It’s hard to imagine a more unique dining experience than that of sipping cocktails and eating a fantastic meal while listening to a mix of funk and blues playing in the background… all inside a pre-Civil War church. Portland’s Grace offers that experience nightly from its meticulously renovated and stylishly remodeled location on Chestnut Street, and having had it on our list of places to visit for such a long time, Meredith and I finally had the chance to sit down and enjoy dinner there last week.
I love historical architecture. I’m sure Meredith would back this statement up with stories about stopping at every historical marker on every building from our travels, and my long rants about how “impossibly rare this woodworking is” or “intricate that stone arch is”. Locations can tell their own stories through the design and construction of their oldest buildings, and in a town like Portland – that has been all but destroyed by multiple large fires – those stories have to be carefully maintained. Obviously, if you’re going for pure preservation, turning a location into a museum or keeping it true to its original use is probably your best route, but in my opinion, there is something just a little cooler about updating an old building for a new purpose – maintaining a lot of its history, while adding a new chapter to the book.
Be prepared to be wowed by your surroundings when you visit Grace. I think I started whispering out of habit (and would’ve taken off my hat if I’d worn one) when I walked through the front door and into the familiar-feeling entryway, but after we stepped foot into the main restaurant area, that feeling disappeared and was replaced by sheer excitement. Meredith’s images will work better than my words, but the dining room is focused around the impressive circular bar, flanked by rows of tables both above and below, and headed off by an exposed kitchen area, slightly raised above everything else, where the pulpit would’ve been… only in Portland do we worship our food and drink this literally.
Our drinks, the Revelation and the Afterglow, were deliciously prepared and aptly named, and our first courses of Butternut Squash Ravioli for myself and a Bourbon Soaked Pear Salad for Meredith were seasonal and delicious. The puns are too easy for this post, so I’ll let it suffice to say that our entrees, my Giannone Farms Chicken and her Sweet Potato Pierogi, were simply divine. The entire meal was bathed in conversation about our setting, and how much fun it would be to bring friends from away here for the unique experience, or to meet our in-town friends for cocktails at one of the two bars.
When I was a kid, I remember sitting in the pews of my family’s church, or better, the old Gothic Catholic church my grandparents visited, and imagining all the cool adventures one could have in the space. Cathedral ceilings (in the truest definition of the term), wooden beams, balconies, stages, alcoves, nooks, and crannies – if it weren’t a church, it would be so fun to just use as a clubhouse. I wonder if Grace’s owners ever feel like they’re living out that childhood dream in a slightly more practical, but just as amazingly adventurous fashion…