Downtown Bar Harbor is not a big place. On our first visit, my husband and I had the lay of the land down and knew every restaurant in town after two nights. By our third consecutive summer, we didn't even bother to deviate from our usual circuit of Two Cats for brunch, Geddy's for dinner, and The Thirsty Whale for late-night drinks. But after two years away from Mt. Desert Island, we returned this summer to scope out new eats with renewed purpose.
Blaze, which gives the tiny town two wood-oven pizza places (Geddy's is the other) within a half mile of each other, opened at the tail end of summer 2011 at the edge of the Main Street shopping district, just before the facades of quaint gift shops shift over to residences. If you get to the Chinese takeout place, you've gone too far, but it's highly unlikely you'll miss it.
Unlike most restaurants in Bar Harbor, which follow the time-worn Northeast shore decor of lived-in, mismatched kitsch or refined, warm wood and dim lighting, Blaze takes the modern approach with red bar backlighting, lacquered black surfaces, and loud, clubby beats. I didn't come to Bar Harbor for the citified steakhouse experience; hell, I don't even go to those places in New York. Luckily, the patio was blissfully empty on a breezy summer night, except for a couple ordering—and hand-feeding—a $13 burger to their yappy white dog, then taking iPhone photos to commemorate the experience. I'll take weird pet lovers over music too loud to talk over any day.
Despite touting the Maine hardwood and lump charcoal used for grilling and roasting, the crust lacked oomph when compared to Geddy's up the street: though the cornicione was puffy and chewy, the underside didn't show as much depth and charring from the wood grill as I expected, and it was hard to pick out any underlying yeasty sweetness.
As for what came on top of the crust, the Blaze Neapolitan ($16) was the weaker of our two choices. Smoked mozzarella added the woodsy hints the grill didn't or couldn't, but the roasted tomato sauce was just that: tomatoes that didn't bring any other flavors to the party, garnished with a sprinkling of dried herbs and fresh basil sadly toughened by a few minutes too long on the grill. It would have been a decent enough pizza on its own and maybe I wouldn't have been as disappointed by the pairing had I not known what else Blaze could do with toppings.
Blame the fig pizza ($15) for setting the high standards for toppings at Blaze. It made the kitchen-sink list of ingredients work in surprising harmony: sweet and chewy figs, sharp and salty prosciutto, and creamy ricotta, punctuated by the bite of coarsely chopped scallions. Even the husband, who's a straightforward Margherita man as far as pizza toppings go, managed to scarf down two of my precious slices. If a pizza like this can convince a guy with a plain palate to go all the way with figs, I wonder what the other pizzas on the menu might accomplish.
Even with a so-so pie on our table and a less-than-outstanding crust, we didn't leave disappointed after working our way through a few choices on the draft beer list. I'd move to Maine for the beer choices alone, and being able to kick back with a few pints from Orono's Black Bear Brewery, Baxter Brewing's Celsius Summer Ale, and Sebago Brewing's Elegans Saison always moves a restaurant a few notches higher in my estimation. When those freshly poured pints are only $5 each? The restaurant is well on its way to winning me over.
With a full summer season under their belt, the Blaze team is clearly still working out the kinks and finding their groove. The beer list and unconventional toppings make me eager to try more; I'm looking forward to returning next summer to give the crust a second chance, dig into another fig pie, and see if my better half might attempt his first Maine shrimp pizza. A gal can dream.
About the author: Casey Barber is the editor of Good. Food. Stories., a freelance food writer, and a transplanted Pittsburgher making the most of the Garden State. Find her on Twitter: @GoodFoodStories