Provender Kitchen + Bar

The historic downtown space was once home to Cleonice, a James Beard Award semifinalist restaurant; pistachio-crusted duck breast is presented a la Jackson Pollock. Salt-roasted beets with buffalo mozzarella and oranges; The Man Behind the Curtain cocktail, Made with rye, cognac, and an absinthe rinse; Daron Goldstein and Joy Kempf, the pair that opened Provender in late 2017.

In downtown Ellsworth, a veteran chef delivers all-occasions eats.

By Willy Blackmore
Photography by Nicole Wolf

Chef Daron Goldstein wanted Provender, the Ellsworth restaurant he opened just over a year ago, to offer a little bit of everything. For carnivores, there’s the American Wagyu steak atop a farro salad studded with melting bits of Valdeón blue cheese. For vegetarians, there’s the roasted cauliflower with capers, hazelnut gremolata, golden-raisin puree, and a medley of cheeses. For big-spending tourists or date-nighters, there are $30 entrées, like pan-seared scallops with wild-mushroom ravioli. For locals looking for a casual night out, there’s the $15 burger served with house-specialty French fries that are sizzled in tallow. For the kids, the chef will gladly whip something up.

Goldstein has worked in kitchens from southern California to Boston. He’s originally from Massachusetts, and his wife, Provender co-owner Joy Kempf, is from Sanford. Before opening Provender, he did some spot work for Ellsworth’s Cellar Bistro, the address’s previous occupant. The space is tucked inside an elegant 1933 building with an eye-catching art deco arch out front, painted pink and studded with lights. Kempf, who has worked front-of-house jobs for years, runs the show in the long, narrow dining room that retains a historic ambience: vaulted ceiling and black-and-white tiled floor, wooden booths nestled against one wall and wood-paneled bar with red-leather swivel stools running along the other. Edison bulbs in industrial fixtures and tabletop candles in Mason jars wash the whole scene in a cozy glow.

The cocktail menu is lengthy, and the drink names make ordering feel goofy — “I’ll have a Live! With Ruby Rod, please” — but it’s worth the embarrassment. The Man Behind the Curtain is a particular standout, balancing spicy rye whiskey and a grassy touch of absinthe. The lineup of rotating Maine drafts, from breweries like Allagash and Bissell Brothers, and a succinct but thorough wine list, round out the bar program.

112 Main St., Ellsworth. 207-610-1480.

Prices
Snacks and appetizers $5–$16, entrées $15–$35.

Sunday Brunch
The morning menu is almost as varied — and just as delicious — as the dinner menu: from pancakes with yuzu-and-lemon curd to eggs Benedict with pork belly glazed in ginger and soy.

Full Plate
When husband-and-wife owners Daron Goldstein and Joy Kempf aren’t at the restaurant, they’re busy at home raising their two young kids.

The dinner menu, which changes often, is organized into firsts, seconds, and shareable snacks. Seconds, from lamb ragù over bucatini to venison loin with veggies and wine-marinated blackberries, are nuanced and hearty. But if you prefer variety, you can just as well create a tapas-style meal from firsts and snacks: crispy Brussels sprouts dressed with ginger and soy, fried quail egg, beef tartare, Maine mussels, tuna poke, and those decadent tallow French fries.

There are a lot of influences at play in Goldstein’s cooking. He draws inspiration from California, from Asia, from France, wherever his interest wanders — the wide-ranging menu, he says, “allows me to really do anything.” But his ingredients are consistently Maine-y. “We buy local when it makes sense, which is often,” a footnote to the menu states. “And we make all the cool stuff in-house,” Goldstein adds.

He’s careful, though, to make sure his combination of quality and creativity doesn’t blur into ostentation. Sure, that burger has porcini aioli on it, but it also has plain old American cheese. At Provender, Goldstein and Kempf want the food delicious, the atmosphere relaxed, and the clientele diverse. Hence the name they gave the place, suggestive of a humble, democratic approach to feeding people. Says Goldstein: “Anybody can come in here and find something to eat.”


Willy Blackmore

Willy Blackmore is the managing editor of the website Popula, and he writes about food, culture, and the environment. He lives with his family in Hope.