December 30, 2012

Dine Out Maine: Mae's Cafe and Bakery worth the trip for the buns alone

By SHONNA MILLIKEN HUMPHREY

Mae's Cafe and Bakery, conveniently situated near the Route 1 exit in Bath, occupies two turn-of-the-20th-century houses at the top of Centre Street. Renovated and now connected by an addition, these historic buildings offer four separate spaces (plus a seasonal deck) for a variety of purposes. A baby shower? Small wedding? Class reunion?

click image to enlarge

The service is friendly and the atmosphere charming at Mae’s Cafe and Bakery.

Photos by John Ewing/Staff Photographer

click image to enlarge

"MAE'S CAFE

60 Centre St., Bath. 442-8577; maescafeandbakery.com

HOURS: 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. daily

***1/2

PRICE RANGE: $1.50 to $14.95, with most items $8 to $12

BAR: Full

CREDIT CARDS: All major

KIDS: Children's menu

VEGETARIAN-FRIENDLY: Yes

WHEELCHAIR-ACCESSIBLE: Yes

GLUTEN-FREE: Yes, including gluten-free bread

RESERVATIONS: A variety of event space is available by reservation for private parties.

BOTTOM LINE: Mae's Cafe offers a sun-filled breakfast and lunch menu that includes old favorites and new twists, with particular emphasis on vegetarian and gluten-free options. Service is friendly, the atmosphere is charming, and although the space fills quickly on a Sunday morning, it never felt overwhelming or disproportionate. Try the cinnamon buns and the pecan sticky buns.

Ratings follow this scale and take into consideration food, atmosphere, service and value:

* Poor  **Fair  ***Good ****Excellent *****Extraordinary.

The Maine Sunday Telegram visits an establishment twice if the first dining experience was unsatisfactory. The reviewer dines anonymously.

Mae's has well-lighted, charming rooms just waiting to be filled. Add in a full bar and a bakery, and the purposes multiply.

My purpose was breakfast. Specifically, Sunday breakfast. While I love the brunch locales in Portland, I chafe at the long weekend lines, and often find myself impatient and resentful. Forty-five minutes for pancakes seems excessive, and when there is an option like Mae's, I would rather spend those 45 minutes on an easy and picturesque drive away from a crowded waiting list.

"You're going to Mae's?" my friend asked, puzzled when I used the Sagadahoc County Courthouse as a location point. "Oh, you mean where Kristina's used to be?" In the idiosyncratic manner of local reference, I too initially recognized Mae's as the former Kristina's, even though Kristina's has been closed since 2004. (Do other communities do this as much, I wonder?) But, I found, this was also the easiest descriptor.

I nodded. Yes, where Kristina's used to be.

I arrived early at 8:30 in the morning, and while a few tables were occupied, there was no hint of madness or jockeying for position. Nobody seemed woozy or hung over, and I saw no obvious walks of shame.

In an extraordinarily civilized manner, my party of three was seated at a pleasant round table in the corner with a view of the street. Natural light shone in through spotless, nearly floor-to-ceiling, windows. The waitress, super-friendly, explained that the artwork rotates, and I was impressed by the gallery of paintings -- in this case, watercolor landscapes.

She brought a charming white porcelain teapot (no sign of the industrial stainless steel variety that invariably spills hot water) and an upturned cup on a saucer with a doily. Again, so very civilized. The milk glass bud vases held festive artificial holly berries, and nothing about the room was set in harsh angles. Square and round wooden tables mixed and matched in a cozy, inviting manner.

But lest you think Mae's is all about fussy tea house sensibility -- it is not. Think inviting kitchen, not rigid tea party.

From a list of eight benedicts, 13 omelets, house specialties and griddle fare, we chose the gluten-free Sarah's Benedict ($10.95) with grilled tomato and artichoke hearts, served on a roasted portobello mushroom cap. The house-made hollandaise was lemony and creamy, and although the eggs were poached seamlessly, the benedict arrived in an uneven, heaping pile alongside a hard honeydew slice and mound of home fries. Ample, for sure, but a little messy in contrast to the overall ambience at Mae's.

Same for the Huevos Mae's ($9.95) that included eggs scrambled with black beans, red and green peppers, onions and avocado. Salsa and sour cream were served alongside a flour tortilla, and again, the dish was ample and hearty, but arranged with a sort of haphazard sensibility.

Also the same for the Lucky Lindsay ($8.50) breakfast sandwich with scrambled eggs, avocado, tomato and cheddar on a croissant. Tasty, but from an aesthetic perspective, if I was serving breakfast from my kitchen, it would resemble this.

At first, I was distracted. But I got over it quickly, as each of the options tasted lovely, with the home fries especially crispy and good. It's just that when particular attention is placed on details at Mae's -- including the artful and precise bakery case filled with ornate cakes, cookies and pastries -- I was surprised at the incongruence of the presentation.

(Continued on page 2)

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