Thursday, December 12, 2013
For the first time ever I encountered a Wikipedia entry that was most shockingly blunt. It went on to cite “. . . chipped beef” so described as shit on a shingle, being military slang for S.O.S. in mess hall kitchens.
I bring this up because it happened to be the start of our Memorial Day weekend breakfast when we stopped at the Brunswick Diner on Saturday—the beinning of a holiday journey through a minor monsoon to get there. But I was determined to take this food spree despite the horrific weather.
The Brunswick Diner: the essential greasy spoon serving delicious homestyle fare
The chipped beef was an outstanding example of creamed beef on toast that my travel mate ordered. My choice of sausage and gravy over biscuits and eggs was no less delicious. This was a great home-style breakfast at a diner that maintains its stalwart greasy-spoon rough-and-tumble personna.
The Brunswick Diner's delicious chipped beef served over two slices of Texas toast and a side of home fries--soft and creamy within and crisp on the outside
The diner's very good sausage gravy over grilled biscuits with a side of eggs perfectly "over easy"
From there we trundled over to the Crystal Springs outdoor farmer’s market on Pleasant Hill Rd. Cold, wet and muddy, the grounds were a challenge, and only half the vendors were there, many of whom were wearing gloves and winter outerwear.
We didn’t stay long and resumed our journey towards Camden where I had a few stops planned. The first was Curtis Meats—the country butcher shop on a hill in Warren off Route 90. It’s an amazing place to buy real local beef, which is raised on their own grazing grounds on a very scenic stretch of Route 220 across from the peerless Morse’s.
The butcher case at Curtis Meats is filled with pastured beef from their own cows; they also sell local lamb, Canadian pork, local chickens and all kinds of house-made and cured meat products
Everything is big at Curtis. I loaded up on double-cut pork chops that were nearly 4 inches thick as were the whopping 32-ounce Porterhouse steaks and lesser cuts like shaved beef, skirt steak and humungous roasts of all kinds—all beautifully butchered. I also always pick up a pack of “yellow” cheese, their house-made hot dogs and gleaming slices of olive loaf. Packed into the cooler, which I always travel with, we were on our way to Camden.
We stopped first at the Camden Farmer’s Market, but it closed down early because the weather was so fierce, especially the gale-force winds that developed.
Normally vibrant and bustling with shoppers and vendors, the Camden Farmer's Market was a sorry sight as heavy rains and wind pummelled the area
From there we intended to go to the much talked about Comida Latin Kitchen for lunch. But we were too early and it wasn’t open yet. Instead we took the back roads to Rockport because I keenly wanted to see the newly opened Salt Water Farm.
Rockport's Union Hall, which houses Salt Water Farm; Brian Hill's Shepherd's Pie is just a few doors away
This is the brainchild of Chef Annemarie Ahearn whose impressive background includes stints with super-star chefs in New York and Paris.
Lining up to order at the SWF counter
Talk about precious high-style, Salt Water Farm embodies it to the hilt. Housed in the restored Union Hall in Rockport, on a dramatic promontory overlooking Penobscot Bay, the setting looks like a glittering Martha Stewart stage set--an asylum of essential pleasures for the culinary cognoscenti who don’t flinch at $30 tidbits for breakfast or lunch.
The dining scene at SWF has communal and private tables, bar seating and a beutiful outdoor deck overlooking Rockport Harbor
Of course the menu follows the obligatory locavore format exquisitely presented. There are pastries, cookies, biscuits, cakes and savories galore.
For lunch we settled on locally cured ham nestled into a mile-high salted biscuit; spring-dug parsnip soup and what was simply described as an egg sandwich with anchovies.
The order-and-dine procedure, however, is cumbersome: One waits on line to tell the processor what you want, then it’s scrupulously tallied into a miniature high-tech computer station and your name is written on a slip of paper. None of this happens quickly. Then you find a table (communal or private) and wait for your name to be announced as a waiter enters the dining space searching for you.
The open kitchen is a bustling scene of cooks and crew meticulously tending to their exquisite preparations
This is food for the gods--nothing resembling SOS here. But rather it’s the epitome of divine taste and style. The cream of parsnip soup is about the best you’ll have anywhere. Silky and rich, it embodies the flavor of freshly dug spring parsnips—and the bits of poached parsnip within and the dollop of house-made crème fraiche are brilliant touches.
The purity of flavor in the parsnip soup was extraordinary
The ham biscuit was perfect even with its twit of a few pickles on the side. The egg sandwich, however, was sublime understatement. Served on grilled focaccia, it had a based of wilted kale, and half of a hardboiled egg on top; a few freshly cured flecks of anchovies scattered about delivered walloping flavor.
SWF makes a great biscuit, and the ham was delicious; those with larger appetities might need a side course or salad for a complete lunch
When I first saw the sandwich I thought, where's the other half? But the kale is very fresh, the bread beautifully grilled and the egg half and a few freshly cured anchovies whet my appetite ineed
Had we not still felt the earlier effects of chipped beef and sausage and gravy sticking to our ribs we would have left very hungry, but not displeased
Saturday's dinner menu at SWF
On our return to Portland we made two more pit stops as the heavens broke loose again in downpour. First was the Market Basket, that glorious food shop of breads, cakes, pastries and prepared food. But what I always crave there is a tub of their port-wine cheddar, New England’s version of the south’s pimiento cheese.
You could feel like the kid in the candy shop with so much to be tempted by at Rockport's inimitable Market Basket
Last stop was Beth’s, the terrific farm market nestled in the Warren farming hills off Western Road. By now Beth’s should have had the first of the season’s strawberries which are delayed by our cold spring. As it was we settled on some greens, a pint of her 35 percent butterfat heavy cream, tender spinach and trellis-grown hothouse cukes.
Having started out as a road-side vegetable stand years ago Beth's has grown into a farming behemoth without sacrificing quality; everything there is grown at the farm
For the rest of the trip back, the rain had stopped, and I was very pleased with our great spree of food finds and dining. Still to come, though, was a late dinner at Back Bay Grill where the last of the soft shell crabs were brilliantly devised.
Back Bay's sous chef filling in for owner/chef Larry Matthews
Back Bay's stunning presentation of batter-dipped soft shell crabs with an incredible pesto and tomatoes followed by their beautifully done sage-marinated roast chicken breast
This incredible rhubarb tart with lemon sorbet was the crowning touch to a superb dinner at Back Bay GrillTweet
John Golden has written about food, dining and lifestyle subjects for Downeast magazine, the Boston Globe, Cottages and Gardens magazine, Gourmet magazine, Cuisine magazine, the New York Times and the New York Post.
In his highly opinionated blog, John reports on his experiences dining out all over Maine and his visits with food personalities, farmers and farmers’ markets throughout the state.