“Salt is for the sea, pine is for the land, and social is the community,” Daphne Comaskey explains to me as we sit at the bar of the recently opened restaurant in Bath she owns with her husband, Paul, and her twin sister, Eloise Humphrey. The three also own El Camino, the popular Mexican restaurant in Brunswick. “Eloise is the creative one, the chef. I’m the more grounding influence and good with details,” Comaskey says. “We complement each other.” The sisters had been looking for another project, and “this building just kept popping into our lives over the past several years,” Comaskey continues. The dark grey contemporary building with bright red trim has had many previous lives, including antique store, gift shop, and sheet metal shop. “We had an idea about what we wanted and a layout in mind,” she says. David Matero Architecture, also in Bath, worked to realize their vision by adding the bar and kitchen, as well as helping with the details. Making the building energy efficient and environmentally friendly was a priority, and there are many new systems in place to accomplish that goal. The look is all clean lines, sparse décor, and soothing neutral colors with a chic, Scandinavian feel. Paul Comaskey designed the ash wood bar with steel seams, surrounded by simple, black bar stools. Hanging over the bar is a collection of rainbow-hued lanterns from India that Humphrey discovered on eBay. Wall decor is a combination of work from local artisans, including weavings by Hector Jaeger, and funky finds, like pieces of a 1920s linoleum floor, which was a map of the United States. Blond wooden banquettes opposite the bar are warmed with piles of sheepskins and pillows. Nearby, an open kitchen lets guests watch Humphrey and her crew at work. There’s nothing fussy or extraneous about the place, making it a complete about-face from the funky ambiance at El Camino.
“Mexican food is fun, but limiting,” Comaskey says. “This is a chance for us to really spread our wings.” The menu is completely different from El Camino, but Humphrey’s style carries over to Salt Pine Social. She’s dedicated to local and mostly organic ingredients, a sensibility she and Comaskey developed when they owned a popular brunch spot in the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood of San Francisco called Kate’s Kitchen. “We feel more connected to the farms here than in California,” Comaskey says. “Eloise goes to the farmers’ markets at least three times each week. She’s great at working with what’s available year-round, really in tune with the seasonal cycle.” The menu is evolving, with no particular culinary theme aside from “thoughtful, rustic, local. It’s all about feeding people,” Comaskey says. “It’s more about style than genre.” Working alongside Humphrey is acclaimed executive chef Jeff Kent, who comes with an impressive resume and years of experience. The two had worked together in New York City 30 years ago and reconnected through Facebook.
The menu includes flavors of the Middle East, the Mediterranean, and Asia, all carefully prepared and plated. A dish of sautéed squid sounds simple, but is a multi-layered affair with winter vegetables and a tangy citrus-soy marinade. Cornmeal fried oysters, a special tonight, are light and crispy, served with a charred tomato and jalapeno salsa that packs a spicy punch. Bright fuchsia slices of beet and horseradish-cured gravlax are delicate and delicious, plated with the traditional accompaniments. But my favorite dish is undoubtedly the unassuming smoked veggie burger. A mixture of smoky wild rice and lentils with depth from sautéed mushrooms, porcini powder, sweet potatoes, and more, it was declared “the best veggie burger ever” by photographer Russell Caron, who shared it with me. Kent and Humphrey have a sure hand with the kitchen’s smoker, using it for a variety of ingredients, including chicken, shallots, and salmon.
They hired bar manager Brandon Adams to craft custom cocktails that reflect the both the mood and the food at Salt Pine Social. He’s come up with a roster of interesting drinks, some based on classics, like the Aviator, and newer ones, such as Cosmic Debris. The Aviator is an old-school, gin-based cocktail, a little flowery and very pretty. Adams’s version of a Singapore Sling is delightful and not too sweet. “People are loving the cocktails,” says Comaskey. She and her sister have put together a wine list that includes familiar labels and unusual choices.
“We’re still trying to settle in,” Comaskey says. “Every weekend has been busier than the one before.” She’s starting to see regulars, too. As I step outside the front door, the view is straight up Front Street, all the way to the Bath Iron Works crane. Salt Pine Social has claimed its place in Bath.