Sure, you could just go to the restaurant, but one of the newest pleasures of summer in Maine is getting a similarly good meal – an extravagant, multi-course, very local, very seasonal dinner, often with local wine or beer, cooked by a talented chef – right on the farm. Such dinners, which have proliferated in the past couple of years, take the table to the (bucolic, beautiful) farm, rather than the other way around.
From the eaters’ point of view, it should be obvious why these dinners sell out fast. From a restaurant’s perspective, a farm dinner can help introduce new potential diners to its food. It’s also a great team-building exercise for the staff, according to Justin Walker, chef at Earth in Kennebunkport. He cooked last winter at the popular Flanagan’s Table barn dinners in Buxton. (A dinner in a barn in winter in Maine?! This is a heated barn, as their website notes, a “sublimely refined” barn that “seamlessly merges rusticity and sophistication.” Next year, the event venue on 66 acres of farmland plans to re-open as a working farm, as well.)
Organization is paramount, Walker said, because a chef never knows what kind of equipment or timing challenges he or she will face on a farm or in a barn. “It takes a whole different set of skills to put together a dinner like that,” Walker said. “It just makes everybody better.”
And the causes that many of these events support – Flanagan’s Table, for example, donates a portion of its proceeds to the Maine Farmland Trust – are “really important,” he added.
The five-course Flanagan’s Table dinners, which run year round, attract some of the region’s best chefs and they sometimes sell out in minutes.
But why should the chefs have all the fun? Now farmers are getting in on the dinner act, too. Graze dinners, a collaboration between Pineland Farms in New Gloucester and The Black Tie Company catering, went so well last year they’ve added one more dinner; this season each will spotlight a Maine farmer.
At these farm dinners, you won’t be sharing the barn with the cows or pigs. But you will dine under the full moon or by a field of swaying cornstalks or as the sun sets over Penobscot Bay or maybe on an island. Here’s a look at a number of on-the-farm dinners scheduled for this summer and fall. Save it, savor it.
DANDELION SPRING FARM, NEWCASTLE
The big event is a dinner with Sam Hayward’s Fore Street restaurant on October 12, co-sponsored by the Watershed Center for Ceramic Arts. Seating will likely be in the greenhouse. There’s space because it’s between seasons, explained Beth Schiller, who owns and operates the farm with husband Lee Straw. Tickets cost $125. (Reservations required: DandelionSpringFarm@gmail.com.)
Dandelion Spring also holds more casual picnics on the second Wednesday of the month in June, July and August. Schiller refers to them as “pizza nights” for the wood-fired pizza oven set up for the events. A catering company makes food, too – hand pies, salads and such – from Dandelion Spring produce. People are welcome to buy the food or to bring picnics from home and to eat on blankets or sometimes hay bales the farm sets up. There is no charge. Why hold the picnics at all during a season when farmers work practically around the clock? “Most of my customers get to know me at the farmers market,” Schiller said. “It’s a way to get more people to the farm to see their food growing, not just buying it as a product in town in Portland or Rockland.”
FLANAGAN’S TABLE, BUXTON
These monthly five-course dinners include a drink, wine with each course and gratuity. Tickets are already sold out for July; there is a waiting list, though. Tickets to the other events are $110 per person. More information at flanaganstable.com.
July 20: Chefs Damian Sansonetti and Ilma Lopez of Piccolo. (SOLD OUT)
Aug. 4: Salvage BBQ.
Sept. 29: Chef David Levi of Vinland. (Reservations open July 23.)
Oct. 27: Chef Jason Loring of Nosh Kitchen Bar and Slab. (Reservations open Aug. 2.)
Nov. 23: Chef Chris Gould of Central Provisions. (Reservations open Oct. 8.)
GRAZE AT PINELAND FARMS, NEW GLOUCESTER
For tickets to what Graze calls “agri-tainment,” call The Black Tie Company at (207) 761-6665 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Tickets are $60 to $80 per person and include dinner, beverages, live music, taxes and gratuity, plus a farm tour.
June 25: “It’s Ewe and ME!” featuring pasture-raised lamb from North Star Sheep Farm in Windham. Music by The Roper Duo.
July 3: “Wild and Crazy Mushrooms II,” featuring AgroMyco in Portland. Diners will learn how to forage for chanterelles, black trumpet and lobster mushrooms. Music by The Eleanors.
