My Kitchen Their Table: Nathaniel Meiklejohn

Welcome to the June 2022 edition of My Kitchen, Their Table, an interview series with the chefs and culinary professionals who work hard to satisfy our small city’s big appetite. This month we’re featuring an interview with Nathaniel Meiklejohn from The Jewel Box. Photos and videos will continue to expand on the story on instagram, so stay tuned.

If the hardcore band Stormfront had made it big, no one would have ever tasted the exquisite cocktail creations of Nathaniel Meiklejohn — and that would have been a serious shame. Meiklejohn, who goes by Nan’l, was a member of the straight edge band throughout high school and continued to abstain from alcohol until he was twenty-one years old. He studied jazz guitar at the University of Maine in Augusta, but his career trajectory changed as he became more experienced in the restaurant industry.

During college, Nan’l bartended at The Liberal Cup in Hallowell and developed an appreciation for craft beer. In Portland, he bartended at Downtown Lounge on Congress Street, was the first male “cocktail waitress” at Fore Street, and spent five years at Local 188 learning how to make essential cocktails under the “legendary bar wizard,” John Myers. Although he mastered classic cocktails and the fundamentals of mixology, he felt his creativity was stifled in a restaurant setting.

An artist at heart, Nan’l found other avenues to develop his craft. In 2012, he teamed up with Joel Beauchamp and Katie and Josh Schier-Potocki from 158 Pickett Street Café (now closed) to launch a pop-up brunch series known as Pocket Brunch. The ticketed brunches were held at various locations, from restaurants and bars to sailboats and greenhouses, and featured multiple courses centered around a common theme.

Pocket Brunch encouraged Nan’l to take risks and think outside of the box. For the “Baller Brunch” at Broadturn Farm, he concocted a clear bloody mary made with horseradish-infused tomato water and poured it over a neatly chiseled ice sphere. He pushed cocktail boundaries at a dozen brunches, including one at his very own bar, The Jewel Box.

The Jewel Box debuted in September 2014 with widespread support from the community, and in 2022 earned a James Beard Award semifinalist nomination for Outstanding Bar Program. His intriguing and ever-changing selection of cocktails drew clientele to a portion of Congress Street that had little going on at the time. Inspired by his former neo-victorian apartment on State Street, The Jewel Box glitters with chandeliers, brass fixtures, velvet curtains, and a floor-to-ceiling mural commissioned by local painter Elizabeth Kleene.

Despite its Victorian aesthetic, the vibe is far from stiff and pretentious. A glistening disco ball, eclectic music, and an all-inclusive atmosphere make The Jewel Box a lively and welcoming space. Continue reading to discover what Nan’l wants you to experience when you visit The Jewel Box, why he loves gin, where he goes in Portland for a great meal, and how he spends a day eating his way through Kittery.


AR: How does the experience at Jewel Box differ from your typical cocktail bar?
NM: It’s an intentional experience. I want people to focus on each other, not a TV or their phone. Bars usually cater to masculinity, and I wanted to do everything as feminine as I could. I wanted to make a bar for women and trans or underserved people. I definitely channeled both of my grandmother’s energies. I have some of their things on display — like that little deer on the top shelf.

AR: What is one of your favorite cocktails at The Jewel Box?
NM: The Shallow Grave is one of our go-to drinks. It’s definitely for adventurous types. It has Laphroaig Select single malt scotch whisky, Rothman & Winter creme de Violette, Regans’ orange bitters, housemade ginger honey syrup, and fresh-squeezed lime juice. It’s this wild mix of smokey, floral, fruity, and grayish-purple in color, like an ominous dark storm cloud.

AR: Do you have a favorite spirit?
NM: I gravitate towards gin. It has so many little secrets you can coax out with different ingredients. Every gin distillery has its proprietary blend. One of my favorites is Uncle Val’s. It’s super botanical and kind of sweet. You can just put it on the rocks and drink it. Back River Gin is made in Maine. That one is really nice; it’s super floral. Ransom is my favorite aged gin.

AR: What are your go-to restaurants in Portland?
NM: Cong Tu Bot is one of my favorites. I’ll try whatever is on special. The chicken pho is next level. They care about marginalized communities and other important issues. Vien and his partner Jessica also helped with some of the pocket brunches. I eat at Honey Paw a lot. They have several gluten-free options. I go there when I want a flavor party. I love Cong Tu Bot and Honey Paw because they’re not afraid of bold flavors.

