A Mermaid Twist: behind the scenes of the new Kittery location
The Blue Mermaid has been providing a fun, approachable, and family-friendly atmosphere since 1994, when it first opened in a historic, slate blue colonial house on The Hill in Portsmouth’s North End.
It was one of my favorite places to go as a kid. While I’d love to pretend that this was due to some profound appreciation for culinary invention at an early age, I must admit that it was primarily driven by an unrelenting desire to grow my collection of colorful mermaid figurines (pictured right) that came perched on the side of Blue Mermaid's tropical cocktails (or various juice concoctions, in my case).
With so many fond memories – which continued into adulthood with sunny days on the deck – I went through a roller coaster of emotions as news developed around the Mermaid's closing: from utter despair when I heard they were closing, to regaining some faith in humanity when I learned of their reopening in an undisclosed Kittery location, and finally to overwhelming joy when I found out that their new location came with a side of craft beer and food truck bliss.
I have a feeling I’m not alone in this. So, while we eagerly await their December 1st reopening, Blue Mermaid owners Scott and Karen Logan invited us over to check out their new food truck and chat about their new digs next to Tributary Brewing at 10 Shapleigh Road in Kittery, ME.
The Food (Truck)
Head chef, Aidan Cunningham, prepared four binge-worthy dishes from the truck menu for us to try. The first, and his personal favorite, was the Seared Pork Belly Sandwich. Topped with a sweet and spicy chipotle BBQ sauce, kosher pickles, banana peppers, and (the game-changer) mango napa cabbage slaw, we could immediately taste why it’s his favorite.
The second, Karen’s favorite, was the legendary Grilled Cheesy: a gooey blend of parmesan, cheddar, asiago, and jack cheese, caramelized onions, and herb aioli sandwiched between two slices of Texas Toast, and grilled to perfection. More to come on that herb aioli in a minute, but for now, suffice to say it’s magical. Karen recommends adding bacon and avocado, and honestly, who could argue with that?
The third dish Chef Aidan brought out is a tried and true favorite, so for the devout Mermaids reading this, you’ll be happy to know these will also be making a comeback on the restaurant menu when they open. So, without further ado, I present to you…Saddle Bags. These crispy wontons, filled with herbed chicken, jack cheese, lime, and spices, have been on the menu since Blue Mermaid’s opening day in 1994. It’s no secret why they have stood the test of time, but in the age of fake news, I urge those of you who haven’t tried these miniature pockets of joy to go fact-check this for yourselves.
And finally, we get to my personal favorite in the bunch. I’ll admit, between grilled cheese, pork belly, and fried wontons, I have surprised even myself with this pick. But I have since had fierce and persistent daily cravings for these crunch-coated miniature trees, so alas, I’d like you to meet Fried Cauliflower. Now, if you’re rolling your eyes and thinking, “I’ve had fried cauliflower before,” think again muchachos. First off, these babies are fried in rice tempura (lookin’ at you, gluten-free readers!) which gives a light, airy crunch without being the overpowering bully at recess. Second off, remember how I said I’d circle back to the herb aioli? Well, we’re back. This secret sauce is made with basil, sage, cilantro, and chives (and, obviously, mayonnaise and olive oil). Now, now, I know I just mentioned two ingredients that have the power to turn some people off. For a dainty little leaf, cilantro sure can be controversial; and after using mayonnaise once as a hair mask, I can sympathize with some people’s aversion to the substance. However, these perfectly balanced flavors were the ultimate complement to both the cauliflower and the grilled cheese, and I’m still holding out hopes that Blue Mermaid will start bottling this so I can lather it on pretty much everything I eat.
There's a New Mermaid in Town
For those of you who are still with me,
I applaud your attention span let’s talk about what we can expect from the new menu at Blue Mermaid 2.0, Kittery Edition. Although the team is still busy developing and refining new recipes in their off-site test kitchen, they gave us the download on what's to come:
- More vegetarian, vegan, and gluten free options. Though their menu has traditionally had a strong vegetarian selection, the team is taking aim at creating healthy, environmentally friendly, and sustainable dishes – adding fewer animal-based proteins and more plant-based proteins.
- A “Mermaid Twist”, which Scott describes as the special something that gives each dish the unique character of Blue Mermaid. “It could be a bold pop of flavor, a fruit salsa, or the presence of unexpected or unfamiliar ingredients in a dish,” he explained. “Our food does not fit into the category of traditional American, nor ethnic cuisines.”
- Scientific, data-driven menu creation. Scott describes it as a simple approach: the top 20% best-sellers from the previous menu will make it to the new menu; the rest of the menu will be comprised of new recipes (see item #5 for the criteria to make the cut). Scott tells us that the guava braised short ribs, saddle bags, and lobster quesadillas are included in this 20%.
- A focus on beer pairing. There are a couple reasons why their new location makes this an ideal next step. The first being, of course, that they are directly next door to and have developed a partnership with Tributary Brewing Company. The second is that their new Maine address grants them access to a tribe of exclusive Maine craft brews only distributed within the state lines. This focus will extend beyond the taps – pretzels and pub cheese dip made with Tributary beer and horseradish cheddar have already graced the food truck menu.
- An imaginative, refined, and perfected set of new recipes. For a recipe to pass in the test kitchen and make it onto the new menu, Scott tells us that the dish must meet at least one of three criteria that bring it “above and beyond” what you could find elsewhere. The dish must either a) develop deeper levels of a flavor profile; b) utilize a unique and unconventional ingredient that complements the dish; or c) deliver an “unbelievable” presentation, reminiscent of the layered Korean BBQ that was served in an upside-down takeout box.
- Free, ample parking. Right in front of the restaurant. Need I say more?
Sounds pretty good, right? While there's no doubt they'll be missed in Portsmouth, this expansion represents some exciting growth for the Blue Mermaid, and we're excited to check out the new place when they open next month!