Chicky’s fine diner
Chicky’s fine diner
3 Bridge St., Westbrook, (207) 854-9555.
Open from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Mon. and Tues., and from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. on Wed. through Sat.
All major credit cards accepted.
Chicky’s Fine Diner? As in Chicky Stoltz, the legendary impresario-cum-musician who made a name for himself in Portland as a member of Munjoy Hill Society and Dulce De Leche and "Straight Up with Chicky Stoltz" before joining the influx of Portland expatriates who’ve set up shop in neighboring Westbrook? When I was growing up, Westbrook was most famous for its paper mill, which would fill the skies with a rotten-egg stench, especially on a hot summer day. Since that time, with technological innovations staunching the stench, Westbrook has undergone a major image re-evaluation. Couple this fact with the cheaper rents and is it any wonder it’s become the latest hipster enclave? Who better to lead the way than Chicky? (Actually the migration began a couple years back, when Chicky (who has a real name, too) moved there with his wife, along with people like high-tech whiz Andrew Bogner and Shawn Saindon of Vacationland.)
Having formerly tended bar at the Skinny, Stoltz is no stranger to hipster élan. This fact is evident the minute one approaches the Edward Hopper–esque storefront of Chicky’s Fine Diner, Stoltz’s new restaurant in the downtown mill district of ever-improving Westbrook.
Although not overly kitsch, Chicky’s manages to convey the laidback atmosphere of a classic diner, complete with rows of aluminum tables — each adorned with a condiment basket — lining the walls of the mostly green-and-black interior. Formerly the Cornerstone, a Westbrook institution owned by the Reali family, the place has undergone a major overhaul. My compatriot for this mission, Tim — who’s served in foreign wars — was continually marveling at the newness of the cookware that hung on the walls of the open kitchen, which resides behind the fully-stocked half-moon bar. In fact, there were a couple people at the bar who looked like they could be refugees from the Skinny . . . but no Chicky! I guess even the boss needs a night off once and a while.
Our server — another recognizable figure (recognizable, that is, to anyone who ever hung out at the Skinny), who expertly attended to us all night — helped reinforce the whole "laid back" atmosphere by not trying to rush us (the cardinal sin of most waitpeople). When one is dealing with the kind of hearty American fare that Chicky serves up, one cannot rush — in fact, one almost needs to "rest" between courses.
Noting the Al Green in the background ("you can tell by the drums," Tim said), we decided on two typically magnanimous starters: Colossal Onion Rings with Homemade Horseradish Ketchup and Jumbo Chicken Wings in a Bourbon Barbecue Sauce. The wings were not rubbery, but juicy and tender, and a little sweet. The rings meanwhile lived up to the "colossal" billing, with the circumference of each and every ring measuring that of a good-sized choker. Tim thinks they’re the best onion rings he’s ever tasted.
The entrees come with a choice of two sides, a concept that allows a diner a little more selectivity, and also a chance to take a breather from the fried food for a few minutes. I chose carrots to accompany an order of fish and chips and they were cooked perfectly with a slight hint of brown sugar, crunchy and delicious. The fish and chips — my all-time favorite dish ever — was superlative and came with an addictive homemade tartar sauce. I always thought Norm’s was the apotheosis of local fish and chips, but Chicky serves up a plate of equal quality. It’s not a grotesque gob o’ grease like some versions. Only thing missing: the malt vinegar.
According to the waitress: "Ehhh, a truckload arrives tomorrow!"
Tim ordered "hangar" steak — he works on airplanes — and pronounced with Forrest Gump-like simplicity: "It’s like an M&M: It melts in your mouth." Meanwhile, sides of corn and squash were pronounced "delicious."
"At other restaurants," Tim said, "if you’d eaten this much you’d feel like you had a lead weight in your stomach." He said this as we were awaiting dessert.
The pastry chef at Chicky’s is Mo, formerly of Mo’s on Middle, which is yet another example of the famous impresario’s efforts to bring a little of the downtown uptown (or something like that). I ordered Ginger Cheesecake, a unique blend featuring robust laces of ginger sewn right into the custard-like "cake." The plate was drizzled with caramel, a generous dollop of real whipped cream, and a yummy piroline . . . go Mo!
Tim said of his Banana Cream Pie: "It’s nice to see one that doesn’t have a Mrs. Smith’s crust." Speaking of crusts, it should be noted that the bottom of my cheesecake was a unique and savory blend of semi-sweet chocolate with a crumb-like texture that left me satisfied as I swilled down the remains of my Casco Bay Pilsner (actually, Chicky’s could use a little more inventiveness with their draft beer selections, but that’s a minor gripe).
Chicky’s Fine Diner, and Westbrook, could easily become a popular destination in the months ahead.
Joe S. Harrington can be reached at email@example.com