I hadn’t been to Congress Bar and Grill since it was one of two Norms’ in Portland a few years ago. At the time of the changeover to CBAG, I was a bit disappointed as I really enjoyed Norm’s. I heard later though that hardly anything had changed except the name, so I kept it in the back of my mind that I had to see for myself if it really was still the same old place I used to enjoy. On Saturday, after much debate about where to head for an early dinner, it was finally time to head back to the Congress St. restaurant.
When I entered, it was very much as I remembered it with a bar immediately upon entering and a dining room to the right. We were told to sit whereever we wanted and chose a booth. I noticed some very cool fish art for sale hanging from the walls. All the napkins, silverware, and menus were already on the table in a side container for the customers to grab as needed. I saw three menus – a beer and wine, a cocktails, and a food menu. The cocktail menu had one side specifically for martinis and the other side had everything else listed.
My wife and I both decided we wanted a drink. I was impressed with the drink menus. Nothing was complicated and everything looked quite good. My wife decided on the Strawberry Vodka Lemonade right away, but I had trouble figuring out what I wanted and wasn’t ready when the waitress came for our drink orders. My wife ordered and I continued pondering which drink I would imbibe. I finally narrowed the choices down to the Whiskey Sidecar and what my wife ordered, eventually deciding on the Strawberry Vodka Lemonade like the follower I am.
After placing the drink orders, I was more than ready to find my dinner. We were out early, but it didn’t mean I hadn’t worked up an appetite over the course of the day from plowing the fields and milking the cows. I took the menu in my hands, opened it, and grabbed the edges like my teachers grabbed my ears in grade school when they yelled at me. Holding the menu firmly, I looked at what it could offer me. My wife had been talking about fried seafood all day, so I had it in my head that I might want something of that nature, but I wasn’t certain yet.
The menu did have a couple fried seafood items. There was a calamari appetizer and fish and chip entree. I was ready to have both, but my wife was taken with the Hummus Platter – grilled flat bread, marinated olives, and fire roasted vegetable kabobs – which we had had before. Since I wasn’t going to eat the calamari alone, I felt the hummus would be okay to share. For the entree, she ended up straying from her original idea and went with the BBQ Chicken Quesadilla with Jack cheese, shredded lettuce, tomato, corn salsa, and cilantro. She also requested a side of Hand Cut Sweet Potato Fries with honey mustard dip. I went with the Fish and Chips which came with fried haddock, hand cut fries, and house tartar sauce.
Soon our drinks came out. They were in pint glasses, had a pink hue, and were garnished with a lemon slice. I tried mine and told my wife that it was quite strong – not that I was complaining. She however, tried both and thought they weren’t strong at all and that I was just being a girly-man. We immediately engaged in an old fashioned fist fight to determine who was the least girly among us. After a close, back-and-forth contest which peaked as my nearly lifeless body came crashing down on a table by the front window in a display of WWE-style sloberknockery or Family Guy-style giant chicken fighting, it was determined by the judges that the contest was a majority draw. We then went back to sipping our drinks.
With a small portion of our drinks down the hatch, a hummus plate made it’s way to our table. We had eaten that item on our previous visit there, but it had been so long that I really had no recollection of what it looked like. There were several pieces of flatbread, a sizable portion of what I believe were Greek olives in a bowl, a large skewer of grilled veggies, and a giant pile of hummus.
I knew I had won with the hummus plate as soon as it hit the table. The olives were mostly black, and since I don’t enjoy the green ones and my wife doesn’t eat any olives at all, I had an olive field day ahead of me. The skewer had enough veggies to share comfortably which was also a bonus. Best of all though, was the fact that there was so much hummus there was no possible way we’d run out even with my excessive consumption of sauces and spreads. I like a thick layer of the chickpea mush on every piece of bread and I don’t enjoy having to monitor myself so that I have enough left for the final pieces. I didn’t need to worry about that at all.
After all my basking in the glorious amounts of hummus we were granted, I created my flatbread concoction. I started with one piece of bread, heavily layered some hummus on top, threw on a bunch of olives, and ate a bite. It was quite good. Next, I plopped a veggie into my veggie hole. I had red pepper, zucchini, onion, and mushroom. I chose the shroom first just in case it had psychedelic properties. If it did, the rest of my meal could be a live giant octopus or a tanker truck floating on a cloud surrounded by fairies wearing lampshade hats. It turned out that my mushroom was pretty run-of-the-mill, which made it delicious, but unable to conjure up any culinary hallucinations.
We left a smidgen of hummus, some garnish, and two evil green olives on our plate which was promptly taken from us once we were done. Then, in less time than it takes a rainstorm to start on an otherwise sunny day in Maine, our entrees were delivered. The food all looked appealing, but standard. I was ready to dig in. I started by stealing my wife’s honey mustard in ninja-like fashion since she wasn’t going to eat it. I wanted it for my fries.
There were two or three sizable pieces of fish on my plate. I immediately took a bite. It was very good – well-seasoned, perfectly cooked, and flakey. I then dunked a bite into the tartar sauce. The tartar sauce was a bit thinner than I was used to, but the taste was as one would expect. I grabbed a fry and the result was essentially the same. I was pleased. A fry with the honey mustard was even better. My one requirement with honey mustard sauce of any sort is that the mustard be more prominent than the honey. It was, and I was quite pleased with it. While it wasn’t the best I ever had, it certainly ranked up there among the better ones.
My food was good enough that I continued to eat without asking my wife how her food was until I was done my own meal. She enjoyed hers and I had a bite to verify that it was okay. I thought the quesadilla was excellent. There was plenty of BBQ sauce on the chicken and it was really delicious. I have no idea if the sauce was made there or not, but if not, they chose a good one to smother on the bird. We finished our food and drinks without hardly a bite left on either of our plates.
We opted to skip dessert in favor of grabbing some elsewhere and eating it after our meal had digested a bit. They didn’t have anything with peanut butter anyway, which is what I require of my desserts these days. In total, our meal came to about $55 before tip. I didn’t think that was bad. Congress Bar and Grill produced a very good meal. They’re not fancy and they keep it simple, but the food tastes great and is cooked perfectly. The service is good too. I’d recommend checking out this congress. They get my vote.
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