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Project Spotlight  |   02: Crown Jewel /  Great Diamond Island, Maine

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Great Diamond Island is a quaint, sleepy island and former military base off of Portland’s Casco Bay. Less than a hundred people live there year-round and it can only be accessed by ferry. It’s primary means of transportation are bicycles and golf carts. But that didn’t seem to stop Alex Wight, a native Portlander, from setting her sights on transforming a run-down blacksmith’s shop into the Crown Jewel – one of Portland’s most unique restaurant experiences.

 

The Journey

Alex may live in Brooklyn, but she is the intersection of many things: a trained chef, a wife, a mother of three, and now, the owner of the hottest table on Great Diamond Island. By no means has her path been linear. A self-proclaimed zig-zagger, Alex has worn a considerable number of hats - having worked in the restaurant industry in some capacity for most of her adult life. She organized the Flanagan’s Table dinner series in Buxton, went French in New York’s Db Bistro Moderne, styled dishes at Martin Berasategui in Spain, and recently, landed back in Portland.

“For about the last 7 years, Portland has experienced something of a renaissance. It has that romantic, small city charm, proximity to beaches and lakes, and a vibrant social scene. But a huge driver has been an explosion in creative cuisine”, recounts Alex, contemplating a steady migration of chefs and restaurant owners out of expensive cities and into smaller, more livable cities. “Ownership is important to me. It was always the end goal.”

She and her husband spent the better part of 4 years traveling back and forth to Portland to review potential venues. And it wasn’t until their umpteenth visit, with a third child just around the corner, that their eureka moment arrived. “I knew from the moment I walked in that this was the place”, she recalls.

 

The Crown Jewel

Alex’s vision for The Crown Jewel was clear – deliver an edgy, elevated seafood experience that would resonate with both locals and visitors. When it came to dialing in cuisine, Alex tapped chef Rocky Hunter and unleashed an arsenal of delicious, exquisitely-presented dishes. Lobster Raviolo with oyster mushroom duxelle, artichoke confit, celery, and black truffle. Shrimp Cevice with calabrian chili, pickled sweet pepper, and roasted almond. The menu is progressive – grounded in sea food but delivered with panache. And while this is serious stuff, dishes titled “Fried green things” and “Green eggs and ham” reveal a humorous side. We’re in Portland, after all.

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As for the physical space, guests needed to feel as if they were on an island. Yet, its soul had to be fresh– an antidote to the clichéd anchors and empty lobster cages that adorned far too many coastal eateries. Alex turned to David Natasi and Kate Vail of Brooklyn-based Natasi Vail Design to bring the idea to life. The result is a visual cocktail of beachy pastels and patterns, a tropical mash-up trapped in time.

“The two things that people notice first are the neon flamingo and those green countertops. They’re an integral part of the Crown Jewel experience. The theme seems to appeal to people of all ages…the younger folks find it kind of cool and laid back while I’m constantly hearing from seniors that it reminds them of mid-century Palm Beach.”

 

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Why Concrete?

“I knew immediately that I wanted concrete for our counters” remarks Alex, referring to a concrete bartop that caught her attention at the Royal Palms Shuffleboard Club in Brooklyn. “It just had this certain warmth to it. A softness.”

But it was her color choice that raised the eyebrows of her design team. “I had a very specific color in mind called Miami Green. When she sent the Benjamin Moore color swatch to Trueform Concrete and asked for a concrete color match, it was equally as disruptive. “It’s such an intense color. We rarely see anything like that here”, recounts Trueform’s Abe, who worked in casting at the time. “But that’s something that makes concrete so unique - you can pretty much make it any color you want.” Trueform had to order special pigments before running experiments in loading quantities. It took several attempts, but the casting team eventually arrived at a match. And wow, was it green.

In the context of the Crown Jewel, it harmonizes perfectly. From the forward-thinking dishes, the retro-island theme, and crafted libations, this is the best of Portland brought to life.


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