When you think of Stevens Avenue, the long stretch of road that starts off of Congress Street and ends right outside of the Deering neighborhood, what comes to mind first? The sprawling Evergreen Cemetery? Mayer Baxter Woods, dog walkers aplenty? Nestled quietly in the heart of Deering Center, you may not know that Stevens Ave holds one of Portland, Maine’s best kept secrets: Elsmere BBQ and Wood Grill. South Portlanders may already be familiar with the Elsmere BBQ location that sits along Cottage Road, but while the SoPo location has had a tenancy of 8 years, not many people may realize that a second location sits right within one of Portland’s most popular neighborhoods for families and commuters alike. If you don’t live in this part of town, commute regularly down Stevens Ave, or have children attending one of the many schools in the Deering area, you may miss this hidden gem completely. Residents of the Back Bay area may not even know it’s only a short 5-minute drive away from their home. But with an outdoor patio lit by the glow of edison string lights, a snazzy vintage-style bar with ‘Wamesit Drive-In’ glowing in giant neon letters, and the tantalizing smell of smoked meats wafting from the grills, you don’t need to drive all the way to SoPo to enjoy Elsmere’s delicious barbecue and vibrant atmosphere.
Having opened quietly in June of 2019 following extensive building renovations, Elsmere BBQ and Wood Grill found its newest home in Deering Center much to the delight of longtime residents and fans alike. This would be the second joint venture of Adam Powers and Jeremy Rush in the Pine Tree State. Long-time friends and collaborators, Powers and Rush had worked together on and off for many years. From helming a small barbecue catering company to taking the leap together and opening Elsmere BBQ in South Portland to critical acclaim, they’re no strangers to the culinary game.
Powers’ extensive background in Southeast Asian cooking, munching his way through all the street food Bangkok had to offer, were the catalyst that fostered his future love of American barbecue. This love was nurtured over the course of 20 years, going so far as to craft his own Texas-style BBQ cooker out of an old 1950’s fridge. (Little known fact, but you may also know him as one of the founding members of Twisted Roots, a beloved local band) Jeremy Rush shared this lifetime of love for barbecue with Powers and the birth of Elsmere BBQ was only a natural progression for these two lovers of the smoky arts. So when you’re mowing down on a slab of wet ribs, eat easy knowing that there’s two lifetimes of passion behind everything that leaves the Elsmere kitchen.
A background in barbecue fandom isn’t the only interest that the owners of Elsmere share. This fact may come as news to many people, but quietly in the background behind all the smokers and bottles of barbecue sauce, Elsmere has quietly been giving back to their local communities for years. Both Elsmere locations are known for their nonprofit nights, held every Tuesday and Wednesday night, in an effort to raise money for a number of local nonprofit organizations. To date, there have been a total of 300 nonprofit nights that yielded donations for 212 different organizations over the course of 3 years, totaling in approximately $60,000 donated. Alongside these efforts to give back to the community, Elsmere also works actively with local artists to promote their work on the restaurant walls.
The Local Artists Campaign aims to increase exposure for local artists through having their works up on rotating display for all customers to see, and hopefully, purchase. This commitment to not only good food, but to the community that enjoys it, is what separates Elsmere from most if not all other eateries in Southern Maine. And you can eat easy knowing that the Portland location is just as committed to supporting the local community as its South Portland sister location, so know that you’ll be helping them in their efforts to give back no matter where you’ll be eating from!
So you might be wondering, what’s next for Elsmere BBQ in light of everything that’s been going on these past few months? Like many other eateries in Maine, easy curbside pickup is available by phone and soon to be online as well. The easy, no-contact pickup process ensures that you’ll be going home happy, healthy, and with a meal that’s sure to make everyone in your household happy. And with kids eating free when you buy an adult meal (1 free kid meal per adult meal purchased) you’ll really have something to celebrate when you’re bringing your BBQ bounty home for the whole crew. (And maybe even a few carryout adult beverages thrown in for when the kids head off to dreamland…) Gluten-free, vegan, and vegetarian options are all still available, and with almost every side (excluding the mac and cheese) already being vegan, you can easily keep yours and your family’s dietary needs in mind while still being able to enjoy the barbecue you’ve come to know and love. Although indoor dining currently isn’t on the menu,the patios are now open at both locations and someday you can seek out this Portland gem for yourself and enjoy a cold beverage at the bar when it’s safe enough to do so!
The benefit of having a restaurant like Elsmere in downtown Portland is that, unlike many other higher-end and more expensive eateries, they have a little something for everyone and is the perfect place for you to share with your whole family. Even though the doors are closed for now, the warmth and friendliness that shines through every experience at Elsmere is still present with every meal you enjoy on the outdoor patio or bring home. And for Portlanders, it’s never been easier to enjoy that hospitality without having to venture far from home. Convinced? Visit them on their website or give their Portland location a call at (207) 536-1029 to place your order and see just what makes Elsmere BBQ, truly, one of Portland’s best-kept secrets.