KENNEBUNK – From the basil-scented Mrs. Meyer’s hand soap in the black and white bathroom to the Harris Farm steak rimmed with delectable fat, 50 Local had me pegged. It was almost as if a social media website had been tracking me to the table and setting out the items I was likely to find appealing.

If the hunk of halibut in the fish stew hadn’t been overcooked and the chicken “confit” in the spring rolls hadn’t been so dry, I would have been more than satisfied.

I have reviewed countless restaurants that outsource a lot of the food. Some prefab food tastes OK, but it’s dispiriting to eat just the same, a kind of confession of local lack of resources. Why are places serving cakes and pies produced in factories along with assembly-line french fries and breaded fish?

50 Local wouldn’t consider such a thing. And the fact that its kitchen has mastered the art of fried potatoes to a fare-thee-well speaks as highly of its reach as it does its intentions.

A mouthful of tough beard, root-like strands attached to a mussel in the mussel frites ($12) made me wonder if foraging was another dimension of 50 Local’s dinners. It seems like years since I encountered a beard on a mussel, since the rope-cultivars so typical at restaurants are debearded in a machine before they’re sold.

These rope-grown mussels are called Pemaquids and come from Damariscotta. The kitchen staff is debearding these mussels themselves, said chef David Ross, who owns the restaurant with his wife, Merrilee Paul.

But however they showed up, the little bivalves were especially sweet and fresh in a broth of white wine, garlic and mustard.

Thick, stubby, golden fried potatoes on top were even better, crisp outside and moist within. “They’re like what I grew up with,” my friend said. “They’re just like the chips in Ireland.”

We were drinking Michele Chiarlo Barbera d’Asti Le Orme 2007 ($32), a dry, meaty Italian red we preferred slightly to a fruity shiraz/cabernet blend called Left Bank from South Africa ($7 glass, $28 bottle). The appealing wine list willingly covers the globe, with 14 Hands 2007 Chardonnay from Washington ($7/$28) and Brancott Sauvignon Blanc Reserve 2009 from New Zealand ($9/$36).

Spring rolls ($9) made with chicken confit inside a fried wonton wrapper had a decent flavor from soy and hoisin sauce, but needed more than the mild orange aioli as an antidote to the fibrous texture of the dry meat.

Oysters on the half shell, beet salad, a burger and a lobster roll are smaller dishes that might complete a meal.

A freebie of white bean spread with garlic and olive oil sprinkled with curry spices was better, along with chewy focaccia, tempting with its fresh texture and taste. Ross said the restaurant makes everything, from the focaccia to the lobster rolls to the ketchup.

Long, wide panels of laser-cut white canvas fill the contemporary room with brightness and provide a graceful partition. Their patterns echo the stenciled windows. Steel chairs make handsome seating and gray tables harmonize with them though they are made of painted wood.

Bright lights burn through the word Local above the bar.

Next up we tried the fish stew ($26), kind of deconstructed with its puree of seafood-scented tomato, a thick soup in the base of a wide bowl. Separately cooked seafood and sausages ranged on top. The translucent scallops and tender clams and mussels presented their best selves, but a diamond-shaped piece of halibut had lost its soul in the heat, becoming tough and tasteless. Juicy sausages were far better, and so was a grilled slice of baguette, ripped up and soaked with the garlicky, savory tomato.

The Harris Farm steak was best of all. It is a joy to be able to eat meat that tastes wonderful while knowing it spent no time crammed in a feedlot being stuffed with corn and antibiotics. Harris Farm hangs its beef at least two weeks, giving it a concentrated dry-aged flavor that circumvents the toughness typical of less marbled meat. It was a 12-ounce rib eye full of virtue on every level — and, of course, the frites were, too.

Scallops, arctic char and lobster carbonara with cream, eggs and pancetta are other entrees.

In a side of sauteed greens ($6), Swiss chard had been pushed around in some nice oil for so little time that the leaves remained tough and fibrous. Their local provenance couldn’t help them then.

Dessert was better, right up there with the steak and the frites. A creamy, as opposed to tender, and delicate panna cotta ($8) was topped with a glorious raspberry sauce showing off a nicely judged amount of sugar. A round of crunchy sugar cookie had a wonderful, and no doubt local, buttery taste.

Goat-cheese cake ($8) was too goaty for my friend but just right for me, topped with a compote of peaches and blueberries. A spoonful of lemon curd with strands of lemon zest interrupted the light funk of the tender little cake with sweet and sour astringency. Smooth and full decaf and strong, medium-roast regular coffee are served in big mugs with slender handles.


N.L. English is a Portland freelance writer and the author of “Chow Maine: The Best Restaurants, Cafes, Lobster Shacks and Markets on the Coast.” Visit English’s Web site,