SEARSPORT — Kirk Linder and Charlie Zorich, owners of The Hichborn restaurant in Stockton Springs, have wanted to create a more casual place with a fun, friendly vibe for people to meet for drinks and get a quick, delicious bite. Their shared vision is reflected in the newly opened pub Hey Sailor! on East Main Street.
“We built the bar we wanted to hang out in on our days off,” said Linder, who hails originally from Spencerport, N.Y. “It’s an art gallery too. Right now, we do quarterly shows.”
Fredrick Kuhn of Stockton Springs is the current artist and is described as “a contemporary artist whose use of color and design creates art that delights, that is pleasing, joyful, unexpected.”
The pub’s cocktail menu is inspired by ports around the world. The gastropub’s tagline is #tacosartbooze.
“It’s true craft cocktail work,” said Zorich, who comes from Astoria, Ore. “We do all our own infusions in-house. Anyone behind the bar has a strong background in mixology.”
Saddle up to the bar and order a Thai Me Up, a rum-based drink, or Thai iced tea, coconut cream and Li Hing Mui.
First introduced by the Chinese, Li Hing Mui is a sweet seasoning powder, made with ground dried plums, sugar, licorice root and salt. “It’s delicious sprinkled on fruit of all kinds and some desserts,” Zorich said. “It works well with the smoky sweetness of the Thai tea.”
Or try Persephone’s Arrival, a frothy, brilliant green concoction with local gin, milk green tea, yuzu sake, honey and egg white.
There are bar snacks, tacos, salads and desserts.
Hey Sailor! has a decided Latin flair but also serves Southern dishes such as gumbo — tostones from way South — as well as Middle Eastern including laarb.
Tacos contain veggies, soy curl, carnitas, chicken tinga and barbacoa with choice of salsa.
“We really love West-Coast style taqueria food,” Zorich said. “I wanted to be able to walk five minutes and get good tacos.”
At Hey Sailor!, some weeks have themes. For instance, Seaweed Week features dishes and sauces made with dulse. Daily specials include cod cakes.
Zorich is a fourth-generation chef. He grew up at the mouth of the Columbia River, splitting time with family between Long Beach, Washington and Astoria in Oregon.
“Cooking is something I’ve always done,” he said, recalling a childhood memory of stuffing mushrooms for his grandmother at age 10.
Zorich’s father had five brothers. He and his 13 cousins took turns to cook helping their grandmother cater events. It might be safe to say he was born with a spatula in his hand.
“Anytime there was a chance to get together and cook and eat, we did,” he recalled.
The Zorich family has an extensive culinary history. Back in the 1920s and ’30s, the chef’s great-grandmother catered for all the timber barons in Portland, Ore. His father attended culinary school and owned a hotel.
Zorich’s paternal grandfather and his brothers immigrated from Croatia to the United States in the 1920s to salmon fish. He moved first to Ketchikan, Alaska, and then moved the family to Astoria in 1950.
Zorich himself attended the Western Culinary Institute in Portland, Ore. The institution is now Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts.
Linder has a background in art, design and construction and handles the business end of things as well as the aesthetics.
“That’s how we make a good team,” Zorich said. “We had confidence going into these buildings and taking care of them.”
“I love food,” said Linder, who does not possess his partner’s culinary roots. To that end, when the couple visit Linder’s mom, she usually has a list of dishes she wants Zorich to make for her.
Creating Hey Sailor!, which is located at 25 East Main St., took two years. The pair recently purchased the vacant building next door, which had been a Grasshopper Shop. Linder said the plan is to expand the pub into the Grasshopper building for more seating.
More seating is definitely needed.
The pub opens at 3 p.m. Not long after the bar is full and the tables are nearly so.
“Maine feels like the Pacific Northwest in the ’90s,” said Zorich, a native of a fishing village on the Oregon coast. “A lot of creative people doing creative things. I think there’s lots of opportunity here.”
The Hichborn, housed in Stockton Springs’ N.G. Hichborn house, was their first enterprise. Zorich says they chose the eastern Waldo County town because “it’s close to everything but not in the middle of anything.”
Also, Waldo County’s booming farm scene was a big draw.
“The quantity and quality of the small farms — that’s what got us into the region,” said Linder. “The food being grown and foraged in Waldo County is some of the best in the world.”
Zorich added, “There are so many micro-climates.”
The couple have been building relationships with the farms for the past five years.
“They’re asking us what we’d like them to grow,” said Linder. “I love going out to the farms.”
Bahner Farm is a source for “amazing asparagus and produce of all kinds,” the couple said. Second Frost Farm provides “fantastic cilantro, pea shoots, winter and summer greens.”
They source peppers, potatoes, tomatoes and more greens from Stubborn Ox. Meanwhile, the folks at Moorit Hill are excellent mushroom farmers, the chef said. Wee Bit Farm provides pork, beef and lamb.
Meanwhile, Calyx Farm is a source of locally grown ginger in the fall, tomatoes, peppers, radishes and greens.
Farm-raised sea scallops come from Vertical Bay.
Hey Sailor! is located at 25 East Main St. in Searsport. Hours are 3 to 9 p.m. Thursday through Sunday No reservations are taken. Takeout is available.