December 18, 2017
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Midcoast couple aims to please the people in their Neighborhood restaurant

By Emily Burnham, BDN Staff

For four summers, from 2013 to 2016, life and business partners Seth Whited and Sarah Waldron spent the hottest hours of the day, six days a week, inside a food truck parked in downtown Belfast, serving up tacos, tostadas, gyros, falafel and tofu fries to hungry diners. Their truck, Good n’ You, was a big hit among locals and tourists alike.

By last summer, however, their tiny, limited food truck kitchen was beginning to cramp their style. Lucky for them, an opportunity arose just at the right time: the chance to take their food truck to the next level.

“We wanted to open up an actual restaurant from day one, because the response was really fantastic. People loved our food,” Waldron said. “We just didn’t have the money or the right space to do it — until this space became available.”

About two months ago, Whited and Waldron’s new restaurant, Neighborhood, opened at 132 High St. in downtown Belfast, serving up many of the dishes Good n’ You became known for, along with a host of other new recipes, full dinner service and a creative and colorfully named cocktail menu. The location is the former home of La Vida, a Mexican restaurant that closed in November.

“Having a much bigger kitchen just gives us so much more room to play,” Whited, who with Waldron retired the truck last fall, said. “We can do a lot more than we could before. A food truck is a great incubator. You learn how to work with very little, and you learn how to work fast and efficiently. It made us just that much more ready to take the next step.”

Waldron has a long history in kitchens. She grew up in Virginia, where her father worked for Tuscarora Mill, an acclaimed restaurant in Leesburg, for decades. She first started waiting tables when she was a teenager. She moved to Maine 11 years ago and seven years ago began cooking for the first time, in the kitchen at Three Tides, the popular Belfast Waterfront bar and eatery.

Whited, a Waldo County native, has also been a familiar face at Three Tides, as the bar manager there for a decade, and shared with Waldron a love for simple, accessible food that’s also fun, eclectic and fresh, drawing from a wide array of culinary traditions, including Mexican, Greek and Lebanese street foods and contemporary vegetarian and vegan cooking. That’s essentially the kind of food they served at Good n’ You and what they’ve continued to do in the Neighborhood kitchen.

“We try to offer healthy comfort food — stuff that’s delicious and fun to eat and feels nice and is approachable,” Whited said. “But it’s also food that’s built entirely from scratch. It doesn’t just roll off the back of a Sysco truck. It’s got a lot of flair. It’s never the same for long, either. We switch it up a lot.”

Among the most popular dishes Neighborhood offers are their tacos and crispy tostadas — a direct transfer from the food truck. It was a no-brainer when it came to keeping those around for the restaurant menu. A few tacos and tostadas always stay on the menu — such as Korean barbecue short rib, pulled pork and Tex-Mex marinated local Heiwa tofu — but there’s a different specialty taco every day, whether it’s spicy Cajun shrimp or a Banh Mi taco made with slow-cooked pork, carrots and daikon radish.

Neighborhood’s falafel, another truck favorite, is also a big hit. Though the fried chickpea fritters are a staple of Middle Eastern restaurants in many urban areas, it’s a lot harder to find in Maine. But Waldron makes her crispy-on-the-outside, fluffy-on-the-inside falafel from scratch, topped with homemade hummus and tzatziki and served in a fresh, homemade pita.

For dinner, diners can choose from appetizers such as ceviche made with locally caught seafood and moong dal (mung bean) fritters and entrees such as shrimp and grits, Korean barbecued short ribs or spiral squash curry, in which spiralized zucchini replaces real noodles. For dessert, there’s things like a turtle brownie sundae or rice pudding made with tequila drunk raisins. All the above — even the desserts — are all gluten free.

“We’re very accommodating to any dietary needs anyone has. We always have lots of vegetarian and vegan and gluten-free options,” Whited said. “We’re really committed to that. … And we’re really committed to local. There are so many amazing farms here in Waldo County, and we really try to source everything we possibly can locally.”

Some of the local farms and purveyors Neighborhood sources from includes Morrill Century Farm in Morrill and Unity Food Hub in Unity for produce, Goose River Farm in Belfast for meat and Maine Maritime Products for seafood.

The High Street space, which most recently housed Mexican restaurant La Vida, has been freshened up, with the walls now painted a cool white, and a beautifully designed, hand-built wooden bar installed by Whited.

The cocktail menu, devised by bar manager Jon Poto, is themed to Belfast landmarks and locations of the past. They include the Passy, named for the Passagassawakeag River, made with the South American brandy Pisco; the Slack Factory, named for an old artist’s compound in Belfast, made with lavender-infused vodka, elderflower liqueur and champagne; and the Bruno’s and Rico’s, named for the bar located at 132 High St. until the late 1990s, made with rye whiskey and apricot and herbal liqueurs. Neighborhood’s address has a long history in Belfast for locals and for Whited and Waldron themselves.

“When we first started dating, this space was where we hung out, when it was Club 132,” Waldron said, referring to the business that was in the space before La Vida. “We would play pool and drink. Seth used to hang out here when it was Bruno’s and Rico’s. It’s nice to be in here, with all that local history and all that personal history.”

Neighborhood is open for lunch from 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tuesdays through Fridays. It’s open for dinner 5:30 to 9 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays. It is closed Sundays and Mondays. Reservations are recommended. For more information, like Neighborhood on Facebook or call 505-0425.

 


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