Carryout Cocktails (and Other Pandemic Silver Linings)

These six ideas from Maine’s food and drink businesses are keepers.

By Will Grunewald

#1 Cocktails on the Run

What goes great with takeout food? Takeout drinks, of course. To help bars and restaurants get by during the pandemic, state regulators temporarily okayed sales of carryout cocktails, plus wine and beer. Watering holes around Maine responded with everything from classic manhattans and negronis to habanero-infused margaritas (Bar Harbor’s Havana) and kimchi-garnished Bloody Marys (Portland’s Central Provisions), all in tightly sealed containers.

#2 Street Closures

Several towns have closed restaurant-dense roads to auto traffic — Bangor’s Broad Street, side streets in Rockland — so that tables can spill outside for socially distanced seating: Bar Harbor, Ellsworth, and Augusta have taken up similar ideas. The core of Portland’s Old Port is closed too, and trying to drive through in the summer was always folly anyway. Maybe civic leaders will steer toward permanent alfresco-dining zones.

#3 Fancy-Pants Takeout

Once upon a time — five long months ago — ordering out from the genteel likes of Rockland’s Primo or Bangor’s Fiddlehead, then eating on the sofa while binging Office reruns, would have seemed profane. Now, the virtues are inarguable. Some gourmet kitchens have also begun selling ingredient kits with cook-at-home instructions. DIY hanger steak with confit garlic, fingerling potatoes, and red wine jus a la Portland’s eminent Fore Street restaurant? One of those, please and thank you.

#4 House-Brand Hand Sanitizer

Maine breweries have been sending beer to Maine distilleries, where it’s refined until the ABV reaches microbe-killing strength, then packaged as hand sanitizer and sold on premises or sent to hospitals. Henceforth, house-brand sanitizer should be stationed in every taproom and tasting room, because cornhole is wicked fun, but those endlessly shared beanbags are kinda gross.

#5 Basic Website Maintenance

Maine restaurants possess an embarrassment of talented chefs, local ingredients, and websites that were last updated, oh, maybe nine or ten months ago. Want to know about menu changes, daily specials, holiday hours? Good luck finding out online. But as owners have, in short order, figured out creative means of doing business, they’ve had extra incentive to inform customers. It’s nice being kept in the loop.

#6 Brewery to Doorstep

Most Maine breweries offer curbside pickup, and some do local home delivery, but Bissell Brothers stands out for how quickly it mobilized to get beer directly to consumers across the state. Beloved for its hazy IPAs, the seven-year-old brewing company leveraged dual locations — Portland and Milo — to deliver to homes all the way south to Kittery, through western and central Maine, and as far north as Caribou. Down East staffers are only a little sore that Rockport, where the mag is headquartered, was left off the delivery route.