Decades ago it was just a train station. As a prevalent part of Lewiston’s colorful and booming mill-town history, trains were a regular mode of transportation. Supplies, workers, equipment and now delicious entrees at a reasonable price characterize this particular train station in the heart of Lewiston. As if the name doesn’t give it away, Rails is the newest and most unique up-and-coming restaurant in this city that has transformed the historic Grand Trunk Station into an elegantly charming eatery you don’t want to miss.
I went to Rails for the first time last weekend with my parents and two younger siblings. I had heard a few Bates students talk about it, so I suggested we go try it out. Much to our surprise, the GPS brought us to a small brick building on Lincoln Street and we immediately understood the concept. Approaching the doors of the restaurant was like getting ready to board a train – the character was the same, and the signs were identical to the quintessential Harry Potter nine and three-quarters station sign. The wafting smell of fresh, hand-cut French fries overwhelmed our imaginations and we were quickly brought back to reality.
We walked in and could tell that the restaurant was renovated in order to preserve the history of the station. The middle bench that served as seating years ago was redone and utilized as part of the seating for several tables. The windows are completely authentic, and old pictures of the actual station decorated the walls everywhere you turn. The balance between historic character and modern day furnishings was perfectly manipulated.
Director of Operations for the restaurant, Ileshea Stowe, said that “the interior consisted of plywood floors, empty walls and an unfinished kitchen” when the current proprietors, Stephen and Claire Dick, took full ownership. “The appeal of this project was that both owners grew up in Lewiston, which made the Grand Trunk Station personally appealing, as both are Franco-Americans. Like most citizens of Lewiston, their relatives came through this station,” Stowe said. “It was a way to revitalize the community that has played such an important roll in their lives.”
Their menu is slightly limited, yet it brilliantly captures the essence of Lewiston’s history. It also includes all-time favorites, like the Bates Burger. Stowe commented, “since we are right in the heart of Lewiston-Auburn we have chosen to produce traditional French-Canadian dishes such as tourtier (meat pie) and salmon pie (a Friday night staple in this area) with slight embellishments. We also feature items that are difficult to find elsewhere such as scotch eggs or variations on poutine.”
My family and I started the meal with fresh bruschetta and loaded potato skins. I’m always slightly skeptical when I try new restaurants, so I stuck to the Bates Burger: it’s a juicy 6 oz. burger patty with lettuce, tomato, onions and cheddar cheese stacked between a ciabatta roll. My dad got the country fried chicken, which made me regret my basic choice, even though it was the most delicious burger I’ve ever had. My mom ordered the baked haddock which easily compared to any Bar Harbor restaurant’s fresh fish entree in the middle of prime fishing season. Overall, the food surpassed my expectations. We were also treated with excellent service and had a lengthy conversation about the history of the restaurant with the General Manager, Sharon White.
The food and history aren’t the only things that will draw in a crowd. The crew at Rails strives to make the dining experience far different from any other restaurant. Stowe added, “we like to make each evening interesting, so we offer Game Night on Wednesdays, Ladies’ Night (1/2 price drinks) and live music on Thursdays, and Guys’ Night (1/2 price on all beers) on Fridays. We host craft and cocktails a few times a month, and we have hosted private parties and events and are available for limited catering.” Besides the community engagement that Rails participates in, the team at the restaurant is planning on a successful summer with outdoor seating and additional events.
Rails offers the most unique dining experience around. Not many people have heard of it, but I am positive that, in no time at all, most members of the Bates community will have had the pleasure of consuming their homemade fries.