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January 30

TRAVELIN' MAINE(RS): Home Kitchen Cafe

George And Linda Smith

George

On a wintry Saturday, even Susan Chiro seemed surprised that her Home Kitchen Cafe was jammed. For sure, the secret is out. This cafe — where Susan’s co-owner and husband, James Hatch, is the chef — has already drawn many favorable reviews.

This is an interesting couple. Susan is an artist. James built wooden guitars. For 21 years they owned an eco-friendly t-shirt printing business which they sold. James, who had cooked at Maine’s well-known Cheechako Restaurant in Damariscotta, hankered to cook again. He spent a couple years before they sold the t-shirt business, working out his vision for Home Kitchen Cafe.

Susan did the designing of everything from the logo and menu to the building that has two floors and an upstairs deck that overlooks Rockland Harbor. I was upstairs taking photos and I told Susan how much I admired a painting titled “Pitchers of Provence” when she said, “My mother painted that.” Indeed, her mother, Rachel Schiro, has filled the cafe with her wonderful art.

I connected with a statement on their website, “When you are hungry, come HOME.” They back that up with huge portions of fabulous food.

Although there were a few groups of people waiting, we got right in because a table for two had opened up. Large groups eat here, including families with lots of kids, and Susan and her staff move tables around to accommodate the groups. She even engaged us in that enterprise, when she needed space next to us for three people.

That group turned out to be very interesting — Rockland residents who were actually staying at the Samoset Resort in Rockport that weekend, as we were, to enjoy the amazing ice bar and other facilities. They eat at the Home Kitchen Cafe often, and now we know why.

Let’s begin with the menu. It’s very long. I took a ton of notes about the lunch menu, then was astonished to flip it over and discover that the breakfast menu on the other side was equally long and complex. Although we were here for lunch, a lot of people around us were enjoying what looked like amazing breakfasts.

Everything was calling my name. The haddock chowder, The Banh Home (a Vietnamese pork meatball sub) and oh, the Rock City Steak and Cheese on a grilled sub roll was soooo tempting!

The prices here are really low. Most sandwiches are just $8 or $9. You can even get PB&J for the kids for $4.99.

Eventually, I settled on the fish tacos. You’ll understand why when you read their description: “Fish tacos with fresh pan-fried haddock, tossed with homemade salsa folded inside our hand-made corn tortillas. Topped with shredded red cabbage, pepperjack cheese, avocado and fresh fish taco sauce, served with home-made black beans and sour cream.”

The two large tacos were both colorful and full of flavor, and Linda pointed out some of the ingredients that made it that way, including cilantro. I especially loved the salsa. Things got real messy, though, until I finally resorted to knife and fork to finish the second taco.

Linda’s sandwich was massive so I tried to help her out, encountering one of the best Reubens I’ve ever had. But I got cut off when she said, “I’ve come up with a strategy — can’t eat all that bread.” So she peeled off the top layer of bread and consumed the rest of her sandwich. No more for me!

Our total bill for a great lunch was just $23. We will definitely be back. Maybe for breakfast — although the dinner menu also looked very tempting.

Linda

“Real Food Made To Order,” touts the top of the Home Kitchen Cafe menu. As the name of this restaurant suggests, this is home-style cooking. Generous portions and a reputation for really good food have made this Rockland restaurant very popular.

On the Saturday we went for lunch, diners filled the downstairs tables, lunch counter and the upstairs dining space as well. Once I looked at the lunch menu I understood why. There is something here to please everyone. Breakfast choices included ”Homelets,” a variety of Eggs Benedicts, frittatas and many familiar choices of pancakes and eggs. Depending how hungry you are you can order one, two or three pancakes or eggs.

I was impressed by the interesting salad choices (most $6-$9) and the large choice of sandwiches. From Bahn Mi and gyros, to haddock and a Villa sub that made your mouth water. The char-grilled burgers looked great as they passed our table. The gluten-free version served on a bed of greens looked delicious too. And their homemade roll looked pretty amazing as well. Home Lunch Specials included mac and cheese, burritos, pan-fried haddock and a spicy stir-fry.

We had come for lunch and the Rubin (their spelling — many of their choices are cleverly worded) was my choice. It was a bit of a wait for our food (when Susan encountered the unexpectedly huge crowd of customers, she’d hurriedly called a fourth chef in to work), but it was a pleasant wait as we talked with the people at the table next to us. They filled us in on many of their favorite restaurants in Rockland. As we’ve said before, there are so many great places to eat in this town that we are still working our way through all of them.

Our lunches arrived and it was worth every moment of the wait. My Rubin was enormous. George told the owner, “I see you’re cooking for Mainers!” Thick slices of homemade rye with caraway seeds were loaded with tender corned beef, sauerkraut, Swiss cheese and dressing. George forewarned, “You will never eat all that.” Well, I hate to prove him wrong, but except for some of the bread my plate was clean. They have excellent coleslaw here as well, slightly sweet and crunchy. Even the pickle alongside my dish was perfect.

The Home Kitchen Cafe uses sustainably farmed meats and fresh local ingredients. They’ve created a menu with variety and, during dinner service (Wed.-Sat.), you may order from the breakfast, lunch or dinner menu. The locals come here often. I read an article online about the top 70 restaurants in Rockland ... and Home Kitchen Cafe was No. 1.

Visit George’s website — georgesmithmaine.com — for book reviews, outdoor news and all Travelin’ Maine(rs) columns, found listed in the “Best of Maine” section.





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