Taking It to the Streets

Momma Baldacci's Paul Baldacci Jr.

A Bangor restaurant steeped in Maine political lore rides again.

By Joel Crabtree
Photographs by Michael D. Wilson

Rosemary and Robert Baldacci married in 1951 and had eight children. John grew up to serve as a state senator, U.S. congressman, and Maine’s 73rd governor. Joe became a Bangor city councilman and mayor. Peter is a longtime Penobscot County commissioner. Paul skipped politics for the original family business: food.

In 1933, the siblings’ grandparents had opened the Baltimore Restaurant, in Bangor. Today, we’d call it classic red-sauce Italian, but at the time, pizza was exotic. Rosemary and Robert eventually inherited the operation and, in 1975, relocated nearer the Bangor Mall, rebranding as Momma Baldacci’s. As the family’s political profile grew, so too did the profiles of its patrons — John Kerry, Hillary Clinton, and Ted Kennedy all stopped in for a bite over the years.

Paul was the third-generation Baldacci to run the place, until he died in 2006, at age 48, from an undiagnosed heart condition. His son, Paul Jr., took over at just 21, but the responsibility of running the restaurant soon overwhelmed him. Two years later, Momma Baldacci’s closed.

Paul Jr. didn’t leave the family’s cooking ways behind, though. He left town for Boston and studied at Le Cordon Bleu. Then, he cooked at several popular Portland restaurants, including Duckfat and Noble Barbecue. In the back of his mind, he knew he wanted to bring back Momma Baldacci’s, and last year he took the leap, reincarnating the Queen City’s original Italian joint as a food truck.

Momma Baldacci
Momma Baldacci

Momma Baldacci’s Italian Street Food made its first appearance last fall, at Orono Brewing Company, 10 minutes up the road from the old restaurant’s location. The menu changes often, but on any given day, Paul Jr. sticks to Italian-style comfort food with creative flourishes: meatball sub with brown-butter garlic bread, smoked-sausage risotto, Fruity Pebbles cannoli.

He’s basing the truck to the south, in Westbrook, but he’ll be driving Momma Baldacci’s up and down I-95 this summer, working events in the Portland and Bangor areas. He hopes the truck becomes an institution, like its namesake brick-and-mortar. “I have a year-old son now, and we have a growing family,” he says. “I have nephews and nieces, and it’ll be really cool to see them be a part of this, in the way we were as kids growing up.”

This summer, find Momma Baldacci’s in downtown Westbrook, at Portland’s Definitive Brewing Company on Wednesdays, and at Westbrook’s Maine Savings Pavilion and Bangor’s Darling’s Waterfront Pavilion during concerts. Visit facebook.com/mommabaldacci for updates on the truck’s whereabouts.

Joel Crabtree

Joel Crabtree is a writer and photographer from Orrington.