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¡Tio Billy’s Churrasco!
(Uncle Billy’s Portuguese Bar-B-Que)

Uncle Billy’s Village Bar-B-Que and Churrasco

Uncle Billy’s Village Bar-B-Que and Churrasco
Main St., Yarmouth, (207) 846-3770.
Open from 5 p.m. to close on Wed. though Sun.
Full bar.
Plastic accepted.
Take out available.

A couple of months ago, I sounded a slightly premature alarm on the impending move of Uncle Billy’s Bar-B-Que back to our fair city. Well, in this time of great real estate uncertainty, with bubbles floating prices over the flat water of still-low interest rates, things can get a little dicey when it comes to moving a smokehouse/traveling circus into a major metropolitan area such as we have here. Lugging around and installing thousands of pieces of napkin art, charred black grills, a jukebox that still plays Clarence Carter’s "Strokin,’" and a framed piece of velvet emblazoned with the King might not be easy, but finding a suitable location at which the Prodigal Son of Northeast BBQ can settle might be an even bigger pig to smoke.

In short, Jonny St. Laurent is still working on it.

In the mean time, he has made a few salient changes to his still-a-destination restaurant and lounge way up on Main Street in Yarmouth. Dinner there last Sunday night was an experience, as always, but one that resonated echoes of the chef’s more worldly callings. The sign by the door still reads "Uncle Billy’s Village Bar-B-Que," but as you step through the door you can sense a waft of refinement — perhaps more suitable to Yarmouth’s standards, perhaps just the scent of some meat on the grill carried over to us by the late Spring breeze blowing in from the back deck.

Gone is the napkin art and the pervasive pig-themed souvenirs (some still remain, just tastefully placed), gone are the peaches stuck to the ceiling, gone is the velvet King — although I would notice the booth at which we were seated referred to as "Elvis" by our server.

But not all of the trinkets that made this restaurant so unmistakable have left the building. The mounted fish is still on the wall and the working television still buzzes from the corner of the now-serving-alcohol bar, although I kind of liked it better when the screen constantly rotated like a slot machine window on one crappy channel. The place has been cleaned up, not sterilized.

The menu is streamlined and still contains all the classics of the old joint (or should I say joints, as Uncle Billy’s has made the rounds of Southern Maine, as many of you well know). On the cover, however, Jonny has chosen to add the Portuguese word "Churrasco" (used liberally across Spain and Latin America, as well) to the rest of the restaurant’s name, a nod to his love of its meaning: grilled meat. Mediterranean items are sprinkled here and there, such as fried clam or salt cod fritters (Baccala), Rattatouille Niçoise, and a wider selection of grilled fishes. Simple green salads add a nice break between meats.

The grilled steak comes simply with fennel fronds and wonderful anchovy butter that was much enjoyed by my dining partners; so much so that when we heard another patron hemming and hawing over whether to get it or not, we took the liberty of mumbling "Yes!" under our breaths until the subliminal message was received. Grilled house-made bread adorns the active tables, which now contain no business cards but are garnished with flickering candles.

The barbeque is, as always, excellent.

So I know what some of you are saying: "Fancy? Forget it!" And I know what you’re talking about. Sitting with Jonny last Sunday night, I kept pressing him about the Portland return as he helped himself to a glass of Vino Verde, a simple, green, sparkling Portuguese wine which goes down a little too easy. So what’s the deal? This is nice and everything, but Portland, man, PORTLAND!

"I know," he drawled through his ubiquitous grin and stubble, "I had the deal made, but it fell though. But there’s something in the works . . ." And we proceeded to discuss his newest plan as plates of smoked chicken with spicy Piri Piri sauce, chopped smokey pork shoulder, swordfish, steak, another bottle of Vino Verde, and eventually an ice-cream sundae and flan made their way around the table. Not wanting to cry the proverbial wolf again, I’ll keep my mouth shut as to the whats, wheres, and whens, but I will assure you that some of the brightest minds sitting across from me that evening are working on it. Fine, the only mind, and that’s Jonny’s — but, dammit, he’s committed to the program, so you best believe that along with high-rise condos and a Whole Foods, Uncle Billy’s will be planting itself back within city limits before you can say "Westin."

He knows the clientele in Portland, and knowing his customers is paramount to Jonny St. Laurent, because Uncle Billy’s is, if nothing else, a family affair. Look around the restaurant: His son Seth (don’t call him "Seth Bull Moose" if you don’t want some suspicious charges on your bill) handles orders and booze; I’ve seen son Julian scrubbing pots there on more than a few occasions, eliciting sighs from some of my female dining companions; St. Laurent gets his wine through his brother; and wife Schyla floats around the restaurant keeping the peace and gently reminding Jonny to get back in the kitchen after he’s made himself comfortable at your booth. And, of course, the place is named after the great Uncle Billy.

We’re waiting, and for now, we’ll keep waiting. In the meantime, Churrasco awaits in Yarmouth, but don’t feel like you need to wear a tie.

Andy King can be reached at dinnerwithandy@yahoo.com

Issue Date: June 10 - 16, 2005
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