Some restaurants dazzle and impress with their trendy décor and cutting-edge food. But then you encounter such an establishment as Joshua’s, located along a quiet stretch of Route 1 in Wells, an area known more for its clam shacks than haute fare. But it’s here where the simplicity of preparation and the quality of the ingredients are watchwords that make this dining establishment so fine.
The restaurant is housed in a restored 1774 seafarer’s manse, which adds to the allure of this country-dining experience – a farm-to-table citadel that has been delighting diners since 2004 with deliciously prepared food by chef and proprietor Joshua Mather. Much of the food is derived from the restaurant’s certified organic operation, Easter Orchard Farm, only a few miles away from the restaurant. The farm has been a family operation for more than 30 years, tended to by Mather’s parents, Barbara and Mort, who are also integral to the running of Joshua’s.
When we sat down to dinner on a recent Tuesday evening, we began with splendidly crafted citron-vodka, Meyer lemon and ginger cosmopolitans ($9), a featured cocktail of the evening.
And from there on, starting with the bread baked daily by Mather himself and ending with a duo of scrumptious house-made desserts, our meal was a flawless progression of courses tended to by a very attentive wait staff.
The bread offering included slices of sourdough, a molasses anadama and classic French-style baguette. The sourdough was inspired, according to Mather in a subsequent telephone interview, by the renowned Tartine Bakery and Café in San Francisco. The crust on the sourdough, for instance, was a revelation of taste and texture.
The menu is not large but instead offers a selection of enticing dishes. We started off with two appetizers: a generous portion of duck pate ($10) and an impressive presentation of tempura-coated fresh artichoke hearts ($11). The pate was rich and smooth, a classic preparation that held gutsy flavors; it was served with toast points, cornichons and Dijon mustard.
Even the garnish of local lettuces held a delightful olive oil and lemon vinaigrette. The artichokes were wonderfully prepared in a light batter that cloaked the fresh hearts.
The wine list is well thought-out, too, with moderately priced wines that balance well with Mather’s forthright cooking. We opted for glasses of the Crios Malbec ($7) from Argentina, earthy and robust, and the Eola Hills Pinot Noir ($7), an elegant wine from the Columbia Valley in Oregon.
The list of entrees included several specials that evening: a pasta preparation of housemade noodles ($22) tossed with shrimp, caramelized fennel, steamed leaks and maitake mushrooms; a vegetarian offering of handmade Yukon gold potato gnocchi in a slow-roasted tomato cream along with sautéed leeks, spinach and cheese-filled eggplant roulade ($22); for the roast there was red-wine braised beef ($24) over mashed potatoes, with the evening’s vegetable medley of local butternut squash and carrots, broccoli and cauliflower steamed and sautéed in butter, all of which was wrapped in a port wine cherry sauce and a garnish of red-beet horseradish gremolata.
My guest chose to have the grilled fillet mignon ($28). This 8-ounce cut was a sophisticated preparation swathed in a rich and classic sauce made by a Burgundy-wine reduction. The meat was exceedingly tender and was served medium rare; with it was the smoothest puree of mashed potatoes and vegetable medley.
My entrée of grilled duck breast ($28) was brushed with honeyed orange and a port wine reduction. The breast meat was cut into thick slices and was buttery soft. With it was a roasted garlic and shallot confit of duck leg that was exceedingly fine. The dish was garnished with those creamy mashed potatoes and sautéed vegetables.
Other entrees on the regular menu include local halibut ($24) coated in a caramelized onion crust; rack of lamb ($36) in a mustard crumb crust; roast chicken ($23) stuffed with Serrano ham, basil, provolone and lemon zest; and a daily vegetarian offering ($22), usually pasta or gnocchi.
For the sweet course, we chose the fudge pie ($7) with house-churned vanilla ice cream and the maple walnut pie ($7) with house-made maple ice cream, both of which are from old family recipes that Mather prepares daily. Both were richly satisfying. Other desserts include crème brulee ($7); key lime pie ($7) as well as a selection of house-made ice creams ($7) – vanilla, dark chocolate, maple and caramel. Additional desserts later in the season rely on local berries and fruits, which Mather uses in the summer and fall.
The three comfortable dining rooms include a year-round, enclosed sun porch that overlooks the kitchen garden. The original keeping room is the central dining space with its huge hearth; and a smaller, cozy room off that was the original dining chamber to the house. Another popular spot is to dine in the bar, where you can do so without reservations.
Joshua Mather keeps a low profile in a culinary world increasingly populated by chefs striving for stardom. He did, however, win the coveted Harvest on the Harbor award in the farm-to table category in 2011. He did so with his use of the highest quality ingredients prepared simply with classic sauces and judicious spicing that eminently pleases rather than overwhelms.
He is also very much the self-taught chef, and grew up on the family farm in Wells surrounded by all of this wholesome organic food long before it became fashionable to follow this regimen. The farm has supplied restaurants from Ogunquit to Portland with organic vegetables and scrumptious home-baked pies for years.
The restaurant is generally packed to capacity on weekends throughout the year – a favorite of locals as well as being frequented by Bostonians and summer visitors. And as we discovered, advance booking is essential for obvious reasons.
John Golden, who lives in Portland, writes about food, dining and lifestyle subjects for local and national publications. He can be reached at: