GrantLee’s Civil War-themed BBQ brings North, South, and everyone together

An inverted-colors Confederate flag, a yellow-starred American flag, and others fly outside GrantLee's, a Civil War-themed smoked-barbecue restaurant in Farmington. (PHOTO BY DAVID M. FITZPATRICK)
An inverted-colors Confederate flag, a yellow-starred American flag, and others fly outside GrantLee’s, a Civil War-themed smoked-barbecue restaurant in Farmington. (PHOTO BY DAVID M. FITZPATRICK)

I’m always on the lookout for great places to eat. When you’re on the road, you have to eat, after all. And what better excuse for riding a long way than to have a good lunch? Of course, for RiderZine, I’m interested in finding quality places to write about in line with how I choose what to write about. You won’t find me writing about McDonald’s because there isn’t much special going on there. But when I find a great restaurant, the kind I know riders will find worth their time to ride to, I’m on it.

My wife Elaine and I had visited the Wire Bridge in New Portland and decided to head in the general direction of Farmington to find lunch. I recall seeing a sign on Route 201 for GrantLee’s on Route 27, but didn’t give it much thought until, a short while later, I saw it a few miles short of Route 2. On a whim, I pulled in. This was a nice-looking log structure; to one side was a deck with outside seating.

I admit that I have a sudden pause when I realized what the name GrantLee’s meant. The full name of the restaurant is GrantLee’s 20th Maine Tavern & Grill, and displayed on the sign was a drawing depicting General Grant and General Lee having a beer together. And on the sign were the United States and Confederate flags. Out front flew several flags: a U.S. flag with yellow stars, one with which I am unfamiliar (and could not find in researching); the 20th Maine Voluntary Infantry Regiment flag; and the Confederate flag.

I never want to get political, but I’m not a big fan of places that fly the Confederate flag. I get the Southern pride thing; I just see a symbol of racism. So I was skeptical until two things occurred to me. The first was that what looked like the Confederate flag flying out front was actually a reversed Confederate flag—the blue and red colors are swapped. The second was that alongside the depiction of Grant and Lee having that beer was the slogan “The Place Where People Come Together.” That said it all to me. I decided it was worth a chance.

It didn’t hurt that I realized that this place served barbecue—the smoker is right out front in the parking lot. It had my attention. We went inside and immediately saw Civil War memorabilia and prints everywhere. There was Joshua Chamberlain in a signed and numbered print. There was a depiction of the 20th Maine facing the 15th Alabama. There were books, guns, a saber, even a bugle. Clearly, the owner is a Civil War buff. Being good friends with such a person, I suspected that if the food here were half as good as the guy’s commitment to Civil War history, it would be a good meal.

Oh, and was it. The extensive menu included a full range of smoked barbecue, with brisket, chicken, pulled pork, and ribs. I could have eaten one of everything, but I settled for a pulled-pork sandwich with onion rings and cole slaw, and my wife Elaine did the chili with cornbread and a side order of Louisiana jalapeño poppers with sweet chili sauce. The place does great smoked barbecue, with a selection of various sauces on the table. I tried several on my sandwich to get the feel, and they were all good. Elaine, who is a notoriously picky eater, gave a thumbs-up to the chili—and I tried a few spoons of it. Excellent. Each meal was garnished with a watermelon slice, and mine also came with a pickle.

GrantLees 20th Maine Tavern & Grill on Route 27 in Farmington. (PHOTO BY DAVID M. FITZPATRICK)

The menu was a tribute to both North and South, with things like 1st Tennessee Chicken Tenders, Texas Nachos (topped with Texas Chili), and Philadelphia Cheese Sticks. There’s the Gettysburger, the Vicksburger, the Texas Burger, and the obvious house special, the gigantic and loaded GrantLee’s Civil War burger (which I’m planning on for my next visit).

The food was fantastic, and I already look forward to returning; I highly recommend GrantLee’s to anyone riding near Farmington. Check that—I highly recommend that you plan a ride there. Don’t wait until you happen to be in the area. The food is worth it, and no matter where you start from, a ride to Farmington is bound to be a good one.

But, to be honest, if the food were only OK, I’d still recommend it because this is a neat place. I’m not a die-hard Civil War buff, but I ran around the restaurant checking out all the stuff on the walls. There was even a portrait of Abraham Lincoln, with a framed copy of his Gettysburg Address, outside the men’s room. Oh, but there’s more. Inside the men’s room there are portraits of George Edward Pickett and Joseph E. Johnston, two Confederate generals. How’s that for having people staring at you while you’re using the bathroom?

Whether you’re a Civil War buff or not, you can probably appreciate the sacrifices both sides made in a war that was, at the time, pivotal to the future of our nation. It’s certainly best that we never forget those sacrifices, and work to make sure that we don’t ever go down that road again. And in a place like GrantLee’s, you can be reminded of that, learn some Civil War trivia, see some pictures and artifacts, and tip your hat to the dedication of the owner.

And it certainly doesn’t hurt that you’ll love the food here.

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