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The Great Lost Bear
540 Forest Ave.

Four Plates  
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The Great Lost Bear Reviewed: Winter, 2000

If you've lived in Portland for any length of time, chances are you've crossed paths with The Great Lost Bear.A perennial favorite of locals and visitors alike, The Great Lost Bear (T.G.L.B.) offers something for nearly everyone. I've visited T.G.L.B. more than once myself, and have put hardly a dent in the vast bill of fare, (though I've made some progress on the extensive beer list). If you find your way to T.G.L.B., bring your reading glasses and leave your indecision behind. You'll need your specs to navigate the book-like menu, and if you can't make decisions, you'd better have a coin to flip. With twenty-four appetizers, plus chili and soup, you'll do well just to get yourself started. If you can choose between Some Like it Raw (fresh vegetables with curry dip); Teriyaki Grilled Mushrooms (fresh marinated mushrooms char-broiled and served with parmesan pepper dip); or Irish Nachos (with cheese; veggie, chili and cheese; chili cheese; or bacon and cheese), you'll be way ahead of me. Even if I can narrow it down to nachos, I can't choose between regular or super nachos; regular or veggie chili; chicken nachos; super chicken nachos; or Spiro T. Nachos (super nachos with chicken and feta cheese).

Stubborn enough to make it through the appetizers, I lose myself again in the menu's next four pages. However, my stomach has a mind of its own when it's hungry, and it knows that The Great Lost Bear is an ideal place to gorge after a long winter's nap. I've never left T.G.L.B. anything other than stuffed.

Not So Fat City is a good stop for lighter dishes like haddock, turkey, and skinless grilled chicken breast sandwiches (from 150-325 calories), all served with a mini salad and steamed broccoli.

There's an entire section of menu devoted to eight variations of wings, and another portion contains nine salad choices, (with delicious homemade dressings like, creamy black pepper parmesan, lemon curry, yogurt dill, and fat free honey mustard).

"Carnivores Beware!" heads a substantial vegetarian selection. The aforementioned veggie chili and assorted veggie nachos; cheese fries; teriyaki grilled mushrooms; veggie melt sandwich; spanakopita (Greek spinach pastry); veggie fajita; veggie calzone; Portobello mushroom sandwich; and Not A Cheesesteak (onions, mushrooms, green peppers and tomatoes, grilled and served with cheese sauce on a grilled roll). Plus, (take a breath), a whole variety of really flavorful gardenburgers. Nineteen kinds of hamburgers; seven kinds of cheesesteaks; calzones; a tuna melt; the Grizzly Bearito; an open-faced haddock sandwich; Monte Cristo; a crab roll; a grilled tuna steak sandwich, and fourteen varieties of chicken sandwiches lead you, finally, to the penultimate section of the menu: baked fajitas, of which there are three to choose.

Specialities Du Bear include: barbecued baby back ribs; baked stuffed haddock; sirloin steak; teriyaki steak; sirloin tips; pesto chicken; (I've Got the) Chicken Cordon Blues; The Attack of the Giant Lasagne; and Manicotti.

If you're not hungry when you get to T.G.L.B., you will be by the time you make it through the menu. (Cliffs Notes, anyone?!).

Of positive consequence to the labor of indecision, you have ample occasion to sample a brew or two from The Great Lost Bear's catalogue of fifty-plus drought beers, more than half of which are brewed right here in Maine. And, to make that choice a bit easier, the beers are arranged by styles, with a fine description of each beer style on the back of the list. If the plentiful food isn't enough to lull you into hibernation, the ever-flowing beer should be. Mondays and Tuesdays are "short" beer nights, when 23 oz draughts are at pint prices. You can try several of the beers, and still drive home, if you order a set of taster glasses, 5 ounce glasses at 1 for $1.00, 2 for $2.00, 3 for $3.00, 4 for $4.00, and 5 for $5.00. Thursday Showcase features a different brewery's selections for $1.99 a pint.

On this most recent visit to The Great Lost Bear, my friends and I started with an order of veggie super nachos, which were fantastic, and were complemented well by my Bray's Pleasant Mountain Porter. By the looks of it, the nachos were also good. with one friend's Shirley Temple (no, she's 26), and another's tongue-twisting Laspberry Rime Lickey (NOT a virgin drink). No friends when there's nachos, and the three of us elbowed into the plate, heaped several stories high with chips, cheese, and fixin's, doing our darndest to get more than our fair share.

Only slightly more civilized once the nachos disappeared, we muckled onto our dinner orders: an open-faced haddock sandwich; a garden burger with guacamole; and an Onion Gratinee Burger. Full-mouthed mumbles of praise spoke volumes around the table-our coin tosses had fallen fortuitously. Alas, this night, we had no space for any of the T.G.L.B.'s gooey desserts. The combination of nachos, burger, and fries filled my belly, leaving no room for even a second porter (which is what I would have had for dessert anyway).

wheelchair accessible
vegetarian selections
vegan selections
Most credit cards accepted
The atmosphere at T.G.L.B is that of a singular neighborhood restaurant-pub. Not one of those facsimile, erected-in-a-week chain "pubs," around the bar it's dark and shadowy, as a bar should be. The dining rooms, better lit, aren't institutionally bright, and the walls provide what entertainment your dinner companions cannot. Decorated with a mishmash of memorabilia, the eclectic backdrop compliments the busy menu. This is a welcome place for relaxation, hearty food, and great batches of micro-brewed beer. Though parking can be a problem, a good location on busy Forest Ave makes taxi service convenient (and highly recommended). Our check, (for three people, and including drinks), totalled $43.

If you're looking for a good way to shake off the chill, loosen your belt, grab a cab, and go get warm and fuzzy at The Great Lost Bear.

The Great Lost Bear is open from 11:30 A.M. - 11:30 P.M. Monday-Saturday & noon - 11:30 Sunday  back to the top

      Matt O'Donnell is a poet and freelance writer who lives in Portland.

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