ELLSWORTH — Serving up everything from a gourmet-style tuna melt to a plant-based “chicken” curry and the prettiest plated piece of cod you may ever see, chef Daron Goldstein and his crew at Provender Kitchen + Bar have been exciting palates at his Main Street location since 2017.
Goldstein’s creativity, presentation, flavoring combinations and the tasty results found recognition from HospitalityMaine, the statewide restaurateurs and innkeepers association, when he was awarded top honors as Chef of the Year at the Samoset Hotel in Rockport Nov. 15.
“It was really nice to be recognized by other hospitality professionals and to know what we do resonates with others,” Goldstein said. “It was very special. I was happy not only for myself but for everybody involved. I really share this with them.”
Goldstein’s kitchen crew includes six cooks plus about four staff who handle the front of the house, in addition to himself and wife Joy Kempf. She received first thanks in his acceptance speech, with Goldstein noting, “Without you, none of this would be possible.”
And keep in mind that those menu items listed above are just for the lunch crowd. Dinner brings a slew of choices, from standard-gourmet fare such as chicken parmigiana and a New York strip steak to Wester Ross salmon from the Scottish Highlands in a lemon-sage emulsion and — one of Goldstein’s favorites — a short rib ragout with olive and ricotta dumplings.
Provender is also bringing in the crowds, despite the months of pandemic restrictions and precautions that found the restaurant shifting its business model more than once. On the last Thursday oyster special, over 800 oysters were shucked and served, Goldstein said. And while he keeps a table or two free for walk-ins, the restaurant is still turning people away at 5 p.m. because there’s just no seating.
“We’re getting to the point where the nights that we’re open, we’re selling out,” Goldstein said. “It’s kind of the problem you have when you become a really good restaurant. And I see it as the restaurant growing as well.”
Goldstein wears more hats than just a chef’s toque. He and Nick Sarro are the brains behind the website Chefs of Maine, and Goldstein serves on the city’s Recreation Committee and is an Ellsworth Area Chamber of Commerce board member.
Provender is also one of the few restaurants that isn’t short-staffed. Goldstein said Provender’s culture, which includes recognition of a work-life balance and what comprises a living wage, are the reasons.
“Obviously the labor shortage is real,” he said. “But we have a core crew that’s been with us since day one.”
His staff aren’t the only ones who approve of how Provender operates. U.S. Sen. Susan Collins joined in the congratulations, writing, “Your hard work and dedication to your craft have not gone unnoticed. Your dishes are a testament to your creativity, as is your innovative approach to the dining experience … Congratulations and best wishes for your continued success.”
If that success means a crowded restaurant with a great vibe, then Goldstein has hit one of his marks, he said. “That’s what I love to see here, people having a really great time.”
Provender opens at 11:30 a.m. Wednesday-Saturday for lunch and dinner, with reservations accepted online at eatprovender.com.