16 Station Ave., Brunswick
I felt out of place as I snapped photos of my garlic bread at Scarlet Begonias, a neighborhood bistro in Brunswick. This isn’t the type of restaurant where people take food photos to commemorate a dish. The food, accessible and comforting rather than impressive, fades into the background, letting the restaurant’s warm, convivial atmosphere take center stage.
My friend Dan and I sat ourselves in the cozy bar area and flipped straight to the booze menu — we’d both had that kind of day. The PBR “tall boys” were tantalizingly cheap ($1.50 on special), but Dan and I opted for wine, figuring it would better complement the Italian-inspired cuisine. And though there were a few bottles over $30, most were closer to $20, so the vino was priced to please. The bottle of Tempranillo we ordered, the most modestly priced on the list at $16, cost as much as a glass-and-a-half might have set us back elsewhere.
Glasses in hand, we focused on the food menu and were immediately intrigued by the cryptically named Must for Gus (the aforementioned garlic bread). We also ordered one of the soups of the day (tomato, bacon and cheddar), but our waitress soon returned with an apology: the kitchen was out of the soup. She took this opportunity to tell us the night’s specials, and we were more than happy to replace the soup with an order of Bangs Island mussels in a garlic white-wine sauce (our other option was the mussels with marinara).
The mussels ($9.95) were plump and tasty, but I often find it’s less about the bivalves than the broth. This broth held nothing back. It was briny, lemony and aggressively garlicky — the almost raw, roughly chopped garlic was balanced by butter-soft, caramelized cloves.
The Must for Gus ($5.50) was satisfying: an Italian loaf split down the middle and slathered with butter and garlic, topped with a thick layer of melted mozzarella and parmesan and served with a side of piping-hot marinara. The sauce’s tongue-scorching temperature aside, we preferred our mussels’ broth for dipping.
My entrée, the Scarlet Harlot ($13.50), was a shamelessly salty putanesca. The anchovies and capers are salty enough — no need to add more. That said, once my palate adjusted to the sodium shock, I found the Harlot comforting in a mom’s-home-cooking sort of way: a huge pile of linguini (the dish can also be ordered with penne) tossed in a robust red sauce — perfect for twirling around fork tines and slurping with gusto.
Dan’s decadent Rose Begonia ($14.95) was penne tossed with bacon, cubed chicken breast, and sautéed button mushrooms, all swimming in a lusty tomato cream sauce. After I sampled a bite, I couldn’t stop myself from stealing a few more. Dan was grateful for the help — the formidable entrée portions are a lot to take on after a couple appetizers.
Dan and I also shared a half order of the spinach-and-mushroom salad ($7.25), a heap of baby spinach topped with feta, bacon, white button mushrooms, some soggy chopped tomato and a fluffy crown of sprouts. A house-made parmesan dressing came on the side (other options include balsamic vinaigrette, Russian, blue cheese, and low-fat ranch). Though it was refreshing to have some veg during this otherwise heavy meal, this salad was unremarkable.
In addition to pasta dishes, Scarlet Begonias serves personal-size pizzas, burgers made with locally sourced beef, an array of sandwiches and a smattering of daily specials (the crab cakes are said to be a big hit when available). Vegetarians have plenty of options (vegans and those avoiding gluten, not so much). None of the dishes are over $16, making Scarlet Begonias an affordable option for a no-risk night out. Though we wished our waitress was more knowledgeable about the food, she was prompt and cheerful. Besides the barroom, there’s a well-lit dining area and patio seating out front.
Scarlet Begonias relocated a couple years ago to the building that also houses Brunswick’s new Amtrak train station. If you’re looking for comfort food in a friendly, small-town atmosphere, this place could be just the ticket.
— Hannah Joyce McCain
Scarlet Begonias is open Monday through Thursday from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. (bar till 10 p.m.), Friday 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., and Saturday noon to 10 p.m.