There’s an art to making a burger. Sure, anybody can slap some ground beef on a bun and call it good. But a really fantastic burger is one of those elusive things, like a great cup of coffee or excellent bread — it’s easy to make, but difficult to perfect.
Steve Parlee, co-owner and operator of Ipanema Bar & Grill and the Reverend Noble Pub in Bangor, took on that challenge when he and Chef Paul Beaulieu were building the menu for the dual bar and restaurant.
“Before we opened, I asked people all over town where the best burger in Bangor was. Everyone had a different answer,” said Parlee, who opened his dual-themed business with partner Elizabeth Barry in September. “So that was my goal. I wanted ours to be the best. It’s surprisingly hard — it’s an easy thing to make, but hard to make unique.”
While everyone’s entitled to their own opinion, the burger at Reverend Noble-Ipanema makes a darn fine case for being the best burger in town. Aside from burgers, however, Parlee sought to provide food for his customers that’s simple and flavorful, and in a fun, welcoming atmosphere.
Housed in the former location of the Red Martini and Christopher’s in West Market Square in downtown Bangor, the Reverend Noble-Ipanema builds on the basic idea of those old businesses — cocktail lounge on the first floor, pub on the second — but tweaks the look and the menu. For Ipanema, Parlee and Barry opted for a tropical theme, installing colorful glass panels lit from within and light-colored wood, reminiscent of teak and palm fronds.
“We wanted to take on the whole idea of a laid-back, tropical vibe, with palm trees and bright colors and lots of rum,” he said. “Anything Caribbean, South American, Polynesian. Whatever it is that says the beach and sunshine and relaxing.”
Parlee and Beaulieu created a menu that reflects the cultural melting pot present in both the West and East Indies. Mix-and-match kebabs are a highlight, offering steak, chicken, shrimp, swordfish and lots of vegetables, grilled in one of three house-made marinades. Most everything on the menu is house-made, in fact — from the fries and marinades to the three-bean veggie burger, a favorite for vegetarians. Vegetarians are especially welcome at Ipanema, with a vegetarian chicken cutlet available, and many meat-free salads and pastas.
“With Caribbean food, there are tons of possibilities, because you have French, English, Indian, Spanish and African influences, on top of all the native food,” said Parlee. “There’s this great fusion of flavors and styles. We can have fish and chips alongside fruit and curry and all kinds of other things.”
Upstairs, at the Reverend Noble, the theme deviates from Christopher’s Irish pub atmosphere, and instead posits itself as simply a bar. No theme. Just good beer. Lots and lots of good beer.
“We have 10 beers on draft and 133 different bottled varieties of beer available,” said Parlee. “Unless you go to the store, we have the biggest selection of beer in town.”
The pub is named after the Rev. Seth Noble, the man who accidentally gave Bangor its name, instead of the original name the town’s residents had chosen: Sunbury. Whether the good reverend was drunk at the time of the naming remains lost to history, but it’s a fun legend nonetheless — and a great name for a bar.
Many of the menu items at Reverend Noble and Ipanema were designed to be shared by groups of people, from the skewers and soon-to-be-offered paella to the scorpion bowls. Lifted from the traditional drink served at Chinese restaurants, the scorpion bowl is essentially different kinds of rums and fruit juices in a big, ornate ceramic drink holder. A tiny bowl at the top of the container is filled with high-proof alcohol and set aflame, and two long, oversized straws are given to the drinkers. Needless to say, it’s a drink you have when you’re not going to be driving anywhere.
“I like that communal feeling, where everyone’s sharing. It makes your experience more fun, and everyone gets to try something different,” said Parlee. “I just want everyone to feel comfortable and have fun. That’s the whole goal.”
Ipanema is open from 5 p.m. to 1 a.m. Monday-Saturday, and the Reverend Noble is open daily from 4 p.m. to 1 a.m. For more information, call 942-9339.