SANFORD — As an Army Ranger and Apache helicopter pilot, Brian Mucci completed multiple tours in Iraq and earned many honors, including an Air Medal with Valor. He’s been shot point blank in the face, poisoned, electrocuted, and somehow managed to survive a fall from three-story tower.
At the end of his military career, Mucci decided to do something totally different. He bought a historical building in Springvale — a small village in York County, Maine, close to where he grew up — and spent two years renovating it. Mucci and his wife moved into the second floor, and on the ground level they opened Bradford Block Bistro.
“My adventure days are over,” said Mucci, with a laugh. But the hard work isn’t.
Now, Mucci, 41, spends his days slicing and dicing fruits and vegetables, clearing tables, putting pizzas into a 900-degree wood-fired brick oven, and greeting customers with a big smile. At the end of the workday, Mucci and his wife, Amanda, retreat upstairs to be with their four young children, ages 5, 3, 18 months, and 5 months.
Not many people have heard of Springvale, but Mucci knows it well. The quaint community of 3,200 people is part of the City of Sanford. (Mucci grew up in Shapleigh, the next town over, and used to live in Sanford.) Located 16 miles west of Kennebunk, it’s a little more than a half-hour drive from the coastal resort towns of Kennebunkport (36 minutes), Ogunquit (37 minutes), and Old Orchard Beach (36 minutes). Springvale doesn’t get as much tourist traffic as its counterparts on the coast, but Mucci hopes to change that.
Mucci wants to draw tourists inland and make Bradford Block Bistro a culinary destination. So far, the restaurant has been receiving glowing reviews from both residents and out-of-towners.
Bradford Block itself is a local landmark. Completed in 1890, the three-story building is one of the biggest and oldest buildings in Springvale. The upper floors originally served as headquarters for fraternal orders and there were retail shops below. It’s the building where Mucci took driver’s education classes as a teenager. After purchasing the property, Mucci completely gutted the inside. It took two years of demolition (and many 18-hour work days) to remove layer upon layer of old walls, plaster, and wiring to get down to the original brick walls. A total of 30 tons of material was taken out and hauled away. Mucci built his bar using wood salvaged from an old bowling alley, in the process learning that bowling lanes are built to be strong: He went through three saw blades cutting through the 600-pound bar top.
All of Mucci’s sweat equity has paid off. The restaurant is bright and welcoming. When you first walk in, you notice a large American flag hanging on the wall in a frame. Mucci’s wife gave him that flag and he carried it with him on all his missions.
Behind the bar is a window to the kitchenwith a view of the wood-fired brick oven. Above the bar is a sign that says: “We create our tomorrows by what we dream today.” The adjoining dining room is decorated with framed black-and-white images from the local historical society, including photographs of the Bradford Block building in 1890 and Springvale’s baseball team in 1896.
Mucci’s military career took him to such places as Haiti, Panama, and South Korea, and gave him the opportunity to sample foods all over the world. That’s reflected on the menu, which includes seafood, pasta, specialty pizzas, and specials that can range from Korean barbecue to Spanish paella.
In honor of Oktoberfest, he has brought in Hefeweizen beer and featured bratwurst, schnitzel, and sauerkraut on the menu.
Everything — from the marinara sauce to the pineapple mango salsa — is made in-house. “It’s all fresh,” Mucci said.
It takes four days to make the restaurant’s signature Three Cheese French Onion Soup, and anywhere from three to five hours to cook Bradford Block’s cheesecake. And he doesn’t skimp on ingredients; shaved prime rib goes on the Philly Cheese Steak pizza, and a whole cut of prime rib goes into the chili.
“We like to experiment,” Mucci said (he’s tweaked his meatball recipe 17 times). “We’re always trying different stuff.”
‘It’s all fresh. . . . We like to experiment. We’re always trying different stuff.’
On a recent afternoon, Mucci emerged from the kitchen with a plate in his hands, presenting the bistro’s latest experiment — Vanilla Vodka Shrimp Scampi — to guests sitting at the bar. It was mix of broccoli, shrimp, scallops, and linguini — and not just any vanilla flavored vodka, but Grey Goose and rare bottle of pure vanilla from Costa Rica.
Mucci asked everyone to try it. It was great. Then he took a bite.
“It’s missing something,” he said.
During our visit, we tried the spaghetti and handmade meatballs ($11) topped with marinara sauce and garlic bread. My partner loved it. My father and I ate grilled teriyaki salmon ($20) — a sizable portion of Atlantic salmon bathed in teriyaki glaze, toasted coconut, and sesame seeds, accompanied by stir-fried vegetables and honey soy rice. It was tender and sweet — and delicious.
Mucci has big plans for Bradford Block. He brought us into a sun-filled room, half of it covered with windows, like a greenhouse. He wants to build a 25- to 30-foot bar in the other side, and put in couches and skylights. He envisions a relaxed, classy lounge that serves fancy cocktails and local beer. He hopes to have it ready next year.
“Maine has a lot of good local breweries,” Mucci said. “You’ll have to come back.”
BRADFORD BLOCK BISTRO 459 Main St., Springvale, Maine. 207-850-1155, www.bradfordblockbistro.com. Open Wed-Sat 11 a.m.-9 p.m., Sun 8 a.m.-
9 p.m.Emily Sweeney can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @emilysweeney.