Damariscotta River Grill, Damariscotta
Rick Hirsch, Chef/co-ownner of the Damariscotta River Grill (as well as the Anchor Inn Restaurant in Round Pond) has a gift for making even the most ambitious kitchen wizardry seem easy. A frequent guest on TV, radio, and in print, Hirsch is living proof that culinary excellence doesn’t require even a pinch of pretention. Together with his wife and business partner, Jean Kerrigan, Hirsch has created destination restaurants that both celebrate “fresh and local”—the must-haves of modern commercial gastronomy— and specialize in a timeless staple known as “comfort food.”
First or early food memory: Family holidays; eating latkes for Hannukah at grandmother’s .
Early cooking experiences: Asking mom what was for breakfast and hearing her reply, “Whatever you make,” so I learned to scramble eggs.
Family influences on your style and taste: We ate out a lot. Being exposed to lots of styles from different restaurants.
Where you studied and/or apprenticed: Johnson and Wales in Providence; Marriott Hotel on Marco Island, Florida.
When you realized you really were a chef: After culinary school, at the Anchor Inn.
Pivotal career move: Inception of the River Grill.
Places that inspire you as a chef: Hawaii, seeing what local chefs were doing with fresh tuna and other ingredients we don’t normally see in Maine. Also Italy and the Caribbean.
Things that keep you growing professionally: Travel, always keeping eyes open to see what other restaurants are doing; and looking online across categories.
Your favorite restaurant (besides your own): Mama’s Fish House in Maui.
Other professionals you admire most: Roger Fessaguet and Julia Child. Jean and I once had lunch at Roger’s house with Julia C.
Your new favorite ingredient: Microgreens.
Longtime favorite ingredient: Fresh local seafood.
Your least favorite job-related task: Writing the schedule.
Ways you’ve become smarter businesswise: Trial and error! Picking the brains of other successful businesspeople from all areas. Life experiences.
Favorite night at your restaurant: New Year’s Eve, because we get to create an entirely new menu from scratch and push the envelope. It’s a fun, busy night and everyone is excited.
The last time you really impressed yourself in the kitchen: When we developed our South Pacific Spice Rubbed Grilled Salmon with Ginger Cashew Butter and Sticky Rice. Impressed myself that I hit it on the first try.
Memory of a great meal you had in Maine: Family lobster bake at my parents’ cottage.
Something you’d like to learn or study: I’d like to learn more about sous vide cooking.
Something about you that people would find surprising: I worked as a slimer in Alaskan salmon canneries, processing salmon.
What a perfect day off looks like: A day skiing.
Pet peeve when visiting other restaurants: When it’s obvious that items aren’t made in-house.
What you’d want your last meal to be: Lobster. The classic: steamed, drawn butter, potato of any kind, and caramel swirl ice cream for dessert.
Damariscotta River Grill
Open Daily: 11 am–9 pm
Sunday brunch: 10 am–3 pm
Local Damariscotta River oysters, Sunday brunch, regional comfort food.
Rick Hirsch is the 2010 Maine Restaurant Association Chef of the Year. Kudos in The New York Times, Fodor’s, Boston Examiner, Boston magazine, Cape Cod Today, and others.
Ample parking behind the restaurant; take advantage of the lovingly-chosen wine list.
Sample menu item:
Steak and Cakes: beef tenderloin, roasted garlic tarragon aioli, and lobster cakes with sweet corn sauce. Market price.
From the South: Take I-295 north to Exit 28 (US 1, Coastal Route/Brunswick/Bath). Stay on US 1 North for approximately 27 miles to US 1 BR Exit. Stay right on US 1 BR to enter Damariscotta. Damariscotta River Grill is on the right
From the North: Take US 1 south to Damariscotta; continue directions as above.