Within the last decade, the dining business in Lewiston has become extremely prominent. One need not look further than Lisbon Street to see a plethora of restaurants and dining options. Eateries such as Forage, Fuel, and Mother India are among the many restaurants that Bates students have the luxury of enjoying.
Joining this family of upscale eateries is the newly opened “Rails” restaurant. Located at 103 Lincoln Street, this new dining spot is sporting its own unique brand that will surely fit into the nuanced food culture in Lewiston.
I was first curious as to why the owners of Rails decided on a railroad-themed restaurant. To me, a railroad did not exactly depict enticing images of savory cuisine or a grand dining experience. However, the deliberate choice of a railroad inclusive theme is to pay tribute to “the process of building the railroad, and the exchange of goods the rails afforded” which “were instrumental in the early evolution of American food,” the restaurant said on its website.
Rails is located in the Historic Grand Trunk Station of Downtown Lewiston, giving the restaurant a warm and inviting atmosphere, as if it is still a place where many people would come together to commute. The Grand Trunk Station was once a bustling traveling hub where tens of thousands of migrants traveled to during the boom of the textile industry in Lewiston. The location of the restaurant in the Grand Trunk Station is an integral aspect of the Rails’ mission—to serve as a place where people can reconnect with their roots, meet new faces, and explore the “comforts of North American food traditions.”
The cuisine honors the culture of rail food, which is described as being comforting and wholesome. The crew at Rails describes the dining as “local+motive dining”, an obvious play on words, but also a genius explanation of the holistic approach to their ingredients and dishes.
Owners Steve and Claire Dick explain this as recognizing “our role in both the local food system, and the local economy. Lewiston+Auburn’s industrial identity in farm-rich rural Maine makes it an exciting local food destination. We are proud to be a part of preserving a healthy farming economy, while nourishing a thriving industrial center.” The restaurant places great importance on the sustainability and cultural awareness of their cuisine practices. Kitchen scraps are returned to farms as animal feed, oil is recycled for clean-burning fuels, and leftover grains from their brewer is used to feed pigs.
As for the food, well that is just something you are going to have to experience yourself. The menu casts a wide net to satisfy nearly every kind of diet and appetite. The menu items indeed represent a sense of comfort food; roasted chicken, ratatouille, steak and grits. There is no shortage in taste and deliciousness on this menu. Their interpretation of “chicken scratch”—an overwhelming mélange of Fried Common Wealth Farms chicken breast, short-stack of corn cakes, soft-poached egg in potato hay nest, BBQ syrup, and bacon butter—put me in a food coma before I even had a chance to visit the restaurant.
I found that the food items, while executing their goal of being homey and comforting, also exhibited homage to the French culture that permeates much of Lewiston’s society. Charcuterie Board, Chicken Brochette, Ratatouille Goat Cheese Gratin all draw from French roots. And of course, how could we not have a soft spot for a restaurant that features a burger on their menu titled “Bates Burger.”
Rails is likely a dining experience that will fit perfectly into the increasingly popular landscape of intricate cuisine in Lewiston. The location and aura of the physical space are comforting and friendly, the cuisine practices are honest and environmentally sensitive, and the menu items invoke a longing for home cooked meals. So get out there, put on your bibs, grab a pint and a hearty meal and give yourself some good eats.
Nico writes on behalf of Nash, The Food and Culture House