Thirty years ago, an errant spark lit up Lisbon’s Worumbo Mill. The sprawling red brick structure and its decorative spires had graced the town’s eastern gateway for over 100 years, greeting visitors and reminding locals of their deep roots along the river and their history of hard work.
After the fire, gossip at the “Moxie Store” (also called Kennebec’s for Kennebec Fruit Co.) soda fountain included mythical stories about what the mill across the road was and what it might have been. As the years and the traffic passed by, regulars speculated about the never-to-be office park, movie theater, microbrewery or Martian landing strip as they sipped root beers and Moxie sodas.
These days, the talk is more about the upcoming high school football season, the next concert in the park and downtown Lisbon development, as regulars sip drinks at the lovingly restored vintage bar at Frank’s Restaurant and Pub. Lisbon locals Traci and Tony Austin are as excited as their customers.
The Austins had a vision from the moment they first walked through the vacant Kennebec Fruit Co. building in February, put up for sale by long-time owner “Mr. Moxie” Frank Anicetti. “My husband says I have a gift for looking at something and seeing how I can repurpose it, or re-do it, or refinish it,” says Traci Austin. “I did have a vision, and having it come out the way it has is the way I had pictured it in my head. It’s nice to see that.”
The Austins and a passionate group of family and friends gutted and renovated the building while locals and travelers watched in anticipation. In five short months, they reinvented Main Street’s historic corner as a bright and promising new restaurant with a surprising menu, Lisbon’s famous Moxie vibe and a name that honors the building’s colorful former owner, who died in May.
A HOME-GROWN MENU
Because the Austins had never worked in a restaurant before, they hired Anthony Sellers as chef. Austin admits the kitchen is “relatively small in comparison to many restaurants” and she wanted a chef who could make the best use of the space. “The menu Anthony created is one he felt was manageable and able to be done in that space,” she said.
Sellers has his own boot-strapping story. The 2004 Lisbon High School graduate’s first restaurant job was in the dish pit at a popular Lewiston eatery. Sellers laughs and says he read an article that said “60 percent of all Michelin-star chefs started in the dish pit and have no culinary training. I said ‘What the heck, DaVinci’s is hiring’” and promptly spent three months in their dish pit before he moved into the kitchen. He worked his way up to grill chef and then saute chef in his five years at the restaurant. His most recent gig was at Portland’s Sicilian street food restaurant, Slab.
His Frank’s menu features appetizer classics including a “French Fry Basket” served with a choice of his own dipping sauces (tangy honey lime, buffalo, Moxie BBQ sauce, and sweet & spicy) and chicken wings. There’s also a Pineland poutine with a shout-out to Sellers’ friend Randy Smith of Pinky-D’s food truck. Seller says, “I love Pineland Farms’ cheese curds and I love beef gravy. Throw the two together and . . .” one poutine coming up.
Another menu surprise is the “bacon and leek arancini” or deep-fried rice balls, paired with Sellers’ own creamy sriracha aioli. Lisbon real estate agent Cheryl Haggerty (a Main Street neighbor) says this is her “favorite item on the menu,” and notes she also likes the pasta primavera.
In a nod to his DaVinci’s roots, Sellers’ menu also includes mushroom risotto and fettuccine Alfredo.
There are three different burger styles, a chickpea salad sandwich and a taco/nacho flatbread. Oh, and steak tips served with a vegetable and your choice of pasta, mashed potatoes or fries. If it’s lean and green you’re hungry for, the menu offers a garden salad, a Caesar salad and a roasted walnut and blue cheese salad. All three are served with a choice of Sellers’ own homemade dressings.
A BAR WITH MOXIE
Sellers says his menu is simple comfort food with an Italian flair. In the future, he’s planning to offer seasonal changes including soups and weekly features. The next addition to the menu, though, are desserts. Sellers has tasked some of his kitchen team to create a dessert for the menu. When he was a young cook, “that was a motivator to me,” he says.
If it’s thirst that brings you down by the river, pull up a stool and enjoy the view. Frank’s bar includes standard favorite beers and premium Maine-brewed pours from Allagash, Seadog and Shipyard. Black Bear Brewing Company of Orono’s Liquid Sunshine Ale is another tap favorite, nostalgically dubbed a “Lisbon Lemon” in honor of Lisbon’s 1950s-era baseball team. The bar, extending the length of the restaurant, features an archival collage of town sports teams, legendary Lisbon-ites and many other town memories, including the historic Worumbo blaze.
Is there Moxie? Yes, in abundant supply, and you can even have a classic Moxie or root beer float, just like back in the day. Traci Austin says the secret to a float is in the pour. “Put the ice cream in first, pour the soda in, let it settle, pour some more. If you want to say we’ve mastered it, yeah, I guess we have.”
What’s next for Frank’s? Austin hints they’d like to be open seven days a week for the upcoming Monday night football season.
Julie-Ann Baumer writes, cooks and gardens from her home in Lisbon Falls. Read her blog www.julieannbaumer.com or follow her on twitter @auntotomato.
Frank’s Restaurant and Pub
2 Main St., Lisbon Falls, Maine
Open: Sunday and Tuesday through Thursday: 3 to 10 p.m.; Friday and Saturday: 3 to 11 p.m.
The mushroom risotto plate at Frank’s Restaurant and Pub in Lisbon.Frank’s Restaurant and Pub’s chicken wing basket.