A decade after Momma Baldacci’s, the Bangor restaurant run by four generations of the Baldacci family, closed, the iconic Italian eatery has been resurrected as a food truck.
Paul Baldacci Jr., son of the late Paul Baldacci Sr., last week opened Momma Baldacci’s Italian Street Food, a food truck serving up dishes such as chicken parmesan, meatballs and family marinara sauce — all with a personal twist from Baldacci Jr., a classically trained chef.
“Restaurants are a family tradition,” he said. “This just has my own kind of spin on it.”
The Baldacci family’s first restaurant was the Baltimore, which opened in 1933 at 15 Union St. and was one of the first places to serve pizza in the Bangor area. In 1975 they opened Momma Baldacci’s at 12 Alden St., just off Broadway. It became a favorite spot not just for families, but also for photo ops for politicians passing through town, such as Hillary Clinton, John Kerry and Ted Kennedy. Though the restaurant business was the Baldacci family’s bread and butter — or spaghetti and meatballs, in their case — they are most famous for their politicians, particularly former Maine Gov. John Baldacci.
After the sudden 2006 death of his father, longtime Momma Baldacci’s owner and general manager Paul Baldacci Sr., Paul Baldacci Jr. found himself thrust into an unusual position for a 21-year-old: general manager of a large, well-known restaurant. Baldacci Jr. stuck it out for two-and-a-half years, but Momma Baldacci’s Restaurant closed for good in late 2008.
“I definitely wasn’t ready for it, but I learned so much, and in ways I only really appreciate now,” Baldacci Jr., now 34, said. “But I still loved being in kitchens.”
Baldacci Jr. went to work at Woodman’s Bar & Grill, the Orono restaurant owned by Orono Brewing Company owners Mark Horton and Abe and Heather Furth, in a kitchen position previously held by his uncle, fellow chef Gerry Baldacci. A few years later, Baldacci Jr. moved to Boston to attend Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts. In 2012 he moved back to Maine, where he worked at Portland restaurants including Duckfat, Salvage BBQ and Back Bay Grill.
In 2017, Baldacci Jr. took a job working for Portland-based Noble Barbecue, a catering company that gave him near-complete creative freedom, as well as daily changes of scenery. So when his friend Clay Norris, co-owner of Portland restaurant Baharat and former owner of food truck CN Schwarma, put his bright blue food truck up for sale, he knew what to do.
“The idea of being mobile, of having that kind of freedom, and of being able to be in both Bangor and Portland was just perfect for me,” he said. “When you see an opportunity like that, you’ve got to take it … and the idea of bringing Momma Baldacci’s back, but putting my own spin on it, is just like a lifelong dream. It feels really right.”
Momma Baldacci’s Italian Street Food will serve up a mix of the Italian-American classics that were served at his family’s longtime restaurant and the creative, ingredient-driven cooking style that is the hallmark of many modern kitchens. There’s a meatball sub, but it’s served on brown butter garlic bread and topped with asiago, parmesan and fresh basil. There’s a chicken parmesan sandwich, but it’s made with buttermilk-brined fried chicken, fresh mozzarella, capicola ham, roasted garlic aioli and classic Baldacci marinara. And there are homemade cannolis, in a variety of flavors.
In a nod to longtime Momma Baldacci’s customer Art Andrews, who ordered a steak nearly every time he and his wife, Lois, came to eat, Baldacci Jr. has Art’s Favorite Western sandwich on the menu. It’s made with the smoked brisket recipe Baldacci Jr. perfected after years of working at barbecue restaurants, topped with caramelized onions, pimento cheese and homemade barbecue sauce.
“It’s not a steak like Art wanted, but it is a tribute to him and to all our old regulars,” Baldacci Jr said. “I was a little scared that purists would want it to be just spaghetti and meatballs, but the initial response was fantastic.”
The maiden voyage of the Momma Baldacci’s truck was held this past weekend at the new Orono Brewing Company headquarters on Margin Street in Orono.
“It was really nice to spend a wintry Sunday night at this cozy place, serving up comfort food,” Baldacci Jr said. “It was a really nice vibe.”
Baldacci Jr. expects to offer a handful of wintertime food truck events in both the Bangor and Portland areas beginning in January, including another event at Orono Brewing Company Margin Street, and at Mast Landing Brewing Company in Westbrook. Once spring hits he plans to offer regular service at least one day a week in Portland and Bangor, continuing through the summer and fall.
Baldacci Jr. said the food truck, branded with his family’s name, still feels like a dream to him.
“This does not feel like a job. People came up to me that were really close with my dad, and it warms my heart so much to be able to represent him and my family,” he said.