Monday, December 9, 2013
Having spent some time recently at a friend’s camp in the Windham area I went to a few restaurants there—for better or worse—that held some interest though I’m not sure if they’re necessarily worth the trip from Portland to the outer reaches of this disparate lake region.
One of the more dubious highlights was Jack’s Place, a roadside Windham breakfast and lunch joint, which are a dime a dozen throughout Maine strip-mall locales. But you never know. Sometimes you hit upon a real gem. Like a place called Just Barb’s off Route 1 in Stockton Springs, a local hotspot where regulars lovingly call it Just Awful. I thought it was OK. Try it if you’re in the neighborhood--hungry, lost or otherwise.
A popular roadside breakfast place in Windham
Back to Jack’s, it’s better than run-of-the-mill, but only if you’re really famished and any kind of grub will do the dirty. I saw a few appetizing plates coming out of the kitchen, which peers into the dining room, a space in itself that’s well worn. Besides the tattered carpeting and a bench in the entry way that serves no purpose other than to hold a sign to post the day’s specials, some of the food looked OK.
The eclectic dining space at Jack's Place
I couldn’t decide whether to have the pancakes or sausage gravy over biscuits, the latter dish being a mainstay of greasy spoons.
Sausage gravy over biscuits at Jack's
I went for the sausage gravy. This rendition had a few upsides but mostly it was push-the-plate-away half-eaten.
A better local haunt is Rose’s Old World Restaurant and Pizzeria. The proverbial road house along Roosevelt Trail in Windham (aka Route 302), I was actually interested in this place because I’m an easy target for Italian American red sauce cooking.
A beacon along Roosevelt Trail, Rose's is the place to go
The room is usually packed but it was late in the evening
There are two enormous family-friendly dining rooms flanked by an open kitchen with a beehive oven from which pizzas and other al forno facsimiles of Italian-American cuisine emerge.
We shared a thin-crust pizza with sausages, peppers and onions as well as “veal-egg parm” (that’s what our waitress called it), which stands for veal and eggplant Parmigiano.
The typical everything-in iceberg salad
The pizza was excellent, and my platter-sized portion of veal-egg was delicious. It also comes with a house salad--a giant bowl filled with iceberg, olives and sundry toppings. I would go there again if I were asked. As this kind of cuisine goes, it’s Mama Mia heaven.
Excellent pizza, I barely had time to snap a photo before everyone had started to grab a slice
Veal and eggplant parm--one of the best versions is at Rose's
The best surprise was Blue Burrito in Westbrook. It’s been a popular hangout for Mexican food for years, a place that people from away might actually travel to. It’s cheap, fun, good Margaritas and the food held some interest.
Blue Burrito Cafe is typical cantina decor inside but the food is very good
The chips and salsa, however, were disappointing. The mango salsa had the right tang, but the other two--salsa fresca and salsa verde--were barely passable. And the chips are straight out of a bag.
Main courses fared better. The menu offers the typical lineup of southwestern Tex-Mex dishes with interesting renditions of regional Mexican cooking, New Orleans and a few Aztec preparations.
Blue Burrito's glazed salmon over dirty rice and tomatoes and corn
Flat-iron steak with Hopi potatoes and perfect glazed carrots
I don’t know who’s doing the cooking but it’s respectable. My friend had baked glazed salmon over dirty rice, corn and tomatoes, and I chose the Black Canyon Ranch steak, a pan-seared flat-iron steak served with Hopi Indian potatoes, garlic butter and glazed carrots.
The potatoes were a big mound of highly flavorful mashed spuds, which I suppose had some bearing to the Arizona clan of Hopi Indian tribal cooking. The glazed carrots were one of the best examples of this simple dish, though I’m not sure how it plays on a Tex-Mex-Aztec menu. Then, again, those are the surprises of eating here and there.
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.