I love living in Topsham. It combines pastoral beauty with small town convenience, and Portland is thirty minutes away. We have goats, our neighbors have chickens, there’s a horse pasture and farm stand a mile down the road. We’re within minutes of all the things we missed in Mexico, including gross, delicious consumerism and a theater that shows art films and serves hummus for lunch. It’s insanely great. We did, however, find ourselves stumped last Saturday night. Topsham, as it turns out, is not a scintillating center of nighttime hijinks and intrigue. Really, we just wanted to go out to dinner. Not to celebrate or analyze anything, but with somewhat loftier goals than basely filling our guts with fats and calories. We wanted to sit across a table, private in a crowd, and talk. Which is different than talking in the car, in bed, or in the kitchen, though all those are good, too.
I put on earrings and pants that zip (ha – not really!) and hopped in our Jeep, headed to a nearby Mexican restaurant – the one that people always mention when talking about food in Brunswick. We had laughed at the reviews that warned of hipsters and a bar scene…then we walked in to the most crowded, cool-dark, energized room I’d been in in many months. Smart and pretty seeming people sipping cocktails in an appropriately seductive atmosphere. I turned and left. As I am currently not drinking and increasingly round, this was not the right place for us, not on a Saturday night anyway. Oh, but I will return. And I will drink liquor and eat tacos. Someday.
We decided to park on Maine Street (seriously? apparently.) and see what was about. Not much, though it is a pretty main street. A chilly wind was blowing and it felt so autumn in a New England college town. A good night for bar crawling and stealing mums, but not for us. We accosted an older couple emerging from the first restaurant we came across – they said it was where they always go for Indian food. That was enough of an endorsement and we got a table in the window, perfect for forced hot air and people watching, inside and out of Bombay Mahal. Maybe because in the past our Saturday night plans led us into different circles of fun, but we found the restaurant pleasantly busy with a mix of families, middle-aged couples, and college kids who don’t go to parties.
I really liked the harried, handsome waiter and the somewhat more distracted waitress, as much as the tapestries billowing from the drop ceiling, the elephants and painted welcoming woman on the wall. Our order was strictly business. For whatever reason, it’s been ages since we’ve had Indian food, so our personal staples were automatic, maybe a bit boring: Garlic Naan ($4.50), Chicken Pakora ($4.50) Lamb Vindaloo ($14.95), Lamb Saag ($14.95). I thought it was all super satisfying, ideal Indian comfort food (to me). My lamb saag – ordered medium – was spicier than I am used to, with lamb that tasted like lamb and lots of creamy spinach. I didn’t know that vindaloo is from the Portuguese for “melt your earwax hot”, but this one was. I wanted to wrap myself in a cape -size version of this naan and spend all winter being buttery.
I am an eater easily swayed. In my personal universe, quality takes precedence over pretension and atmosphere often trumps authenticity. You may have gleaned by now that I like the surroundings of things, the context, the way I am made to feel in a setting. When a place strikes me as precisely perfect for what it wants to be, its appearance and reality being one, I am pleased. Bombay Mahal is full of nice Brunswick people in sweaters, professors you may know, families you would like to be, wide-eyed, curly-haired kids with ambition and opinions and optimism and a thesis due on Tuesday. It’s exactly where I want to be.