Over the years, I’ve spent a significant portion of my time touring Brunswick within the sprawling Fort Andross complex. Sometimes it’s the antique shops that draw me in, sometimes the flea market, or the great winter farmers market, or the tile store. Other times, I go inside because I’m hungry.
Before the pandemic, my primary dining destination was Frontier, an eclectic restaurant whose windows overlooked a cataract flowing into the Androscoggin River. As much as I enjoyed eating there, I always thought the dining room (and the cinema, event space, and adjoining café) was too cavernous, too off the scale. Too much of the room felt wasted.
Walking into Nomad Pizza, the New Jersey-based Neapolitan-style pizza restaurant that took over the yawning space, I expected something even more sparse, now that 18 years of accumulated furniture, knick-knacks and artwork have been removed. following Frontiers final service last summer. Instead, I smiled and couldn’t believe what I saw.
It turns out that all the massive room he really needed was an equally gigantic feature to anchor the room. In this case: a Skowhegan-built oven that stands 7 feet tall (without heels) and weighs 9,000 pounds more than two Ford F150 trucks.
I think it’s the largest oven Maine Wood Heat makes, Nomads chef and general manager Matt Shankle told me. It’s funny to think that Tom (Grim, owner of Nomads) started selling pizza off the back of a 1948 REO Speedwagon in ’07, and then we had a little pizza van here in Maine last year, and now we have this huge oven that is bigger than anything in Philadelphia or New Jersey restaurants! It’s so beautiful with the copper patina. We like it.
Puffing at 850 to 900 degrees, this hardwood-fueled behemoth can transform the restaurant’s four-day-old leavened dough into a beautifully puffy crust in just under two minutes.
Perhaps the best way to experience what the Nomads oven and pizza chefs can do is to order one of the hand-made pies, such as Guanciale ($20), sprinkled with baby spinach, parmesan and thin slices of pancetta bacon that curls and bubbles during cooking. The pie starts out salty, then yields to a hidden ingredient: fig jam. Overall, it’s a delicious pizza with a crafty balance of flavours. At the table, you can further enhance that balance with a few red pepper flakes.
Order the meatball appetizer for $18, this dish is large and expensive enough to be an appetizer, and you’ll find that the dish is served with a crescent of pasta spread in oil and garlic that is cooked quickly, then sliced and served as croutons for immerse yourself in Nomads slow-bubble marinara.
The meatballs themselves? Tender and seasoned beautifully. We get our meatball mix, which is a blend of traditional pork and beef, from The Milkhouse (in southern China), Shankle said. We add the breadcrumbs, the milk, the genuine Parmigiano Reggiano, the oregano and then we cook them as a night stew in the gravy. Except in Philadelphia or Jersey they would never call it salsa, they would call it salsa.
That gravy isn’t just for meatballs. While other tomato pies get a ladleful of plain crushed San Marzano tomatoes and salt, the Trenton Pie ($16) gets dollops of simmered Nomads sauce. Known elsewhere as Trenton tomato pie, this regional classic is layered in an unusual way. The ultra-thin rolled dough (not stretched by hand) is first topped with cheese and only then with the restaurant’s sweet-spicy marinara. Reversing the order of the layers places more emphasis on the flavor of the toppings and sauce. Here you can sample Olivias Garden’s dried Calabrian oregano and chopped fresh basil dipped in pockets of salsa.
That pizza was a secret item on the menu at the other restaurants. If you knew, you knew, Shankle said. We’d always had the stuff to make it, but it got to the point where it was so popular that we realized we had to put it on our regular menu up here. Either way, it’s all about the gravy.
Don’t let the Tri-State lingo fool you: Nomad does a great job of maintaining its connection to its place of origin while honoring its new home. It is funny. A lot of people don’t think of New Jersey that way, but we were surrounded by a lot of farms down there where we can find stuff, Shankle said. But up here, it’s amazing. It’s like Maine has farms all over it, so it’s really easy for us.
For example, take the Sprigge Negroni ($15), an astringent, herbal take on the classic cocktail (such a house favorite it even gets a poster on the wall) that gets a local twist from Maine Craft Distilling gin. Or more importantly, when the weather is warm enough, the restaurant sources its goat cheese from Grims’ son and daughter-in-law, who run the Cosmic Goat Farm in Litchfield.
