Small Is Beautiful, From Maine to Montana to East Colfax Avenue

This summer, while all eyes have been on the pomp and circumstance at Union Station, I've found my attention drawn more and more to tiny places, homegrown places, places with footprints as large as other restaurant's kitchens. Some of them I've reviewed, such as Kings BBQ and To the Wind Bistro. Others I've enjoyed on my own time, both here and in far-flung corners of Maine, Wyoming and Montana. See also: To the Wind Bistro Is a Breath of Fresh Air on East Colfax My children, who are now in full back-to-school mode, are still talking about their end-of-vacation hurrah at family-run Maine-ly Delights, a seafood joint in Bass Harbor, Maine, with more tables on the deck than under the roof. That didn't stop everyone from crowding inside, anyway, banding together under strings of sparkling white lights and around vinyl-draped picnic tables to commiserate about those fierce mosquitos and admire the blueberry pie. The seafood came in from the dock across the street and the only thing bigger than the lobsters were the oh-boy-doughboy sundaes. Our server, who could've doubled as a retired kindergarten teacher, apologized for being out of whoopie pies; they were on her list, she said, but since she bakes them herself, and since it takes hours just to make six, she hadn't found the time.

But those inconsistencies are part of the charm of these small spots. Burned the cornbread? There's always tomorrow. Out of whoopie pies? Again, there's always tomorrow.

Typically decorated with what's on hand or what can be found at garage sales, these little eateries lack the polish of an interior designer but make up for it with imperfections that remind us we're all human. And since they're often run by families and staffed by people with more on the line than just a paycheck, they tend to exude honesty, urgency and passion -- three qualities that have a way of making rough edges not quite so rough.

Back from vacation, my first review is of one of these very small spots: Mayan Manjar Yucateco. Watch for the review here tomorrow.

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Gretchen Kurtz has worked as a writer for 25 years; during that time she's stomped grapes in Napa, eaten b'stilla in Fez, and baked with Buddy Valastro, aka the Cake Boss. Her work has appeared in publications including Boulevard (Paris), Diversion, the New York Times and Westword. Our restaurant critic since 2012, she loves helping you decide where to eat and drink tonight.
Contact: Gretchen Kurtz