooded path back to the warm home of my host family for the night.
46 Western Ave., Kennebunk
Italian-influenced dishes, including handmade pasta and wood-fired pizza, made with local ingredients; a robust wine list of new- and old-world varietals; and seasonally inspired specialty cocktails.
Dinner: Thursday–Sunday, 4 p.m.–9 p.m.
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