The Bates Mill is an integral part of Lewiston’s history. Built in 1850, it was Maine’s largest employer at one point, using the Androscoggin River for power to manufacture textiles. Thousands of immigrants came from Canada and Europe to work at the mill, helping to make the city the melting pot that it is today. Times changed, and the mills shut down production, after more than a century. In 1992, the city of Lewiston took control of the entire mill complex and led the redevelopment of the nine buildings. Traces of the mill’s working days can still be spotted at DaVinci’s Eatery, in Mill 2. What was once a loading dock area is now an expansive and comfortable dining room, with original brick walls. Owner Jules Patry points out a corner where the brick work was worn down by trucks passing through with freight. An original, working scale built into the floor for weighing bales of cotton and big wood beams with sturdy knee brackets are authentic reminders of the building’s heritage. Patry has kept the decor simple, using vintage bicycles and scooters to accent the architecture. Restoring some of the older ones has become a hobby for him. In good weather, he rides the black Vespa near the host stand.
Like the mill itself, DaVinci’s is an elemental part of the city. It’s a casual go-to for Lewiston families and those who work in the area, including employees of the many businesses that now populate the mill. “There are close to one thousand people working in the complex,” says Patry. With an understanding for the need to get in and out quickly, Patry created a quick-serve section at the front of the restaurant. Starting at 7 a.m., Carrabassett Coffee and breakfast sandwiches are available there. At lunch time, it’s easy to grab soup, salads, and sandwiches and head back to the office. But if you have a just a little bit more time, DaVinci’s lunch buffet is the way to go. A varied selection of pizzas is offered along with a salad bar and two soups, plus DaVinci’s signature, handmade garlic knots. The garlic knots are also served with every entree, and when I ask what’s on them, Patry just smiles and answers, “love.”
Patry opened the Italian eatery 20 years ago, as the first place in the city to serve wood-fired pizza. “I taught myself to make pizza, through trial and error,” he says. Patry has eased off cooking duties, leaving the kitchen in the able hands of Monica Nugent. “That was the goal,” he says, “to evolve and let other people take over.” A greatly expanded menu offers specialty pizzas, seafood, and meat dishes and a combination of classics and original pastas, all executed well. “I thought we’d be a pizzeria, but now the bulk of sales is pasta,” says Patry. He brings over a bowl of shrimp palermo, and a taste confirms why DaVinci’s pasta dishes are so popular. Big shrimp sit atop linguine sauced lightly with cherry tomatoes, shaved fennel, orange zest, garlic, and butter. Pasta Mona Lisa is filled with red and yellow peppers, onion, Kalamata olives, chicken, and Mailhot sausage, made here in Lewiston, on penne. Traditional favorites include eggplant parmigiana and lasagna with three kinds of meat. Seafood is well represented in a hearty dish of cioppino, with scallops, tiny clams, mussels, and more in a slightly spicy tomato-based broth. I couldn’t leave without trying a pizza, and I made a good choice with the Brick Oven Brie. The brie was a delicious change of pace, the richness balanced with salty prosciutto and dried cranberries.
In the bar area, I notice a moveable rack that resembles the kind you would find at a dry cleaner. But instead of shirts, this one is full of stoneware mugs. “We call it the mugalator,” says Patry. “It’s for the Mug Club.” Membership in the club affords half price appetizers and larger beers. “There’s actually a waiting list,” he says.
Patry and his crew are coming off a very busy holiday season. Catering is a big part of the business, as is special events. He points out the snow-filled courtyard just outside the tall windows. “There’s a patio there where we can seat 80 people,” he says. “It’s really nicely landscaped in the summer, with a fountain.” We both take a moment to imagine how lovely that will be in a few more months. Until then, we’ll be just fine with the warm embrace of the old brick, friendly welcome, and flavorful food.
DaVinci’s Eatery | 150 Mill St. |Lewiston | 207.782.2088 | davinciseatery.com