Bar of Brothers
The North Point is a restaurant and bar about brotherhood. Built and opened last February by brothers Noah and Dan Talmatch, with paintings by their late brother Ezra on the walls, this sliver of a space on Silver Street in Portland’s Old Port is clearly a labor of love.
It’s a cozy place, with fewer than a dozen seats at the bar and seating for about 40 diners. Earth tones and brick predominate in this former hair salon, with its high tin ceiling and front windows offering glimpses of the Regency’s entrance in profile. When the sun sets, it gets dark in here, too — like, difficult-to-read-the-menu dark. The atmosphere is upscale, but the service decidedly casual and genuinely friendly. The soundtrack is mostly ’50s R&B and rock ’n’ roll.
The menu is unapologetic in its simplicty and devotion to the savory things in life. The primary offering is the panini, in nearly a dozen different varieties, for $11 to $13. The Cubano I had was amazing. Sadly, there are no sides. There is a selection of “lite bites,” mostly salads and patès of meat from fish, fowl or farm, plus the soup of the day ($6.50/cup) and a sausage sampler ($13.50). Alternately, you can create your own sampler of fine meats and cheeses from a long list of options, all of which cost $4.25. The kitchen’s open till midnight (11 p.m. on Sundays), and they do lunch six days a week (Sundays excepted).
The wine selection is a big draw among my more astute friends, especially during happy hour (4 p.m. to 6 p.m.), when all glasses are $4, and on Mondays, when bottles are half price. The draft beer selection is dominated by local favorites from Allagash, Shipyard, Bunker and Oxbow.
The house cocktails also exert a lot of pull — the list occupies the first page of the menu. It’s a decent and thoughtful mix of classics and contemporaries for $10 or $11. It was late on a weeknight and the bar was dim as I squinted at the menu, looking for something to lighten the scene.
I settled on the Cucumber Gin Martini. The North Point uses fresh basil, rather than mint, in this libation, and Bulldog Gin, often described as brutish or more flavorful than fellow premium gins. I’ve never considered Bulldog heavy-handed, so was not surprised it meshed well with the pressed cucumber in this refreshing cocktail. The thick slice of cucumber garnish echoes the healthy portion in the mix. I definitely recommend this one. (Note: You may wish to remove garnish before tipping glass to drink; mine came loose and rode the rim awkwardly into my face.)
My companion ordered the Negroni, for which The North Point employs the smoother, thinner Hendrick’s Gin. The gin was undetectable in the subtle nose. Breathing in makes the citrus jump, but letting the drink drift just below your nostrils gives you a sense of its weight. A sip reveals the majesty of the mouth, a viscous liquid that coats your pallette and bites the back and sides of your tongue, leaving the Campari to linger.
Lastly, I tried what The North Point bills as The Best Bloody Mary in The World. It’s normally made with Absolut Peppar, but I chose to have it made with Avión Silver Tequila, partly to help cleanse the Campari away. The bloody mix is thick and chunky. Drinking it through a straw got weird, so I sipped it for a bit and was won over, though not enough to endorse the hype.
Noah Talmatch moved to Portland from Manhattan after a long and varied restaurant career there. The North Point is his sixth establishment, and assuming it’s as successful as it should be, it’ll likely be his last. Brother Dan had spent the past two decades in Norway, working in banking. In addition to Noah’s photographs and his brother’s modern art, the paint-splattered jeans Noah wore while he and Dan built the place are hanging on the wall by the door. One or both brothers can usually be found at the end of the bar in the evenings. It’s a family affair you’ll remember.
— Carl Currie