Twelve is a love letter to New England cuisine
Housed in a historic building rebuilt brick-by-brick on the waterfront, Twelve entices with more than a dozen reasons to dine in Maine.
You’d think news of a splashy restaurant opening in mid-July in the foodie capital of Portland, Maine would start with the kitchen. But, taking inspiration from Executive Chef Colin Wyatt, let’s focus on the backstory of the brick stunner that houses the new restaurant, Twelve, as he likes. “I feel like the restaurant needs to live up to the name of the building,” Wyatt says, “and we need to honor its history.”
And what a story. Originally built 127 years ago as part of the Portland Company’s train factory, the structure was known as “Building 12: Pattern Storehouse”, where employees constructed gears and cogs of trains. The townspeople still call it the “Twelve”. It turns out that the only way to rehabilitate the old factory was to literally take the building apart brick by brick and rebuild it into its new waterfront home.
Sounds exhausting, right? But the team’s laser focus on found beauty makes perfect sense, given the “modern New England” menu at the 2,000-square-foot, 85-seat spot, which is the latest venture in the Prentice Hotel Group. “The main focus of each dish is an ingredient of [the region], mostly from Maine if we can,” says Wyatt. “Twelve,” too, alludes to seasonality and months of the year, as the rotating dishes feature sustainable produce sourced in high season from area farmers’ markets, as well as protein sourced from fish and vegetable suppliers. local farms. If the meal is building-wide, ingredients such as fresh oysters from Chebeague Island Oystersyoghurt Dairy and creameryand beef from Caldwell Farms are the individual and precious bricks.
The main menu served in the dining room is a four-course prix-fixe delight from $82 a pop, with larger a la carte options on the terrace and at the bar, where you can sip wines and cocktails. international with local ingredients. The prix-fixe trip opens with a small bite — “A little thank you for coming,” Wyatt says — with a savory gougère inspired by oyster chowder on the opening menu. Next, the “market” vegetable course celebrates seasonal Maine produce, such as fresh zucchini with candied lemon and rye. Then savor one of three starters, which are smaller crudos, tartars or hot vegetable dishes. The inaugural menu features deer tartare developed by chef Hannah Ryder and served with charcoal cream. Which begs the question, of course: what is charcoal cream? The chef burns a container of cream with a glowing charcoal, then the mixture is strained and seasoned with lactic acid, resulting in a fluffy cream that sings with light smoke and acidity.
For the main event, three or four starters focus on meat, fish, or larger vegetable offerings. Check out the monkfish with trout roe and peas, which swims in a rich broth of melted whey with butter, plus chive oil and fresh chives added to the mix. Hen of the woods mushrooms are glazed in boletus broth, with meaty, umami bites cut by fermented mustard greens. End on a sweet note – say the chocolate pudding everyone will love, served at the table with all the trimmings for a homemade dessert. “We also like to take a look at some of the French-Canadian and Yankee New England traditions that the rest of the country may not be very familiar with, but people here are familiar with,” says Wyatt. Expect a lobster roll, of course, but also a chance to experience some lesser-known terrain. Take the ployes, or Franco-Acadian buckwheat pancakes popular in northern Maine, which replace classic blinis in Twelve’s caviar service. Also, your fall forecast? Pack a cable knit sweater for a weekend and dive into the next potato pie served with savory frosting and cheese.
Wyatt worked on the menu for about two years after joining the project in 2020, which was a bit of a homecoming. He had worked in Portland before, then moved to New York for about 13 years, where he worked at Eleven Madison Park and DANIEL. Returning to Maine, where his wife Selena grew up, was always in the cards, with the pandemic moving up that timeline. General manager Daniel Gorlas, formerly of famed Central Park restaurant Per Se, insisted on a fixed price. The team bounced around four or five menu ideas before the current incarnation. However, some plates turned out perfect from the get-go, like pastry chef Georgia Macon’s salty flirt ice cream sandwich, made with cornmeal crackers and blueberry bay leaf ice cream. “Right before I hired her, she did a tasting for us,” Wyatt explains. “As soon as I tried one, I was like, ‘Okay, this has got to be on the menu. “”
Inside the restaurant, the decor forged by L. Bonime Design forgoes faux finishes in favor of a clean, coastal palette and natural materials — reclaimed beams, brass, large oak tables — that will age over time. Also no wonder Maine creatives take to the main stage with an installation by the artist Christina Watcaseven-seater chef’s counter stools by the cabinetmaker Heide Martinand personalized plates by Meg Walsh of C&M Ceramics.
As if we needed another motivation to go to Maine this summer and beyond. But for the people of Portland? “We really want to be a restaurant for Mainers,” says Wyatt. “It’s important for us to engage the local crowd and keep them coming for some really great food.”
Tuesday through Saturday, 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. 115 Thames St., Portland, Maine, twelvemaine.com.