At his new Portland restaurant, chef Greg Mitchell plays by the book to serve up old-time comfort.
Fried chicken, porchetta with blistered tomatoes, heirloom tomato salad, what the Flood’s menu calls “the celebrated cheeseburger.” Blueberry peach cobbler; the New York Sour, with Russell’s Reserve 10-year bourbon, lemon, sugar, and red wine; guests in Flood’s low-lit, simply decorated dining room.
By Kate McCarty
Photographs by Greta Rybus
In 1948, New Yorker scribe Joseph Mitchell published Old Mr. Flood, a collection of his stories about a nonagenarian who lived in a shabby Manhattan hotel. Flood, a composite character whom Mitchell invented, credited longevity to drinking Scotch at breakfast and eating the freshest seafood possible. He sermonized on the salubrious quality of oysters. He liked that his room’s furniture was as old as he was. “Newness” upset him.
This past spring, Greg Mitchell — not a relation of Joseph’s, but a fan — named a new Portland restaurant for the eccentric character. The dining area at Flood’s occupies three connected rooms adjacent to the Francis, a boutique hotel in an 1881 mansion that first belonged to a dry-goods merchant (before a century of service as a funeral home). To the hardwood floor, tin ceiling, and tiled fireplace Mitchell added oak paneling, brass lamps, and maroon banquette seating.
The bar emphasizes liquor, straight up or in cocktails like martinis, Sazeracs, and New York sours. In addition to a rotating cast of Maine craft beers, there’s also Coors Banquet. The dinner menu includes fried calamari, oysters roasted with herbed butter, a garlicky Caesar salad, a platter of fried chicken, and a burger with pickles and cheddar. The standout dessert is chocolate pudding.
Mitchell is inclined toward classics. He also runs Biddeford’s Palace Diner, a 15-seat breakfast-and-lunch counter where fluffy pancakes and decadent tuna melts earned him and diner co-owner Chad Conley heaps of acclaim, including a James Beard Award nod this year as semifinalists for best chef in the Northeast. And at 45-seat Flood’s, Mitchell again shows a knack for sprucing up old-school dishes. He sprinkles that chocolate pudding with sanding sugar and flaky sea salt. A biscuit accompanying the fried chicken comes with honey butter. The burger gets a dollop of a creamy, tangy “special sauce.”
747 Congress St., Portland. 207-613-9031.
Snacks $3–$10, plates $12–$24.
Flood’s is on the first floor of (but unaffiliated with) the Francis hotel, in the recently restored Mellen E. Bolster House in Portland’s West End. Rooms start at $134 per night in November.
Farm to Table
From 2010 to 2012, before a stint as a line cook at New York’s renowned Gramercy Tavern, chef/owner Greg Mitchell managed David’s Folly Farm, in Brooksville.
Other dishes feel more contemporary, even though they still land in Mitchell’s hearty, comfort-food wheelhouse. Salsa verde brightens a plate of seared, thinly sliced beef tongue. Griddled mackerel soaks up lemony brown-butter sauce. Mitchell even riffs on a thoroughly modern trend — fancy toasts — by slathering house aioli on a thick slice of sourdough, from Biddeford’s Night Moves bakery, and piling steamed clams and mussels atop.
Some cocktails also veer in new directions. The Queen Coley tastes almost savory, made with gin, honeydew melon, green pepper, lime, and a cayenne tincture. Blame the Broom tempers mezcal’s smokiness with the addition of sweet vermouth, cherry juice, and black-pepper bitters.
On a recent Friday night, Mitchell was behind the bar, stirring and shaking drinks. He dimmed the lights and turned up the music (Bob Dylan’s “The Man in Me” was playing, an old tune, but still a couple of decades younger than Joseph Mitchell’s stories). Couples leaned in closer to keep up conversations. Two women repeatedly topped off their wine glasses from a bottle on the table. A man who said he lived across the street read a book at the bar. Mitchell strained a martini and stabbed an olive with a cocktail pick, then slid the drink across the marble countertop. It was a scene that, all in all, Old Mr. Flood could have stepped into and been happy.