The new Bangor restaurant serves up sublime Mediterranean dishes.
Cauliflower roasted with harissa and tahini and served with sweet-and-sour leeks, goat cheese, and dates.
By Joel Crabtree Photographed by Anthony Di Biase
When 28-year-old Rachel Moyse moved from Portland back to her hometown of Bangor, she noticed something missing: there were no restaurants serving the Middle Eastern–inflected Mediterranean food she craved. Growing up, she had never heard of, let alone tasted, falafel or tabbouleh. Her appetite was whetted as an undergrad, in Rhode Island, where she befriended a Lebanese woman who ran a restaurant near her dormitory. Moyse would help out in the kitchen as the woman talked about family traditions and introduced recipes. It became a sort of one-on-one apprenticeship, and Moyse was hooked. So even though she’d been working in real estate in Portland, and even though her restaurant experience was in front-of-house roles at diner-y and pubby places like Dysart’s and Pat’s Pizza, and even though it was the middle of a pandemic, she opened Utopia last year, wearing the hats of both chef and owner.
Utopia owner Rachel Moyse and her house-made baklava.
Utopia’s chef/owner Rachel Moyse is a vegetarian, and many of her dishes are meatless, from the spinach-and-feta flatbread to the moussaka that uses plant-based protein instead of ground meat.
Moyse sources an oft-rotating cast of fragrant centerpieces from Bangor Floral, a shop just across town.
Moyse’s menu — which incorporates other Mediterranean influences too, including Greek and North African — puts emphasis on bright flavors. Star-anise simple syrup and pink grapefruit brighten roasted Brussels sprouts, and crispy falafel comes with zingy pickled Persian cucumbers, fried goat cheese, and goat-cheese–stuffed olives. Although many of Moyse’s dishes lean toward fine dining, they’re true to their humbler roots. Swordfish souvlaki, for instance, is glistening skewers of grilled fish and colorful vegetables, but it’s also still, at its core, a kebab. And freshly baked pita and naan nod to street-style eating, folded around falafel, chicken, veggies, or shrimp for handheld meals.
For dessert, there’s baklava, naturally. Cannoli and chocolate pie are on the menu too. But kanafeh is the most interesting option: shredded filo is soaked in honey and then layered with mozzarella and ricotta and sprinkled with pistachios. It plays sweet against savory and gooey against crunchy, and it’s a fitting end to a meal packed with diverse flavors.
The space, on Hammond Street, sits by two of Bangor’s upscale mainstays, the Fiddlehead and Novio’s Bistro, but it has nonetheless churned through tenants in the past five years — an Italian restaurant, a steakhouse, and an Italian restaurant again. Utopia brings something altogether different to the table. You could go elsewhere in town for pasta or sirloin but not for grilled Halloumi cheese with stewed eggplant salad and berbere-spiced fried chickpeas.
Skewers of chicken and oyster mushrooms; duck tagine; berbere-spiced chickpeas atop grilled Halloumi cheese.
Inside, the restaurant is airy, with banks of windows in the front and on the side, a marble bar top, and a color scheme of Tiffany Blue and turquoise. Of course, owing to the pandemic, many customers have yet to experience that interior or the stylish way Moyse plates meals when they’re not in to-go boxes — Utopia has been open for indoor dining but also offers takeout and no-contact delivery.
“The fact that the pandemic happened around the same time I was opening didn’t really concern me, because once I make up my mind, off I go,” Moyse says. “You don’t open a restaurant because it’s easy. You just do it because you love it.”