I had heard so much about Outliers Eatery recently. Having just opened this past spring, I was given and saw a variety of reviews, so I just had to try for myself. Located at 231 York St. in Portland, Outliers clearly got its name from the fact that it’s in an area you would probably never go to unless you lived there. There’s simply nothing around besides residences and the restaurant itself.
From the approach, Outliers had an interesting look. The sign on the front of the building was simple and overlooked the Casco Bay Bridge. The interior was visible through relatively large windows which line the front of the building. When entering, I saw what I felt was outstanding, modern restaurant decor. The place was decorated beautifully. A very high wall covered in rippled metal overlooked the bar. Lights hung from the ceiling levitated at various heights overhead. The lighted shelves under the liquor bottles gave the bar that next-level look. Each bottle could be seen as though it was on display.
We walked to the host area five or ten minutes early and were told that the people at our table were eating dessert and it would be a few minutes. I made my way to the bathroom right away and got a chance to see the very nice dining room which pretty much matched the decor of the bar. The bathroom was also fantastic. It was completely black including black toilet paper, toilet, sink, etc. The mirror was in two pieces to give a cracked effect. There was a pay phone in there which I picked up out of curiosity. I only listened for about two seconds, but it sounded like there was a scary story of some sort being told. It mentioned spiders and I hung up. That “dark and scary” idea appeared to be the regular theme of the bathroom, but it was most appropriate for the given time of year. I noted that it’s probably the first themed bathroom I’d ever seen.
After returning to the bar area and waiting for a few minutes, a couple bar patrons left. A hostess approached us to let us know the wait would be a little longer for a table. We indicated that we would be happy to eat at the bar if that was okay. She said it was fine and we sat down at the two seats that had just become available.
The bar didn’t have a foot rest which was slightly disappointing. It certainly would have fit well with the scenery. Nonetheless, the stools did have them, so my legs didn’t have to just dangle. The bartender approached us after a moment and provided menus. They were several pages and came in clipboard form. The first page listed the food, with subsequent pages listing cocktails, draft beer, canned and bottled beer, and a couple pages of wine. I was particularly interested in the cocktails. My wife, as usual, spied the wine list.
With little contemplation, she decided on her new wine of choice – pinot grigio. I choose the Savage Water of Sorcery – tequila, strawberry, basil, jalapeno, and simple syrup. We received our drinks pretty quickly. Mine had a beautiful red hue from the strawberry and was in a nice looking short glass. I took a sip. It wasn’t what I expected. The jalapeno was the primary flavor in the drink but there was no heat at all. Strawberry flavor was an aside, and the basil was pretty much nonexistent. Drinks with jalapeno are definitely hit or miss. The drink was acceptable, but I felt there should have either been more strawberry or the menu should have specified that this drink was mainly a jalapeno drink. I’m curious how others have liked it, but I thought it was something many would find unpleasant. To be fair, my wife had a sip and thought it was “refreshing”.
As we began sipping our drinks, my wife decided that the bar stools were too uncomfortable for her. I felt they were fine, but we found a host and said that we would indeed take a table once it was ready. They again were accommodating of the request and suggested that it would be a couple more minutes. When the table was ready, we were required to pay for our drinks at the bar prior to sitting for our meal. I must say – and this is not a knock against Outliers in particular – but I find that policy one of the most irritating a restaurant can have. It’s common for restaurants to do this, but seems very customer unfriendly. Whether it’s because of an issue with the point of sale system or something else, it’s the opposite of what you might expect from an industry that is focused on customer service. Needless to say, establishments that let you carry your bar tab to a table definitely score points in my blog.
Our tab paid, we sat at the table to look at the menus we were given. One side of the menu had several appetizers and the other had the entrees. They were on the slightly pricey side. Appetizers ranged in price from $7 – $15 and the main dishes from $17 – $27. The entrees were listed only as their main item – Duck, Maine Lobster, Farmer’s Gate Chicken, etc. The waitress stopped by the table briefly to drop off some bread, salt and pepper, and an oil and vinegar blend. We ordered some waters and she said she’d be back shortly.
