Editor’s note: The Velveteen Habit closed its doors for good in August of 2016.

There was no possibility of taking a walk that day. Our original plan was to drive down to Ogunquit, take in the summertime afternoon views as we made our way along the cliffs on Marginal Way and eventually zip over to The Velveteen Habit for dinner. But it had been drizzly and damp since morning, and our GPS had other plans for us, sending our car through miles of winding back roads in Cape Neddick as the sun slowly broke through the gray.

A beet salad with strawberries, ricotta and olives at the The Velveteen Habit in Cape Neddick. Photo by Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

A beet salad with strawberries, ricotta and olives at the The Velveteen Habit in Cape Neddick. Photos by Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

But by the time we pulled into the parking lot of the farmhouse restaurant, the evening was bright, and we could see nothing but mist rising up from the expanse of green in the gardens behind. Everything, even the air, seemed alive.

It felt like a shame to go indoors, just as the weather was breaking, but we did, and followed our host to a long, open dining room with Windsor chairs and benches and rough beams crisscrossing the ceiling. From our table, and from just about any table in the room, we had a view of the four acres of gardens. “Feel free to take your wine glasses and head outside, if you like,” our server told a couple at a neighboring table. They didn’t hesitate. A few minutes later, as we drank a tart, herbal Sage It Isn’t So ($13) and bittersweet, frothily layered Rhubarb Sour ($13), we saw them pass by our window, wandering along the back of the house.

Even though The Velveteen Habit has been open only since 2014, its farmhouse and gardens have a reputation that stretches back more than two decades, when the beloved, James Beard Award-winning Arrows stood on the same spot. It’s easy to see how such a site would be appealing to a new buyer, even if it had stood vacant for two years: “We looked all over for the right property and redid everything inside, took it down to studs,” owner and beverage director Benjamin Goldman said. “Outside, we fixed up a lot of neglect, and now we have a working kitchen farm, honey bees, maple trees and apple trees. We use everything we can in the restaurant.”

Like their homegrown beets, which executive chef Chris Wilcox roasts, quarters and serves with sliced strawberries and ricotta in a salad ($12) he tops with a salty and unexpectedly crunchy olive topping. The olives get their surprising texture from slow dehydration, a trip through a spice grinder and then a quick massage with toasted panko breadcrumbs that distributes dark nicoise flavor and color throughout the mixture – exactly the right counterpoint to the sweetness of the root vegetables and summer berries.

Or the sugar snap peas that, along with discs of magenta watermelon radish, add crunch and lightness to broth-glazed gnocchi ($14) that sit atop a clever near-pesto made from radish tops, shallots, parsley and vinegar. The whole dish chirps with bright acidity, offset by nuttiness and umami from grated pecorino.

Should you decide that a few sugar snap peas aren’t enough for you, you can order a bag of them (or whatever seasonal produce the restaurant has too much of) to take home for $5 a pound. When we asked our server about the peas, he urged us to try them, telling us how popular they are. “And if it helps, you can imagine me with a sunburn and a straw hat when I bring them to you,” he joked.

If The Velveteen Habit’s farm gardens are like most home gardens, it won’t be long before zucchini is on the menu as a take-home option. It has already made its way into dishes like the pan-seared halibut filet ($34), served with sunflower seeds, roughly crumbled cornbread and marigold mint leaves and flowers. And while those zucchini medallions should have been hit with a little more acid or an extra lashing of the gorgeous green garlic puree, this dish was a joy – in part, because of the spicy, phenolic, grapefruity marigold mint that made eating halibut feel like a new experience.

Above: Jeff Bell enjoys a dinner with friends at The Velveteen Habit in Cape Neddick. The restaurant in an old farmhouse has four acres of gardens out back. Left: A beet salad with strawberries, ricotta and olives.

Jeff Bell enjoys a dinner with friends at The Velveteen Habit in Cape Neddick. The restaurant in an old farmhouse has 4 acres of gardens out back.
Photos by Brianna Soukup/ Staff Photographer

It’s not just the herbs that evoke uncommon sensations, either. Our glass of Domaine Philemon Fer Servadou ($12), made from a red wine grape grown in the southwest of France, tasted rough-and-tumble tannic, but exploded from the glass with aromas that reminded me of blowing up gargantuan Super Elastic Bubble Plastic balloons as a child.

The Fer was also a perfect wine to drink with Wilcox’s brined pork chop, served with toasted farro and fresh peas ($35). It was especially hard not to love the creamy grains, which get their risotto-like texture not from cream, but from a portion of the stock-softened farro itself that Wilcox blitzes into a paste and adds back to the pan. “We try to do things without crushing dishes with ridiculous amounts of butter and fat. I want people to feel satiated, but not gross. And if you make the farro this way, you can eat more of it,” he said.

Actually, I would have happily taken a second helping, having enjoyed the farro a little more than the chop itself, which while well-seasoned, was overcooked by a minute or two.

The Velveteen Habit in Cape Neddick is housed in a home built in 1765 and has four acres of gardens.

The Velveteen Habit in Cape Neddick is housed in a home built in 1765 and has 4 acres of gardens. Photos by Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

Feeling unstuffed did leave me with an appetite for dessert, however. Our table opted to share the soft, brown-butter scented “madeleines” ($6), which are actually financiers (with almonds replaced by pistachios) baked in a madeleine pan. The texture added by the crushed green nuts was excellent, but the batter was just a bit too sweet and overshadowed the nuanced pistachio flavors. Still, an easy fix to make in an otherwise very agreeable dessert that was just the right size to top off the meal without requiring us to find the next notch on our belts.

Satisfied but still mobile, we took our overdue ramble through the gardens, now golden in the twilight. Seeing what was starting to ripen made me wonder aloud what would be on the menu in a week or a month, and mostly made me want to come back out into the countryside to find out.

It’s true that The Velveteen Habit is out of the way for most people, but that is part of its allure – the grounds and the food both make it worth a detour, even if you happen to visit on a day that keeps you from a stroll along the nearby coastline.

Andrew Ross has written about food in the United Kingdom and in New York, where he co-founded NYCnosh, a food website. He and his work have been featured on Martha Stewart Living Radio and in The New York Times. He is an internet researcher and higher education consultant. Contact him at:

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Twitter: @AndrewRossME