Three years after exiting his first Brunswick restaurant, chef Marc Provencher and his Greek gastronomy are back in town.
By Joe Ricchio
Photographs by Adam Detour
Dinner at Taverna Khione comes with a big side of déjà vu. Marc Provencher manned the kitchen in this intimate space on a Brunswick side street until three years ago. Back then, it was Trattoria Athena, where Provencher handled the Greek side of the menu and partner Tim O’Brien dished up Italian fare. The restaurant was a low-key fave of in-the-know Portland and midcoast diners until the two chefs parted ways, O’Brien moving Athena to another in-town location (it’s now Enoteca Athena), and Provencher moving to Vermont, to open his own place. But when the Brunswick building owner contacted Provencher to let him know the original space was once again available, Provencher — who missed the relaxed neighborhood vibe of the place — decided to move back.
25 Mill St., Brunswick. 207-406-2847.
Small plates $4–$12,
Khione is the mythical goddess of snow and the daughter of Boreas, the god of the north wind. Fitting for a Greek joint in Maine.
Provencher and front-of-house manager Kate Pelletier are enthusiastic guides to the pantheon of Greek wine. Of particular note is a big, tannic Xinomavro from Naousa. Also, try tsipouro, a Greek take on Italian grappa.
The reincarnated restaurant, Taverna Khione, looks a little different now — the palette is all subdued shades of classic Greek blue and white — but Provencher’s rustic-meets-refined cooking is immediately recognizable from before. Meals start with dense, crusty bread, based on the style his grandmother used to make, a perfect vehicle for any of the five traditional spreads on the menu, including htipiti (whipped feta with grilled hot and sweet peppers) and skorthalia (a pungent mix of garlic, potato, vinegar, and oil). Sometimes Provencher steps outside the Greek playbook — on a recent visit, he paid homage to his Macedonian roots by making skorthalia with walnuts rather than potatoes, lending a slightly sweeter, toastier character.
Provencher’s menu doesn’t read like a usual American take on Greek cuisine. He focuses on representing regional dishes rather than standbys like, say, souvlaki. A stew of braised cuttlefish, leeks, potatoes, and fennel in a white-wine-and-lemon broth is typical of Thessaloniki cooking. Grilled octopus, braised until tender and finished on the grill, is served over fava, a garlicky puree of yellow split peas and red wine vinegar common in Santorini. The kitchen doesn’t have a fryer, but the baked fennel fritters with feta and mint don’t lack texture — originally made on the island of Tinos, they’re crispy and flavorful, perfect with a dollop of tangy Greek yogurt. Many of Provencher’s heartier dishes, such as braised goat with molasses, carrots, and couscous, come from northern stretches of the country.
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The menu has a smattering of more familiar dishes too — baked filo pie with caramelized onions, feta, and thyme; stuffed grape leaves with beef, rice, and mint — and those staples are always on the menu. But some dishes come and go according to the seasonal availability of ingredients. “I don’t see sense in having things like moussaka or horiatiki salata on the menu year-round,” Provencher says. “Buying flavorless eggplant and tomatoes doesn’t make sense to me when there are so many other Greek dishes that would be perfect at that specific time.”
Eating at Taverna Khione is like taking a culinary tour through Greece, where the food changes with the terrain and the seasons. In just one meal, you might start on the southern coast, hop to an island, and wind up in the mountains — or, like Provencher, you might circle right back to where you started.