I ate a little bread and mentioned to my wife that I thought the vinegar added to the dipping oil was a nice touch. It was a bit of a change from just the standard olive oil. Before I knew it, the waitress came back. She was knowledgeable about the food and did a great job answering the questions we had, including letting us know the sides that came with the entrees. I actually liked that she had a little book with all the information she needed. Even though she was quite fluent with the menu, if she wasn’t sure, she simply looked in the book for a second and found the answer. It should be noted that Outliers appears to change their menu frequently as I found that none of the items on the menu were discussed in reviews I had seen, nor is there a menu online.
Decisions were made and we were ready to place our order. I decided to go with a couple apps. I ordered the Charcuterie Board and the Chicken Spring Rolls. Just as “rolls” rolled off my tongue, the waitress informed us that they were out of spring rolls and apologized for not letting us know sooner. I was disappointed as I had been eyeing those since I first saw the menu at the bar. I changed my order to the Burrata and Heirloom Tomatoes. The wifeling went with Salmon.
Meals came out in about half a drink. My charcuterie came with rye bread, herbed goat cheese, supressata, prosciutto, mortadella, and pork pate. There were also some house-made pickles and mustard. The tomatoes and burrata cheese came in the form of a salad with lettuce, a couple other veggies, and topped with what appeared to be some pickled onion slices. My wife’s came with Swiss chard, basmati rice, and tomatillo sauce.
My salad looked interesting. I dug into my it. It wasn’t bad. The veggies were fresh. The vinaigrette on it was decent, but quite strong with vinegar. The buratta was definitely the highlight. I found it particularly flavorful. It was new to me but reminded me of brie to some extent. I ate it and prepared myself mentally for my board of meats. I got a good look at it. I realized that I was a little underwhelmed by having only one bread, one cheese, and one condiment to go with my four meats. Nonetheless, I took a piece of rye, slapped on a piece of meat, cheesed it, slathered on some mustard, and topped it with a pickle. It was quite tasty on the whole, but then there was the mustard. The mustard was probably the best mustard I have ever had. I wish I could remember if it was house-made, but I can’t. What I can tell you is that it was a spicy brown. It wasn’t very spicy, but it just had a great mustard flavor without the vinegar taste that I find often drowns out the real flavor of good mustard. I continued to try the meats in the same manner as the first one, settling on supressata as my favorite. The board was very good, but still, I couldn’t get it out of my head that I wanted some alternate bread, cheese, and condiment options. My wife was pleased with the salmon.
We ate until full and I had a little left over as we had a few bites to eat before we showed up. My portion of the meal was $38 and hers was $31. I thought about my meal and how I felt about the new-ish restaurant we were visiting. It was better in some ways than I expected, but fell a bit short in areas. Outliers wins for its modern decor. It might be the best in town. The staff seemed to be on point – knowledgeable and attentive. The food had little highlights, but on the whole, it left me wanting more. Was it bad? Absolutely not. But I think that the magnificent decor and pricey menu had me expecting to be blown away and I wasn’t. The salad was good, but not great. The charcuterie was actually quite tasty and quantity was okay, but it lacked the variety I would expect for the price of $15. The drinks were reasonably priced based on similar drinks at other locales, but mine wasn’t what I expected.
All that said, I’ll caveat that it was my first time there and it wasn’t terrible. There’s a rule amongst traditional restaurant critics that you should visit a restaurant twice before reviewing it. I don’t subscribe to that belief as first impressions are important. However, maybe I would have felt differently about other food choices. Who knows? It’s probably still worth a visit to try for yourself. If their menu changes as often as it seems, maybe the next night was completely different.
I’ll be curious to see how it goes for Outliers. It’s not any secret that Portland is a food town and a huge challenge for anyone who wants to be successful in the restaurant industry – as though it’s not hard enough anywhere. Outliers would be the best restaurant in most Maine towns, but in Portland, only time will tell.
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