At a rural crossroads in a town whose population numbers about 1,500, you might expect to find a convenience or general store, maybe a gas station – that’s about it.
But at Pownal Center – the junction of Elmwood Road and Route 9 just south of Bradbury Mountain State Park – you’ll find an excellent cafe. Edna and Lucy’s, named for the grandmothers of its co-owners, draws those in the know for killer soups, sandwiches, salads and baked goods.
You can’t miss the fire-engine red exterior. Inside, it’s more muted and homey. The walls are painted the colors of fall, and vintage wood furnishings hold condiments and pastries.
There are two spaces – a roomy spot for ordering at the counter, and a dining area with a stool-lined counter along the windows and a few hefty tables. Two rocking chairs near the entrance suggest those in waiting take time to relax. This isn’t assembly-line food.
Count me among the soup nuts of the world; I’m always on the hunt for an excellent bowl of potage. This spot’s slightly sweet curried red lentil soup, made with apple cider and thick with bits of carrot, celery and onion, was delicious ($3.50).
Leave the eatery’s spicy and hearty beef chili ($4.25 for about a cup and a half) for last if you want to preserve your palate for other tastes. The heat comes on late but quite strong. Soups are one of co-owner Steph Dexter’s specialties.
Much of creating good food, even breakfast and lunch fare, is about knowing what goes well together and in what proportions – testing and tasting to get it right before you put the item on the menu, even if it’s a sandwich written on a blackboard – and using the best ingredients possible.
To that end, Edna and Lucy’s, open since 2008, uses meat from Micucci’s in Portland and bread from Borealis. Sauerkraut from Morse’s goes on their Reubens and Rachels (which is a Reuben with turkey instead of corned beef).
They also procure pickles from that same notable European food shop in Waldoboro. But the pickled beets are homemade, and these are excellent – shredded into spaghetti-width strands that are sharp and crunchy.
Fermented additions brighten many a dish here. A hot sandwich of grilled eggplant with homemade tapanade, spinach and pickled onions (their own) was a hot, juicy and tasty amalgam of flavors ($6.95). Hummus on a spinach roll-up was a delightful departure from the sometimes too-ordinary wrap, with arugula, cucumber slices, cheddar cheese and a heap of pickled beets melding in nice proportion ($6.75).
Edna and Lucy’s brings a salient characteristic of fine dining establishments to lunch food, and it’s this: Thoughtful combinations that elevate the ordinary. Sure, iceberg lettuce and tomato are fine, but capers on an egg salad sandwich inspire a little more excitement. This is how we eat now.
Seasonal salad ($7.25) had a base of arugula and mixed greens topped with walnuts, plumped-up dried cranberries, dabs of goat cheese drizzled with olive oil and pepper, and those delicious pickled beets. A homemade rosemary and dill vinaigrette made it shine.
My only quibble: The salad comes in an aluminum container that is too small for digging in to the contents without creating an overflow onto the table. A plate, even a paper one, would help. In fact, I find it a little jarring when great food is served with plastic utensils, as here. I’d like to see the cafe set up with dishwashing and silverware. At the same time, I know such an upgrade is expensive, and I’d hate to see prices go up as a result.
A side of french fries ($2.75) – hot, crispy and served in a paper bag – was so good that the 5-year-old in our group said, “You don’t even need ketchup.” Somehow, the crust of the potato sections had elements of both crispiness and fluff.
I asked for the secret, and Sabrina Warner, the other co-owner, obliged: “Only two things go in our fry oil, doughnuts and french fries. We like to say that the french fry oil makes the doughnuts so good and the doughnut oil makes the fries so good.”
Do not miss the homemade baked items. While there’s not a lot to choose from on any given day, what’s offered is usually scrumptious (judging by our two-item sampling, at any rate). A simple cinnamon sugar donut (75 cents) featured a deep gold and crusty exterior covered with the grainy sweetness over a soft and crumbly center – a three-textured delight that bore no resemblance to one found at a chain. The cranberry walnut scone was a delicious triangle with chunks of fruit and nut and a touch of cinnamon ($1.75).
In the world of eat-in or take-out $7 sandwiches and salads and $4 soups, this place stands out for uncommonly prepared comestibles and atmosphere. Make the field trip.
Nancy Heiser is a freelance writer and editor. She can be reached at: