Where there’s smoke, there’s barbecue.
“It’s a little bit of a challenge to define what we are”, Pliny Reynolds tells me. We’re seated at the polished concrete bar, salvaged from a defunct restaurant across town. The lunch hour is winding down and none of the diners seem the least bit bothered about how to define their smoked pork green chili or beef brisket sandwiches. It doesn’t matter whether Terlingua calls itself a Texas barbecue joint or a Mexican or Southwestern eatery. All those labels could apply, but Reynolds says, “We’re not trying to be authentic anything. We don’t want to be constrained.”
Reynolds and his wife, Melanie Kratovil, opened Terlingua last June, and the response has exceeded all their expectations. This is their first venture into restaurant ownership, but they describe it as “the culmination of all our interests and endeavors.” Kratovil grew up in a restaurant family in Kennebunkport and brings a wealth of experience. Reynolds, trained as an architect, is a food lover who used to go on dinner dates with his mom, after his parents’ divorce. When Reynolds and Kratovil lived in Austin, Texas, Reynolds taught himself to smoke meats. They would often entertain friends with barbecue, cooked in a drum smoker. “When we moved up here, I did a lot of research on what kind of smoker would be right for the Maine climate,” he says. These days Reynolds puts the brisket and ribs in two Big Green Eggs, multi-tiered covered ceramic cookers. He stokes them with apple wood or oak, starting at 7 a.m. The meat is ready by 5 p.m. and served on rustic wooden boards, with sides like cornbread, pickles, and red cabbage slaw to balance out the smoky flavors. Barbecue specials are marked on a chalkboard by the bar, and often sell out early. “Sometimes people get pissed, but then when they try something from Wil’s menu, they’re thrilled,” says Reynolds.
Wil is Wilson Rothschild, Terlingua’s chef and the creator of the tempting menu. Rothschild spent time in Mexico during college and after graduating, when a research grant enabled him to continue his anthropological study of pre- Columbian foodways. There, he cooked with indigenous families and “Mexican grandmas,” a different kind of culinary education than most chefs receive. “All the food I make here is drawn from my experiences,” he explains. “But I’ve developed my own versions that make the food more approachable.” He also favors the bright, bold flavors of the hot climates of the Southwest and the Caribbean. His ceviche, which he learned to make while working in a quirky beach restaurant in the Bahamas, is vibrant with citrus, radish, sugar kelp, and a touch of mezcal. Add some extra bite with a drizzle of the housemade habanero sauce. Pork belly chicharrón is crisp and fatty, balanced with a light salad that’s a deliciously necessary foil for the meat’s richness. Rothschild makes an amazingly flaky empanada too, stuffed with roasted squash and caramelized onions, accented with epazote, a Mexican herb. On weekends, brunch at Terlingua is a social event, coaxing diners in with pulled pork eggs Benedict with Tabasco hollandaise, over-the-top French toast, and classic Bloody Marys.
Reynolds designed and worked on the small space himself, keeping nothing more than the hood from the previous tenant, Chez Biso na Biso. Almost everything is reclaimed or reused, from the copper-top tables to the mason jars filled with rolled napkins and flatware. The feel is casual, appealing to local residents and young families. A canopy of wooden slats adds interest and delineates the bar area. It’s here that you can order up an oversized house margarita with a chili rim or a luscious sangria to sip. There’s a rotating rum punch concoction, meant to be shared, and several other expertly mixed cocktails, like Santa Anna’s Buried Gold. Reynolds created this fusion of smoky mezcal, plum bitters, citrus, and tres chile syrup, a mix of sweet and bitter tastes with a subtle, spicy kick. Some prefer beer with their barbecue, and for them, there are eight rotating taps.
It’s not by accident that the couple chose the Washington Avenue neighborhood, which has seen a wine shop and bar, a brewery tasting room, and another restaurant open in the last two years. Reynolds’s background in urban planning and architecture helped them see
the potential for growth. “We’re happy to be here. We’ve been watching the area expand and realized it’s perfect for our first enterprise,” he says. “It’s been a lot harder than we imagined, but we wouldn’t change it for the world.”
52 Washington Ave | 207.808.8502 | terlingua.me