AR: Where do you recommend going for a special occasion?
NM: I love the floor-to-ceiling aesthetics of Fore Street and the whole atmosphere there. It’s just really beautiful, and everything is so well-sourced. It’s fun to watch the chefs cook and listen to all the communication between the expo and kitchen.

AR: Where do you recommend for takeout?
NM: My staff and I order from Mi Sen a couple of days a week. It’s so good, and the staff is so sweet. I get the drunken noodle usually with tofu. The veggies in it are so fresh and crunchy. I also really like the satay chicken skewers, and the ginger noodles are amazing.

AR: Are there any restaurants you’re looking forward to trying for the first time?
NM: Generally, I don’t eat gluten, but occasionally I cheat. When I do cheat, I’m going to Leeward.

AR: What are your favorite restaurants outside of Portland?
NM: I recommend spending a day in Kittery — not the main strip, but right on the water. It’s like a little village within a one-block radius where you can get some of the best food in Maine. When I go to Kittery, I’m going to Lil’s Bakery first for a coffee and cruller. Then, I’ll go to lunch at Anju Noodle Bar. I usually go shopping at the strip mall and glassware hunting at the thrift stores. Then, I’ll have dinner at Black Birch. They always have a couple of salads on special, and I get whichever they recommend. I love their poutine and the deviled eggs. They always do something fun with them. Then, I’ll end the day with a drink at Wallingford Dram.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Previous editions of My Kitchen Their Table have featured Courtney Loreg, Chad Conley  Atsuko Fujimoto, Matt Ginn, Jordan Rubin, Cara Stadler, Thomas Takashi Cooke, Ilma Lopez, Bowman Brown, Brian Catapang, Kelly Nelson, Lee Farrington & Bryna Gootkind, Jake and Raquel Stevens, and Tina Cromwell.

The My Kitchen Their Table series is brought to life through the talent and hard work of food writer Angela Andre Roberts, and the generous sponsorship by Evergreen Credit Union and The Boulos Company.

Stephen Lanzalotta, 63

Baker Stephen Lanzalotta passed away this past Saturday after a battle with cancer.

Stephen Lanzalotta was best known as a baker – specifically, the one behind the Sicilian-style pizza that gained a following when he was the bakery manager at Micucci Grocery and became the basis for Portland restaurant Slab.

But the people who knew him well describe him as an artist.

Rosenthal on Palace Diner

Phil Rosenthal was interviewed by Forbes about the upcoming season of Somebody Feed Phil which is being released on Netflix tomorrow. In the interview Rosenthal calls out his meal at Palace Diner as his “happiest food experience” from the new season of the show.

Rosenthal: The Palace Diner in Biddeford, Maine. It’s an old railroad dining car [built in 1927] with a counter for 15 people. That’s it! And a little kitchen. The young chefs there have worked at very good restaurants like Gramercy Tavern in New York City. What they’ve done [in Biddeford] is kept traditional diner foods on the menu, but upgraded all the ingredients and cooking techniques. So [customers] are getting idealized versions of omelettes, French toast, pancakes, burgers, sandwiches. I loved them all. [Eating at the diner] became one of the favorite things I’ve ever done on this show.

Mainebiz: Burundi Star Coffee

Burundi Star Coffee owner Jocelyne Kamikazi and her husband André Nzeyimana grace the cover of the latest issue of Mainebiz. They’re featured in an article about a microloan program that is helping immigrant owned businesses in Maine.

The loan she secured from Portland-based cPort Credit Union is underwritten by the Indus Fund, a new microloan program for small business owners in Maine’s growing immigrant community. Kamikazi was able to borrow the money at a much lower interest rate than the $44,000 bank loan she used to start her business and still has to repay, since all Indus Fund loans have a fixed rate of 3.5% and a maturity of five years.

With close to $300,000 raised from 14 individual and corporate investors, the Indus Fund is touted as Maine’s first and only immigrant-specific microfinance loan program connected to the existing banking system. The goal is to break down barriers for immigrants who might otherwise be shut out of traditional bank financing.

Other Portland food businesses featured in the article are Mimio’s Boutique owned by Mimie Mobesha from the Congo, and Maiz co-owned by Niky Watler from Colombia.

