KITTERY, Maine — The original downtown area, a far cry from the strip of outlets you might associate with this town, is called Kittery Foreside. With its art galleries, quaint shops, and thriving food scene, which attracts young, inventive chefs, it’s becoming the Brooklyn, N.Y., of Maine.
One of the newest additions is Anju Noodle Bar, a bright, airy little space serving rich bowls of shoyu ramen, fluffy pork buns, and Korean-style rice bowls, along with its own kimchi. In fact, kimchi is how this whole enterprise got started.
Owners Julian Armstrong and Gary Kim met while working at Anneke Jans, one of the first fine dining spots in Kittery. A friendship developed, the two discovered a shared love of making kimchi, and they formed Sonmat Foods (sonmat means “handmade” in Korean). To launch Sonmat, the pair started selling jars of the wonderfully funky, fermented Korean pickle at local farmers’ markets and developed a devout following. After working at a commissary kitchen for a year and half, they decided to embark on the journey of building a brick and mortar space to craft their expanding food brand of kimchi and hot sauce. Along the way, Armstrong and Kim expanded their vision to include a restaurant.
At Anju Noodle Bar, Armstrong, who spent time at Craigie on Main and Ten Tables in Cambridge, focuses on front-of-house operations. Kim came from a popular Kittery eatery, The Black Birch Kitchen & Drinks, which acted as an early incubator for Sonmat Foods while Kim and Armstrong were perfecting their recipes, now available in some Boston-area markets.
The tightly edited Noodle Bar menu starts with snacks and plates, like green papaya and shrimp salad, and deep-fried tofu dumplings, made with Heiwa Soy Beanery tofu, an organic Maine company. The fluffy pastries for steamed pork buns are made in-house, a time-consuming task, says Armstrong. “They rise three times, and proof like crazy,” he says. The sweet little pillows make a deliciously light but toothsome envelope for the shredded pork, pickled onion, cucumber, hoisin, and spicy mayo filling.
Main dishes are billed as bowls, and include a couple of ramen options, one vegetarian and one made with a chicken and pork broth. Both are teeming with springy noodles and come with toppings such as oyster mushrooms or braised pork and soy-marinated eggs. Try the cold noodle bowl with Napa cabbage and roast duck. In a nod to Kim’s Korean heritage, there’s a version of bibimbap, a rice bowl with marinated kalbi ribs and a fried egg. There is also a section of banchan sides, the assorted accompaniments to Korean meals, bean sprout salad, cucumber kimchi, and pickled Heiwa tofu among them. Drizzle everything with Somat’s Anju hot sauce, a super flavorful version of sriracha packed with garlic and anchovies.
At the Noodle Bar (and every other Kittery establishment, it seems) foods come from the community. MEat, which stands for “Maine meat,” the new butcher next door, supplies bones for the ramen broth; its animals were raised on local family farms.
Armstrong’s stepfather, Kevin Beane, designed and built out the space with Paul Burke of the Eliot, Maine-based Classic Building & Design Co.
With the arrival of Anju, Kittery can say goodbye to its secret status as a food town. It’s only a matter of time before Brooklyn hipsters migrate north. Grab a seat while you can.
ANJU NOODLE BAR 7 Wallingford Square, Kittery, Maine, 207-703-4298, www.anjunoodlebar.com
SONMAT FOODS available at Formaggio Kitchen, 244 Huron Ave., Cambridge, 617-354-4750, and Dave’s Fresh Pasta, 81 Holland St., Somerville, 617-623-0867.
Catherine Smart can be reached at email@example.com.