July 16: “A Cold River Runs Through It,” featuring Maine Distillery/Cold River, Freeport. Music by The Roper Duo.
July 30: “Milk & Honey,” featuring the husband-and-wife team from Balfour Farm, a dairy farm in Pittsfield. Music by Gunther Brown.
Aug. 6: “From the Heart & Soil,” featuring Whatley Farm in Topsham, and an edible flower expert. Music by Gunther Brown.
Aug. 20: “Grin From Ear to Ear,” featuring Pineland Farms own corn on the cob. Music by Gunther Brown.
Sept. 3: “Days of Wine and Roses,” featuring a tasting in the garden from Breakwater Vineyard in Owl’s Head. Music by The Roper Duo.
Sept. 18: “Raise Your Spirits,” featuring Maine-centric heritage cocktails from New England Distilling in Portland. Music by The Plaid Dragonflies.
Oct. 1: “Amber Waves of Grain,” featuring Aurora Mills & Farm in Linneus. Music by The Plaid Dragonflies.
Oct. 15: “Olivia’s BLT (Basil, Lettuce and Tomato),” featuring Olivia’s Garden in New Gloucester. Tour the hydroponic greenhouse, then taste the produce. Music by Lynn Deeves.
Oct 22: “You’re Bacon Me Crazy!” featuring Norumbega Farm in New Gloucester. Music by Katie Daggett.
NEBO LODGE BARN SUPPERS, NORTH HAVEN ISLAND
On Thursdays in July and August, the staff at the small and celebrated Nebo Lodge prepare a family-style meal at Turner Farm, which provides the inn’s vegetables, flowers, chickens and eggs. Dinner is in the barn and features meats, vegetables and cheeses raised/made on the MOFGA-certified organic farm, which is three miles from the inn. Round-trip boat transportation from Rockland is available. Reservations ($85 for adults or $60 for diners under 21) are required. More information at nebolodge.com/barn-suppers
SALT WATER FARM FULL MOON SUPPERS, LINCOLNVILLE
Salt Water Farm, a working farm and cooking school overlooking Penobscot Bay, offers dinner by moonlight at its series of Full Moon Suppers (each named for a Native American moon). Guests sit at a communal table and enjoy whatever the earth is offering from Salt Water Farm or the other farms, fishermen and foragers that Salt Water works with.
“We have a 180-degree view of the water. The moon is usually right over the farm,” said owner Annemarie Ahearn. “It’s pretty spectacular. It casts light over the water all the way to the farm. They are incredibly special events.”
Dinners cost $85. E-mail email@example.com for reservations. BYOB.
June 13: Full Strawberry Moon Supper
July 23: Full Thunder Moon Supper
Aug. 20: Full Sturgeon Moon Supper
Sept. 19: Full Corn Moon Supper
Oct. 17: Full Hunter’s Moon Supper
Nov. 21: Full Beaver Moon Supper
THE WELL AT JORDAN’S FARM, CAPE ELIZABETH
The Well is a little different from the other events listed here, which is to say it’s not an event, or even a series of events, rather it’s a seasonal restaurant located on a farm. The Well opened for the season on Friday. Chef Jason Williams makes an ever-changing menu from his on-farm trailer with a tricked-out kitchen, but whatever he features, it will be fresh-from-the-local-farm foods presented simply and beautifully. A typical entrée might be wood-grilled chicken, roasted potato and butternut squash. Entrées usually cost between $20 and $23, and there is a kids’ menu. Cash only and BYOB. Dine at one of several tables or in gazebos in the fields. More information is at jordansfarm.wix.com/thewell.
WOLFE’S NECK FARM-TO-TABLE DINNERS, FREEPORT
An on-farm dinner last October with well-known Portland chef Masa Miyake was so successful that Wolfe’s Neck Farm decided to launch a series. The June dinner – an encore with Miyake, not to mention a pig roast – is already sold out. Ticket availability for the two remaining dinners – prices range – will be announced through email. To sign up, go to wolfesneckfarm.org/maine-farm-to-table-dinners
Aug. 24: Gather with Frontier Family Farm Feast. Music by North of Nashville.
Sept. 14: Harvest Dinner featuring Miyake.
Contact Meredith Goad at 791-6332 or at: