September 29, 2010

Natural Foodie: The Well takes farm-to-table dining back to its roots

By Avery Yale Kamila
Staff Writer

Chef Jason Williams swiftly shucks ears of corn and then shaves the kernels off the cob. A while later he realizes he needs a bunch of basil, but doesn't have one in the kitchen. Rather than hop in his car and head to the store, he just strolls across the yard.

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The Well at Jordan s Farm in Cape Elizabeth is a mobile food cart serving gourmet meals prepared with produce from the farm.

Photos by Avery Yale Kamila/Staff Writer

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Chef Jason Williams makes ciabatta bread inside the tiny food cart's full-service kitchen.

Additional Photos Below


WHERE: 21 Wells Road, Cape Elizabeth

HOURS: 5 to 8 p.m. Tuesday to Sunday

CALL: 831-9350 for the day's menu

WHAT ELSE: The restaurant only accepts cash. Water and iced tea are available, and diners are welcome to bring their own beverages.

Williams is the culinary force behind The Well, the latest farm-to-table restaurant in southern Maine. But don't look for the eatery in downtown Portland or any of our state's trendy coastal villages. The Well is situated on Jordan's Farm in Cape Elizabeth, on the same patch of earth where most of the restaurant's vegetables are grown.

"I do my best to source everything from Maine," Williams said. "But I try to do most of my shopping at Jordan's Farm Stand."

He does his own butchering, and gets his beef from Harris Farm, his pork from Cornerstone Farm, and his lobster from Alewive's Brook Farm. His fish comes from Browne Trading Co. in Portland, which supplies many of the country's white-tablecloth restaurants.

The Well, which opened earlier this month, is really a food cart built on a flatbed trailer. However, the eatery is a far cry from the utilitarian aesthetic employed by most mobile food vendors.

From the outside, The Well resembles a miniature coastal cottage with a peaked roof, a series of skylights and an attractive sea-foam green siding.

Inside, there is a tiny area with a chalkboard menu and a wooden counter where people place their orders. Behind the counter, the fully equipped open kitchen is stocked with a wood-burning grill and a propane range.

Williams' fiancee, Jen Mowers, who grew up in Cape Elizabeth, created the charming interior, which includes hardwood floors, artwork and red-painted woodworking. Mowers and Williams commissioned Maine artist Geoff Herguth to create the restaurant's sign and a pot rack in the shape of striped sea bass.

"We really wanted to exceed people's expectations of a food cart," Williams said.

The trailer measures a compact 8½ feet by 20 feet, but Williams said the kitchen "is just as big as most of the restaurants I've worked at in the Old Port."

His Old Port career includes three years in the kitchen at Back Bay Grill and stints at Grace and Bresca. Before moving to Maine, the New Hampshire native worked at restaurants in Napa Valley, Maui and Lake Tahoe. He graduated from the Culinary Institute of America.

With Williams' background in fine dining, it's no surprise the food he is serving mirrors what you'd find in a high-end restaurant.

The eatery is open six nights a week for dinner. The menu changes daily, but always offers a chicken dish, a fish dish, a vegetarian dish, a pork or beef dish and a number of children's entrees.

"I try to make everything from scratch," Williams said. "My own pasta, my own sausage and my own bread."

Williams said he's happy to accommodate diners with particular dietary needs.

Since he doesn't have to pay a waitstaff, a baker or a dishwasher and didn't have to invest in flatware or dishes, his overhead is low. This allows him to keep his prices under $20.

"I look for quality before closeness and try to get it from Maine," Williams said. "Rice, obviously, I can't get from Maine. I'm able to keep it 80 percent from Maine. It seems pretty easy now. I don't know how it will be in April."

Pat Bagg of Portland recently dined at The Well with friends, and has been raving about it ever since.

"It's the best food I've had in Portland," Bagg said. "We came and we sat at the tables surrounded by sunflowers. It's the best dining experience I've had. I thought I was in France."

(Continued on page 2)

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Additional Photos

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One recent menu included chicken with cranberry beans, tomato and basil pesto ($18); fluke with roasted new potatoes, stewed leeks and broccoli ($18); veal sausage with caramelized onions, roasted poblano, corn and potato cakes ($17); and chickpeas, roasted squash, cauliflower and cauliflower puree ($17). The children's menu, priced at $7, included choices of pasta, grilled chicken and fish.


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