November 20, 2018
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Franciscan friars closing Bangor bakehouse, opening tap room in Bucksport

Friar’s Bakehouse, an iconic part of the downtown Bangor dining scene for more than 18 years, will serve its last lunch on Friday.

But Brothers Donald Paul and Kenneth Leo aren’t going away — they plan to open their new venture, the Friar’s Brewhouse Tap Room in Bucksport, around March 17.

The Franciscan Brothers say they cannot maintain both businesses simultaneously. It’s only a two-man operation, and the 40-minute commute to Bangor from their monastery in Bucksport has become too much for them.

“After all these years, commuting in the dark, in the snow and rain half the year is just not worth it anymore,” said Brother Don. “I won’t miss getting up at 3 a.m. I won’t miss that one bit.”

The past few years have been difficult for the business. The University of Maine System Office, formerly located across the street, took with it a number of customers, as well as the the closure of the Hammond Street Senior Center, they said.

“All that has adversely affected business downtown,” said Brother Don. “We’ve seen such huge growth in the food scene, especially at lunch time. It’s spread thin. It’s harder for everyone, I think.”

The new tap room in Bucksport showcases something the brothers have been doing for six years already: brewing beer. They began selling their beer in 2013, and have been considering opening a separate business to highlight their brews — and to give Brother Don, a passionate lover of food, a chance to try some new menu items.

The new Tap Room is located at 84A Main St. in downtown Bucksport, overlooking the river. Since announcing it in August 2017, the brothers have completely renovated the space, and are now awaiting final state inspections before they open the doors to the public.

“It’s intimate. It’s the kind of place that you want to sit with friends and have a nice conversation and a beer. And it’s four blocks from the new salmon farm,” said Brother Don, referring to the new Bucksport facility announced last week by aquaculture company Whole Oceans. “We’re really in the right place at the right time. In a very literal sense, it’s a true Godsend for the town of Bucksport. Bucksport is the new Belfast. I truly believe that.”

Brothers Ken and Don are the two members of the Bucksport-based Franciscan Brothers of St. Elizabeth of Hungary, and are Franciscan Friars, a religious order founded in 1209. Their monastery is now under the auspices of the Anglican Church, though it was previously affiliated with the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland. Franciscan Friars take a vow of poverty, and part of their stated mission is to be out in the community, serving the public.

Since opening in Bangor in 1999, Friar’s Bakehouse in Bangor has served up huge sandwiches on homemade bread, as well as soup, baked goods and fresh coffee and lemonade, in its cozy Central Street cafe. Liturgical music plays over the speakers. It’s cash only. No cell phones allowed. Per the mission of the Franciscans — all are allowed, including dogs. Francis of Assisi was the patron saint of animals, after all.

An eclectic mix of clientele sit at shared tables — lawyers, priests, college students, families and curious tourists who heard about the odd little Bangor cafe run by real Franciscan friars. Though it truly is a unique business, the brothers have generally shunned most publicity for fear of things getting out of hand, even repeatedly turning down attention from the Food Network.

Though the brothers are ready to simplify their daily lives, they say they will miss the Bakehouse family they’ve cultivated in downtown Bangor.

“It’s a privilege to be included in their lives,” said Brother Don. “We certainly will miss that. Though they can always come to Bucksport.”

Large windows at their new space overlook the Penobscot River and Fort Knox State Park. Later this spring, the brothers plan to build a small deck for outside seating. In the front part of the new building, the brothers have set up a “Pocket Bakehouse,” where they will sell their baked goods — from loaves of bread to blueberry muffins, cranberry-walnut scones and, yes, their famous whoopie pies.

In the back of the building will be the actual tap room. A 15-foot bar will feature just four tap lines pouring Friar’s brews like Whoopie Pie Porter, Monastery Ale, St. Francis’ Brown Ale and seasonal varieties like a saison and a black bock.

“Someone asked me, ‘Oh, will you brew a big, juicy New England IPA?’ And I said ‘No way.’ The world doesn’t need another mediocre IPA, which is what I would brew,” said Don. “We brew monastic-style German and Belgian beers, standard European-style brews. Why would I try something else?”

The food is what Brother Don is most excited about. Prior to becoming a friar, he was a Culinary Institute of America-trained chef, and has spent the better part of 40 years in kitchens. He plans an eclectic menu of large and small plates, though his particular love of pan-European cooking is front and center.

Raclette, a Swiss-style cheese, will be on the menu, cooked in the traditional method of melting it until bubbling on a small grill, and then scraping the cheese onto boiled potatoes, pickles and cured meats. Also on the menu will be Dutch babies, a German-American dish that’s kind of like a cast-iron pancake — it puffs up like a popover, and is filled with things like bleu cheese, pecans, pears and other sweet and savory items.

For dessert, expect French and Italian classics like creme brulee, panna cotta and affogato. Regularly changing specials will round out the menu, alongside an array of salads and panini, some of which will feature fillings that Bakehouse customers will recognize.

The tap room will accept credit and debit cards, something the Bakehouse hasn’t ever done in its 18 years. There will still, however, be the ban on cell phones.

“Just enjoy your food, enjoy your beer,” said Brother Don. “Keep it simple.”

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