Bissell Brothers Three Rivers in Milo recently opened its own in-house kitchen, serving up classics like burgers and barbecue alongside chef Joe Robbins' Native American cuisine menu items, like succotash and bison tacos. Credit: Courtesy of Bissell Brothers

Bissell Brothers Three Rivers in Milo this spring expanded to offer its own kitchen, serving up a house-made menu in lieu of the succession of food trucks and pop-up vendors that have provided eats at the popular brewery and tap room since it opened in 2017.

But while you can enjoy classic pairings like burgers, barbecue and fried chicken sandwiches while you’re downing one of Bissell’s nationally renowned IPAs and Belgian-inspired brews, chef Joe Robbins has made it his mission to bring some new flavors to the table.

Robbins, a proud member of the Penobscot Nation, is also offering a selection of Indigenous cuisine menu items at Bissell — from bison tacos served on a crispy frybread shell, to chili made with beans, corn and tomatoes.

“Food is the lifeblood of the tribe, and all these ingredients, like corn, beans, tomatoes, squash, have sustained us for millennia. There’s just not enough awareness of it among non-Native people,” Robbins said. “Chili is at heart a Native food. We were making stews out of beans, corn and tomatoes way before any Spaniards came around.”

Though he’s only started with three menu items — the third is succotash, made with the “three sisters,” the sacred triumvirate of beans, squash and corn that Native people knew grew perfectly together — Robbins is eager to keep trying new things.

Bissell Brothers Three Rivers in Milo recently opened its own in-house kitchen, serving up classics like burgers and barbecue alongside chef Joe Robbins’ Native American cuisine menu items, like succotash and bison tacos. Credit: Courtesy of Bissell Brothers

Robbins, 32, started cooking professionally about 10 years ago, at the now-closed Wrong Turn Pub in Kenduskeag, He later managed a food truck in Bangor, and was a longtime cook at Brewster’s Fine Food and Drink in Brewer. Now he’s developed a menu for Bissell Brothers that combines high-end comfort food with the Native food he loves.

Robbins said he’s inspired by the current wave of Indigenous chefs and restaurants out west, like Cafe Gozhoo, located on the Fort Apache Indian Reservation in Arizona, and Owamni, the Indigenous restaurant in Minneapolis that recently won Best New Restaurant at the 2022 James Beard Awards. Places like that, Robbins said, are helping to bring Native food to dinner tables, right alongside other long-established world cuisines.

“Every other type of restaurant you see here, whether it’s Japanese or Italian, they can be successful or not, but it doesn’t matter, because Italy and Japan are still there,” Robbins said. “Native food, though, we’re here in our home country. This is where it has to happen. This is our tradition.”

When the outdoor dining and live music season at Bissell Brothers Three Rivers begins to slow down later this year, Robbins said he hopes to offer some pop-up dinners featuring Native cuisine, paired with Bissell beers and featuring heritage ingredients like maple syrup, beans, blueberries, wild game and seafood.

“We’re just getting started,” he said. “Just like we’re trying to preserve our Wabanaki language, we also need to preserve our food.”

Bissell Brothers Three Rivers is located at 157 Elm St. in Milo. It’s open Thursdays through Sundays.

Avatar photo

Emily Burnham

Emily Burnham is a Maine native and proud Bangorian, covering business, the arts, restaurants and the culture and history of the Bangor region.