ELLSWORTH — World travelers in search of a good meal are always hoping to find some unknown gem, hidden, perhaps, deep in a Paris allée or along a nameless klong in the heart of Bangkok. Seated at the next table: a character from a John Carré or Alan Furst novel.
Ellsworth is no exotic capital, but it does have a little dining gem hidden in a most unlikely location. Behind an auto parts store fronting the Downeast Highway and halfway down Eastward Lane on the way to the city’s bowling alley, Dyon’s, a wine and tapas bar offering a fashionable and healthful “small plate” menu, is tucked away in the Ellsworth Tennis Center.
Finding the restaurant is no mean feat. Entrance to Dyon’s is through the main Tennis Center door, though the signage is not as clear as it might be.
The restaurant itself is tiny. Four or five bar stools line a counter facing the open kitchen and a handful of stool-height tables provide seating for another 10 or so diners in the dining room where both lighting and music are unobtrusive.
Dyon’s — pronounced “dee-onz”— is named for Dionysius, the Greek god of wine. The letter “y” appears in the name because, as owner Susan Scherbel explained in a recent email, “you can’t pour wine into an ‘i’.”
Wine is an important element at Dyon’s. The list of whites and reds (more of the latter) is small but interesting and fairly priced by the glass or the bottle. Whites range from a sparkling proseco to a not too oaky Central Coast California chardonnay. The reds range from a light Oregon pinot noir to a sturdy Bordeaux from the Garonne river area.
There also is a nice selection of beers.
As it should be, the best part of Dyon’s is the food. Scherbel conceived the idea of a tapas menu that encourages diners to eat “until sated,” rather than feeling compelled to clean their plates, and chef Jacob Silverman deftly executes the plan.
A Californian who settled in Maine after a stint in the Navy, Silverman has come up with recipes that are challenging for the chef and enjoyable for the diner.
“If it’s not challenging, it’s not fun,” Silverman said recently while prepping ingredients for a Saturday dinner service.
On a recent evening, tapas got under way with a glass of Rioja ($32 for the bottle) and a dish of warm, house-roasted nuts flavored with rosemary. Within minutes, a roasted garlic bulb, served with a salty tapenade and house-made red wine crackers and a nicely dressed salad topped by a poached egg, both from the cold section of the menu, arrived at the table.
Another glass of wine went down nicely with some choices from the selection of warm plates — bison sliders on house-made pretzel rolls served with a mildly spicy Sriracha slaw, and the delicious “waffle falafel,” a baked and flattened take on the usually deep-fried fried chickpea dough topped with tangy yogurt and salad and the fish of the day: a generous serving of rare, seared tuna served with Sriracha slaw.
A return visit offered an opportunity to taste the chef’s gluten-free pizza topped with grilled eggplant, tapenade and greens. The crust, made with brown rice flour and tapioca, was crisp, nutty brown and delicious.
Several other tempting dishes appeared on the menu, which remains subject to revision, including a smoked turkey gumbo, chicken satay with peanut sauce and a potato omelet with rosemary.
Desserts include a roasted house-made marshmallow drizzled with dark chocolate and Grand Marnier and served with homemade graham cracker that was crisp and delicious. Another winner was a red wine-poached pear.
Dyon’s is open seven days a week from 5 p.m. The restaurant offers a “Tasting Tuesday” offering a glass of wine and a tapas appetizer plate for $12.
Like most good things, Dyon’s is a little difficult to find, but it’s worth searching out.