On the Citrus Salad ($12), the fresh crumbles of that local cheese were the highlight amid an otherwise frumpy, overdressed fall of arugula, shaved fennel bulb, and pomegranate seeds. On the kale-and-romaine Caesar ($15), overdressing was also a problem, as was a comically oversized blanket of finely grated Parmesan. I love cheese, but in a salad like this, I prefer more cruciferous vegetables than curds.
Still, I’m inclined to give Nomad a little leeway when it comes to perfecting the plating and correcting ratios and proportions for a new clientele. In their new kitchen, the chefs too have had to adapt to an exponential expansion of physical space and equipment.
Our pizzerias in New Jersey basically didn’t have kitchens, per se. Just ovens on the floor, and everything we cooked was in those ovens, except for a little induction heater here and there, Shankle said. In the old Frontier space, we have a full mammoth kitchen and are adding menu items as we learn the best ways to use that stuff.
They started with commercial electric furnaces that don’t operate at the temperature of molten lava. Here, they bake girty, cakey brown-butter chocolate chip cookies served trendy with a baseball-sized serving of lightly iced vanilla soft-serve, drizzles of fruity extra-virgin olive oil, and flaky Maldon salt ( $8).
If you’re wondering why they don’t use a wood oven for desserts, there are two answers. The first is simple: that fiery beast never gets cold enough for delicate cooking. But the second is that Nomad already shares the residual heat left when he literally stops stoking the flames every night.
Once Nomad starts toppling chairs, Dutchmans (the neighbor who now occupies the former Frontiers cafe space) arrives to finish off the wood-fired bagels over the remaining embers. He’s so well insulated that it drops in temperature, but nothing above 600 or 700 degrees. Perfect for baking bread, Shankle said. Also, Jeremy (Kratzer, Dutchman’s owner and baker) used to work with us, so he knows that bakery, even though he’s no longer a part of Nomad. It’s nice because now from Thursday to Sunday we can make full use of energy. There is a lot for us here and we want to use it all without wasting anything.
WHERE: Fort Andross, 14 Maine Street, Brunswick. 207-707-3050. nomadmaine.com
SERVING: Wednesday and Thursday, 4-9pm; Friday and Saturday, 12:00-21:00; Sunday, noon-8pm
PRICE RANGE: Entrees: $12-$18, pizza and pasta: $12-$22
NOISE LEVEL: Ferry Terminal
BAR:Beer, wine and cocktails
BOTTOM LINE: Opening a large 120-seat (approximately) restaurant in Brunswick’s Fort Andross Mill complex is no easy task. It’s made even harder when the business you’re replacing is as quirky and beloved as the Frontier was. But Tom Grim and Matt Shankle, both transplants from the Central New Jersey/Philadelphia area, have already put their stamp on the place. Inside, it looks better than ever, with a Paul Bunyan-sized wood-burning oven to anchor the space and a more open seating arrangement. The pizzas are fantastic and promise to improve, especially the handmade specialties like the bacon-like guanciale with spinach. The pork and beef meatballs made from locally sourced meat and served with crispy, garlicky pizza croutons are a must. Skip the salads and go good for dessert, especially the soft brown butter chocolate chip cookie served with soft serve ice cream and a drizzle of great olive oil.
The ratings follow this scale and take into consideration the food, ambiance, service, value and type of restaurant (a casual bistro will be judged as a casual bistro, an expensive upscale restaurant as such):
The Maine Sunday Telegram visits each restaurant once; if the first meal was unsatisfactory, the reviewer returns for a second. The reviewer makes every attempt to dine anonymously and never accepts free food or drink.
Andrew Ross has written about food and restaurants in New York and the UK. He and his work have appeared on Martha Stewart Living Radio and in The New York Times. He has received five recent Critics Awards from the Maine Press Association.
Dine Out: At Dok Mali, home-cooked and delicious Thai street food
Invalid username / password.
Check your email to confirm and complete your registration.
Use the form below to reset your password. After you submit your account email, we’ll send you an email with a recovery code.