On a balmy Thursday evening in mid- July, there’s not an empty seat at Dockside Grill in Falmouth. Tanned, windblown sailors just off the water drink beer at the outdoor bar, recapping the latest results in the nearby Portland Yacht Club’s Thursday night racing series. At a table on the deck— shaded by sails hung as awnings—a nattily dressed couple sips martinis from icy glasses, glancing up from the menu to chat with friends who’ve just arrived wearing shorts and flip-flops, having spent the glorious day on their boat. A family waiting for a table sits on a curved bench in front of a round stone table that opens to become a firepit on chilly nights. Dockside Grill is open year-round, but the restaurant at Handy Boat Marina offers extra appeal in summer, when the garage doors between the deck and dining room are rolled up, connecting indoors and out. Between Memorial Day and Columbus Day weekends, the action is all on the first floor, where every reclaimed wood-topped table has a view of the busy anchorage and, beyond it, Casco Bay. The sleek, slightly more formal upper level is reserved for private events in the summer and becomes the dining room from Columbus Day until the following summer. My husband and I aren’t boaters, but we have spent many a delightful evening in this happy spot.
There has been a restaurant on the property since sailing legend Merle Hallett owned it, when it was the Galley. From 1999 to 2013, it was Falmouth Sea Grill, run by Laura Argitis, owner of Old Port Sea Grill in Portland and co-owner of North 43 Bistro in South Portland. Manager Nicole Genella has worked there since the space was completely renovated in 2010. Two years earlier, John and Rebecca Marr had purchased Handy Boat, and in 2013, their daughter, Andrea, who worked at Falmouth Sea Grill in high school, took over the restaurant, renaming it Dockside Grill—a reinforcement of its connection to the boatyard and marina. “We’re trying to make it more cohesive in that you can come by boat,” says Genella, who handles Dockside Grill’s day-to-day operations alongside general manager Charlie Ross. “Radio nine to Handy Boat and tell them you’re coming to the restaurant. They’ll assign you a mooring and shuttle you in by launch.” Boaters (and anyone else) who arrive between 4 and 6 p.m. can take advantage of Dockside’s daily happy hour, a noteworthy deal that includes a $5 cocktail of the day (margaritas on Tequila Tuesday; sparkling rosé on Fancy Friday), $4 wine by the glass, $2 off all draft beers, and $5 small plates such as chicken nachos and pork dumplings with ponzu sauce. The oval bar, with the most coveted of its comfortable seats outside on the deck, offers generous pours and attentive bartenders adept at taking care of what is often a large, convivial, and thirsty crowd.
Portions on the plate are generous as well. On a weeknight visit, a friend and I each make a meal out of the crabcake appetizer and the romaine heart salad. Two meaty crabcakes are each the size of a small burger; nicely seared and piping hot, they are paired with crisp pickled onion, cucumber pickles, and a sesame-lime remoulade. The cool, crisp romaine heart is napped with creamy white balsamic vinaigrette and grated asiago cheese; I crumble the accompanying frico (a cheese crisp) on top for extra crunch, but we both forgo the white anchovy that usually tops the salad. On another evening, lightly fried calamari drizzled with sweet-spicy chili sauce is a memorable starter, as is the decadent puff pastry-wrapped baked brie with berry compote—that 80s cocktail party darling is still a tasty nibble with drinks.
Except for a few seasonal changes, Dockside Grill’s dinner menu stays fairly consistent. “We definitely try to appeal to the regulars, who are our bread and butter in the winter months as well,” says Genella. But there’s plenty of variety, including the Dockside Creation option (available until Columbus Day), which allows diners to choose one of six proteins, two sides, and one of five sauces. I was deeply satis ed with Genella’s entrée recommendation, a hefty slab of beautifully rare seared yellow n tuna, crusted with sesame seeds, over herb risotto with a warm, crunchy slaw and honey-ginger-soy glaze. Our attentive, thoughtful server says it’s the dish they can’t take o the menu, and I understand why. Flat iron steak Oscar is also a winner, as well as a perfectly executed classic: grilled steak topped with nuggets of lump crab and a rich béarnaise sauce, served with roasted new potatoes and slim asparagus spears. My husband and I do something that is extremely rare for us in a restaurant— we eat every single bite on both plates.
As we dig our spoons into flavorful, not-too- sweet Kahlua cake with mocha buttercream, the sky over the water is turning that deep blue of summertime dusk, and while the bar is still full, the conversation has quieted. We wander out to the water’s edge and watch as the launch brings another group of boaters in to the dock, then turn and take in the glow coming from Dockside Grill, a welcoming port of call for sailors and landlubbers alike.