SOUTHWEST HARBOR— Most locals would warn anyone who was opening a restaurant in November on Mount Desert Island that they had it backward.
But, after spending the last eight months or so renovating their space on Main Street, the owners of Hearth and Harbor are ready to serve the people in their year–round neighborhood some wood–fired food from a newly–built brick oven.
“We’re ready to open and cook some food before it’s January,” said Zach Firestein, one of the chefs. “Almost anything we do that is hot will see the inside of the oven at some point. We’re going to see what it can do and how versatile it is.”
Opening day is set for this Wednesday, Nov. 11, for takeout only. Going forward, the restaurant will be open Wednesday through Saturday from 11:30 a.m. to 8 p.m., offering takeout food and drinks.
“The food that Dave and Zach make is very comforting,” said co-owner Kat Dougan, who will be in charge of the front of the house, referencing Firestein and chef Dave Allen. “We’re into hospitality, so from every aspect, we want people to feel that when they walk through our front door.”
Originally, the menu for Hearth and Harbor was based around a sit-down experience, but COVID changed that. They are now offering “a nice, well thought out to-go menu,” according to Allen.
Although the fare has a straightforward focus of salad, soup, pizza, sandwiches and a few entrees, it is anything but simple. There are ancho chili pepper maple barbecue wings, a roasted pork sandwich with broccoli rabe, provolone and long, hot peppers, a house sausage pizza with sauce, mozzarella and onion or a clam pie with white wine cream, mozzarella and confit lemon. A small selection of entrees will be served after 4 p.m. that include lasagna, shepherd’s pie and roast chicken.
Between the three of them, Dougan, Firestein and Allen bring more than a half century of restaurant experience to the Main Street establishment, mainly from Philadelphia. Most recently, Allen was a kitchen manager at Pai Men Miyake in Portland, where the fare is Japanese pub food, including ramen and sushi.
“I started off my career making Japanese food,” he said, noting that the open kitchen concept of Hearth and Harbor has to do with creating a relationship with customers. “I like to be able to talk to people as I serve them.”
Firestein has worked in some of Philly’s top restaurants, including the now closed Le Bec Fin and 2019 James Beard Award winner for outstanding restaurant, Zahav.
“Food is what my life has always revolved around since I was young,” said Firestein. “When I was a kid, my uncle would take classes at CIA just for fun.”
That’s the Culinary Institute of America, not the government’s foreign intelligence agency, he points out, explaining that he would shadow his uncle around the kitchen, taking it all in.
“We wanted to create what we want, and what we want to put in our community,” said Firestein, who connected to Mount Desert Island by way of Acadia National Park. “I think I hiked every peak in six months.”
It was what inspired the design of the space that is made up of an open kitchen, surrounded by a finely hewn wooden bar, all of which highlights the oven. A lot of love, pain and tears went into the building, according to Firestein. Pieces of the interior were stripped away, and others found a new purpose, like the light fixture above the bar that was fashioned from a joist pulled out of the back wall. Wood from a warehouse in Lowell, Mass., was used to make the bar, tables and shelves. And a huge whale bone, passed on from the previous tenants of the space, hangs in the center of the restaurant.
While Allen’s father found the space for their endeavor, the trio was sold by the outside space behind the building. When a new season begins next year, barring pandemic restrictions, they are planning to turn it into a beer garden.
That is Dougan’s area of expertise, having worked with Tom Peters at his brewery, Nodding Head and Monk’s Cafe in Philadelphia, where she says Belgium beer first made its way onto the restaurant scene. Since she has worked in restaurants for the last 25 years, the public restrictions of the pandemic have been tough for Dougan.
“I didn’t realize how much I loved talking to strangers until COVID hit,” she joked, adding how she is happy to be in Southwest Harbor. “It’s a working man’s town, that’s what Philly is… We just want people to be part of our dinner party every night.”
Even if that means they pick up the dinner party fixings at Hearth and Harbor, including a specialty crafted cocktail, and take it home to enjoy.
“Somebody once told me, it’s better to live on vacation and visit the real world,” said Firestein, instead of having it the other way around. Even diving into renovating a building has been made easier by the people they have met on MDI. “We’ve had such great support from so many people,” he said. “It’s been really great.”