Sylvi and Rob Roy

Today’s Maine Sunday Telegram writes about siblings and experienced Portland bartenders Sylvi and Rob Roy.

This March, Rob won both the People’s Choice and the Judge’s Choice awards at ChopTails, a charity cocktail competition at Batson River Brewing & Distilling in Portland, against several of the city’s highest-profile bartenders. It’s one of many competitions he’s won over the years. In 2019, Sylvi won the Northeast Regional Speed-Rack competition and went on to the nationals in Chicago. “She got in the top eight in the country,” Rob said proudly. She, too, has competed, and placed, often.

Congratulations to Julien Langevin

Congratulations to Julien Langevin (USCC bio) on winning the Cup Tasters competition at the 2022 US Coffee Championships. Langevin works as a coffee roaster at Coffee By Design.

In the Cup Tasters event competitors “test their sensory skills by discerning taste differences in a ‘triangulation.’ The competitor with the ability to taste, smell, concentrate, and recall, those with the most correct answers in the shortest amount of time wins.”

The national coffee championships were held over the weekend at the Specialty Coffee Association annual conference that took place in Boston. Langevin will represent the US at the World Coffee Championships later this year.

Erin French, Reviews Return

Today’s Maine Sunday Telegram includes an article about Erin French, the chef/owner of The Lost Kitchen in Freedom,

Longtime Freedom resident Wilson Hess said that French’s passion for her multifaceted role at The Lost Kitchen and her charming hospitality is the restaurant’s secret sauce. “She’s a gracious personality and a wonderful storyteller,” said Hess, who has dined at The Lost Kitchen. “Everyone in the room feels like they’re at home when they’re there.”

and an announcement by restaurant critic Andrew Ross about the upcoming return of restaurant reviews to the newspaper and insight into the ways his approach will differ from pre-pandemic days.

If you haven’t worked it out yet, be patient, reader: Please remain seated and keep your hands and feet inside the ride at all times – we’re about to start reviewing again.

As I gear up for a return to thinking critically about restaurant dining, I’ve also been realizing how different writing a full review will be. It’s pure denial to insist that our world is normal again, so why should we expect our food writing to be the same as it once was?

Interview with Sayvepen Sengsavang

The Lao Food Foundation has published an interview with chef Sayvepen Sengsavang who is the chef and co-owner of Le Mu Eats (instagram) in Bethel, Maine.

Q: What does innovation of Lao cuisine mean to you? Why is it important?
A: To me, innovation in Lao cuisine is all about telling my own personal story, as a first generation Lao American, through food; taking the Lao cuisine I grew up with, understanding it, respecting where it comes from or why something is done a certain way, but then using the ingredients and tools that are more readily available. I’m not making food that is “authentically” Lao, but making it authentically to me and my experience as a Lao American. I’m the child of Lao refugee immigrants, but I was born and raised in the United States, so I’m not going to make food that looks exactly like my parent’s food…It’s important to tell your own story; trying to tell the story of traditional Lao food doesn’t make sense coming from me. I still use the flavors of Laos, Lao techniques, Lao foods that are available because they are a part of my story, but they are not the entirety of my story.

Read the full interview on the Lao Food Foundation blog.

Interview with Krista Kern Desjarlais

Slice, Spade, Soiree has published an interview with Krista Kern Desjarlais.

I was hired to be the opening chef for Guy Savoy at his new restaurant opening in Caesars Palace, so I went to Paris for additional training for this new opportunity. When I returned to Las Vegas from Paris, I learned that the restaurant was delayed. I was reminded of a conversation I had in Paris with the Chef de Cuisine for Guy Savoy. Like me, he was older than everyone in the kitchen there, and commented that, at my age, I should be running my own restaurant! It was another turning point. I returned to Maine and opened Bresca in early 2007.

Chase Rochon, Certified Pommelier

Congratulation to Chase Rochon who has successfully passed his examinations and sensory testing to become a Certified Pommelier.

The CP professional certification has been established by the American Cider Association to provide hospitality professionals a way to develop and demonstrate their knowledge of cider. The first level in the ACA certification program is becoming a Certified Cider Professional.

Rochon is one of only 26 Certified Pommeliers in the country and the first person in Maine to earn that distinction.

Rochon is a co-owner of Craft Curbside in Gray which stocks a wide range of ciders.