BRIDGTON, Maine — Gas station grub usually isn’t a reason to hit the brakes. But this summer, drivers pulling into the Mobil station on Main Street in Bridgton are finding more than warmed-over hot dogs and potato chips to keep them going.
Macaroni and cheese served in mason jars, smoked brisket with barbecue coleslaw and chicken wings with curry ketchup are sustaining diners at Standard Gastropub.
The month-old eatery run by Bridgton natives William Henry Holmes and Alvah Johnson is giving new meaning to the term road fuel.
“Customers walk through the door and expect to see racks of potato chips and a cooler full of various soft drinks,” said Johnson, a self-trained chef cooking in an open kitchen where cigarettes and scratch tickets were once sold. “They look around in awe, some just turn around and leave, others say, “What is this place?”
It’s a bar that serves gourmet street food while you fill up your tank.
The menu, which changes for breakfast, lunch and dinner, is simple, but the playful space with bright blue picnic tables and a sleek bar feels custom made for Guy Fieri’s next road trip for his Food Network show “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives.”
“A big part of the concept is putting on a show,” said Holmes, who made sure to keep the cooler, which was formerly stocked with Gatorade and sugary drinks.
Now it’s filled with craft beer, natural sodas and the full range of ingredients that make up the menu.
Johnson, who cooked at Bray’s Brewpub in Naples for 10 years, is serving what he calls “gourmet fast food.”
A 100 percent Kobe beef hot dog ($6.50) with a sour pickle spear and wasabi mayo is a fresh take on the American classic. No mustard or ketchup here.
There’s a modern spin on the McDonald’s Big Mac called the double standard ($9), two natural, black angus beef patties slathered in a house-made special sauce, and New York-style deli sandwiches ($7 to $8.50) topped with inventive coleslaw, such as jalapeno cilantro.
“Every ingredient I put in my dishes [is] there for a reason,” said Johnson, who dissuades customers from ordering as if they are at Burger King.
There is no hold the onions and extra cheese, please. “I tell them, that’s not the way we do things here,” said Johnson, whose innovative combinations are there to enhance flavor. “I really encourage people to try things the way I make it. And they have absolutely loved it.”
A tiny smoker running 13 hours a day prepares chicken, brisket and pork for succulent sandwiches. For breakfast, Standard aims to bring toast back. House pesto and aged white cheddar served on warm, thick slices of Big Sky Bread washed down with Tandem Coffee beats typical drive-thru fare. And a pour-over coffee bar is in the works.
Holmes, inspired by the places he worked in Boston and Cambridge such as Bukowski Tavern and Cambridge, 1, sought to bring an urban aesthetic to Bridgton, a town known more for serenity than culinary delights.
“People have been waiting for something new and of a better quality,” said Holmes, 28. “We’ve seen a lot of happy faces.”
Less than a year ago, Holmes saw that the gas station on Main Street was up for sale.
He convinced his childhood friend to open a bar that serves great food.
The pair was not looking to run a gas station, per se, but the concept clicked and they now serve till midnight every night of the week.
“The gas pumps have brought us a lot of business. People come in to prepay for their gas and say, ‘Wow, what are you doing in here?” said Holmes.
Strategically located between North Conway, N.H., and Portland, Standard Gastropub is not as obscure as it sounds.
“We’ve got people from Vermont coming through who did not expect this at all, they had no idea we were even here, but once they walked through the door they fell in love with it,” said Holmes.
And locals are lapping it up.
“This is the best food in town,” said Ali Stanley, 26, raving about a Scotch egg she recently had for breakfast.
Her friend, Christine Macdonald, said finding upscale food at a filling station threw her for a loop.
“I was a little confused. Why is there gas at a restaurant?”
The answer: To feed a captive audience.
“For a restaurant in its startup phase, we needed the pumps,” said Holmes, who supervises the gas side of the business.
“The restaurant industry is looked at as one of the riskiest. People always say, ‘50 percent of businesses fail, why do you think you are different?’ I heard that over the past year, talking to investors.”
The pumps were their response.
“This mitigates a lot of that risk,” said Holmes, pointing to the gas tanks out front. “It brings our operating capital much lower.”
And besides sending people off with full tanks and full bellies, they are doing their part to pump up the local economy. So far they have hired 10 employees, all in their 20s, and are looking for more.
“Since the recession in 2008 there are not a lot of opportunities that are created for you,” said Holmes. “You have to get out and do something for yourself.”
Standard Gastropub is located at 233 Main St., Bridgton. For information, call 647-4100 or visit standardgastropub.com.