Dining al fresco at The Well might be thought of as poetry: A simple truth, sparely told in a new language and offering a distinct pleasure and atmosphere, perhaps even an “aha” moment.
The rustic eatery is on the grounds of Jordan’s Farm in Cape Elizabeth, but it is a separate business. Although the food is that of a fine dining establishment, fresh and simple are its trademark elements — just what you’d expect at a dining spot attached to a farm stand (as well as characteristics you might expect from memorable verse).
This is eating outdoors on a gentle hillside, rows of untidy crops on one side of your table, blooming annuals that you can snip and take home for a small fee on the other. Crickets chirp as evening descends, butterflies dabble and the scenery is slightly unkempt country, but it’s a working farm, not a pristine tourist spot.
Several picnic tables are scattered about the grassy dining area. But if you can, by going early or reserving a table if you have six or more adults, plant yourself in one of two picturesque screened gazebos so that pesky bugs or possible precipitation are kept at bay. Or pony up to one of four stools that sit right in front of the kitchen and watch chef/owner Jason Williams at work in his freestanding, wood-framed building.
It’s set on wheels so it can be removed, and it’s decked out with a professional and immaculate kitchen. Loaves of Williams’ homemade ciabatta rest on a shelf ready to warm up, slice and serve with his own butter. (And do not skip the bread course. It’s wonderful.)
At the ordering counter in the kitchen building, choose from one of three to five entrees on the blackboard. There’s always a chicken, fish and vegetarian option.
Our night’s appetizer was a plate of heirloom tomatoes — a medley of halves of a purply cherry variety and large juicy slices of who knows what else, with ribbons of cucumber and a dab of balsamic vinegar ($7). We added a pinch of kosher salt from the tiny bowl on the table for a fresh, simple and delicious dish, the best of August.
Seared hake ($23) was thick and moist with a curled, crispy golden skin, seasoned with not much more than salt to enhance but not overtake the subtle flavor. The sides were simply prepared and just right: Corn mingled with skin-on roasted new potatoes and bits of bacon, and a light and sweet corn puree perfect for dipping in forkfuls of fish.
Slices of supremely tasty grilled lamb, sourced locally from North Star Farm, centered a plate that included another impeccable and uncomplicated pairing of sides from the farm, wilted chard and caramelized onions. White basmati rice soaked up the sweet and savory jus ($25).
The vegetarian entree of housemade tagliatelle surrounded by grilled zucchini, summer squash, eggplant and carrots could have used more interest. Tonight’s sprinkle of fresh herbs (it may have been just parsley?) did not boost the medley into elevated territory, although the ingredients had the potential to take it there if given a little more attention ($18). The fourth and final entree, which we were sorry to miss, was chicken with Parmesan risotto and flat beans ($23).
Dessert on the night we visited was one offering, and big enough for two: Wild Maine blueberries and sliced nectarines topped with a dab of homemade whipped cream and flanked by two large, chocolate chip cookies that were more scrumptious in appearance than bite. Am I really picking on the cookies? Sorry, yes. With almost everything else so wonderful, including that bread, I expected outrageous homemade cookies, and got pretty good cookies.
But that’s a quibble, and nothing to deter you from a visit to this special spot. The focus here is on fresh and simple farm-to-fork cuisine served outdoors at the source. It’s the rural aesthetic taken to its end point.
Entrees aren’t budget-friendly, but components are carefully chosen — 90 percent of the chef’s ingredients come from within 20 miles of the farm — and very well executed. Casually clad servers take your order at a counter and bring food to your table, served with real silverware and plates. Napkins are disposable.
And wrap your mind around this idiosyncrasy: Prices at The Well are suggested, not firm.
Our order of two appetizers and three entrees came to a suggested $80. We dropped four folded twenties into a locked wooden bin on the counter.
No one counted our bills or even gave them much of a look. Our tip and dessert cash went in the same box later, when we wandered back from our table to settle up.
“Jason’s philosophy is that everyone deserves to eat well,” said general manager Jen Mowers. “He really believes in what he’s doing. The food is going to speak for itself.
Nancy Heiser is a freelance writer. She can be reached at: