SOUTHWEST HARBOR — Mount Desert Island’s “quiet side” just got a little buzzier thanks to Coda, a new year-round restaurant, bar and music venue tucked back on Village Green Way in Southwest Harbor.
Since its grand opening in February, locals have flocked to the rustic-chic eatery for its reasonably priced, casual gourmet fare with a twist.
The small plates highlight modern American fare, with influences from Chef Carter Light’s French-style culinary training and his experience as a chef at an upscale Italian restaurant.
The Vermont native was recruited out of the kitchen at Silver, a fine dining restaurant in Park City, Utah, and got to work on the Southwest Harbor concept last summer.
“The experience at Coda is meant to be shared,” said Light, who is also a partner in the business. “The food is to be shared and we hope it will inspire people to talk a little more and enjoy the meal together.”
Menu items run from $4 for a side of Brussels sprouts with salt pork to $16 for a charred skirt steak topped with tomato and pomegranate salsa.
One recent menu featured Maine mussels in a yellow curry broth, Thai basil and crostini alongside herbed gnocchi with cherry tomatoes, pea tendrils and Parmesan.
“We wanted to bring something different to Southwest Harbor and the small plates concept is so that people aren’t intimidated to try new things,” said Manager Betsy Chaplin, who moved from Park City this spring to run the front of the house while her boyfriend runs the kitchen.
Yes, there is locally caught lobster on the menu — this is coastal Maine, after all.
But at Coda, it’s not served with drawn butter and lemon wedges. The lobster is accompanied by Old Bay sausage, corn grits and topped with a poached egg.
Farm-to-table is an overused phrase, say Chaplin and Light, and one they want to stay away from.
Still, Coda’s ingredients are as local as possible and almost everything is made right in its kitchen.
“Nothing will always be on the menu,” Light said.
If, for example, Maine Family Farms in Portland, where Coda gets its meat, doesn’t have pork belly that day, then Light simply won’t serve it.
“We aren’t just going to get our meat somewhere else we aren’t comfortable with,” Chaplin said.
For Light, using fresh, local, seasonal ingredients is a no-brainer.
“I’ve never worked somewhere where that hasn’t done that,” he said. “That’s not the attraction [for Coda], it’s the standard.”
Breads, pastas, sausages, mustards and sauces are all made in-house daily.
Just about the only items in the kitchen’s small freezer are homemade pastas and hand-breaded chicken nuggets for the kids menu.
Music is another important aspect of the restaurant, where there are live bands most nights, featuring everything from ska, rock ‘n’ roll and Thursday night folk music from Ruth Grierson & Friends.
“Music is very important to us and we want to bring good music for the people who live here,” Chaplin said. “We want this to be a true locals restaurant.”
The built-in stage is just one custom aspect of the building project that began last summer.
The industrial space features reclaimed wood, iron light fixtures and metal accents. The rustic-chic interior is a far cry from the former doggie day care it once was.
“We came in and thought, ‘There is no way we can do this,’” Light said.
But they did it, and now the airy restaurant mimics the feel of the Maine coastline.
Light, who is just as passionate about the restaurant’s aesthetic as he is about what comes out of his kitchen, helped transform the interior by learning everything from staining wood to pouring the concrete bar.
“In Maine, you have to learn how to do a little bit of everything,” he said.
Coda is opens at 5 p.m. for dinner seven nights a week. Starting June 12, Coda will offer Wednesday and Sunday brunch from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Hours will vary in the off season. Visit www.codasouthwestharbor.com or www.facebook.com/codasouthwestharbor for current menus and music schedule. Coda is located at 18 Village Green Way, across from the Southwest Harbor Public Library. Call 244-8133 for reservations.