Generally speaking, the average American child likes fairly mainstream foods. Kim Smith, however, knew from a very young age that her daughter Colby was of a more Epicurean mindset.
“When Colby was little, her favorite food was escargot,” said Smith, who last month opened, with 18-year-old Colby, the Unbridled Bistro and Bennett’s Market on Main Street in downtown Bangor. “It’s really not in order to be snooty. That’s just the kind of stuff we eat. That was how I was raised, and how I raised her. We’ve always had good food around.”
Bennett’s and Unbridled occupy two rooms in the open, warm space on Main Street, formerly the home of J.B. Parker’s. Colby runs Bennett’s Market, serving gourmet breakfast, panini and lunch specials six days a week. Tuesday through Saturday nights, the Unbridled Bistro, run by Kim, offers up four-course, prix fixe dinner, by reservation only.
The simple, earthy style of cooking that comes out of the French countryside is the tradition in which Kim grew up and passed along to her daughters, Colby and Miranda. Smith’s grandmother Marianne Dumas Purslow was the French immigrant who originally opened Le Domaine in Hancock, a fine French restaurant that has been a quiet gem in the eastern Maine dining scene since 1946.
Under the tutelage of her grandmother and her mother, Nicole, Smith learned the tricks of the trade, cooking iconic dishes like chicken Provencal, boeuf bourguignon and coq au vin.
“I grew up in that environment. From a very young age I was in the kitchen, washing dishes, getting herbs out of the garden, stuffing snails,” said Kim Smith. “My grandmother passed away when I was young, but I still learned a lot from her. And I could have learned so much more.”
The family sold Le Domaine in 2004, but Smith continued to cook French food for her family, friends and the many houseguests she and her husband, Peter, host at their home, Whispering Pines Farm, a horse farm in Newburgh. In addition to being gourmet cooks, both mother and daughter ride and train horses — Kim does event riding, while Colby is a prize-winning dressage rider.
The idea for Unbridled Bistro came from both her restaurant past and her home-entertaining present.
“I just love to cook for people,” said Smith. “I didn’t want to open a regular restaurant. I wanted to cook dinner for people in my home. I wanted to go out and get the food that day, and make it for a smaller group, and make it different most days.”
Having a reservation-only restaurant at her home wasn’t an option, so she began scouting around the area for potential locations. It was then that Colby asked if she could join in, opening a lunch and breakfast spot in addition to her mother’s dinner place.
“I always loved cooking, for I was never sure if I really wanted to do it for a living. It’s always been a part of my life, but I think it really dawned on me pretty recently that it’s really what I love to do,” said Colby, a recent high school graduate. “I used to cook eggs benedict in my trailer when I was staying at horse farms, training horses. Other kids don’t do that. Other kids don’t know how to cook at all, let alone make hollandaise sauce.”
The property at 52 Main St. was a perfect fit — a cozy, but in no way cramped, room for the Unbridled Bistro, and a sunny, open space for Bennett’s Market. Bennett’s serves a variety of items, from omelets and French toast to both lunch and breakfast panini.
The power panini has been an early favorite with diners — low-fat cheese, tomato, sauteed spinach, a fried egg and turkey bacon make it a healthful but delicious option.
Of course, one could also get Bennett’s Benedict: rosemary focaccia topped with spinach, maple bacon, a fried egg and herb cheese sauce. Or, for lunch, a meatloaf panini with aged cheddar, horseradish mayonnaise and caramelized onions. Either way, it’s higher-end lunch fare, though prices top out at $8.50 for a sandwich.
As for dinner at Unbridled, the menu changes constantly. Diners are asked to call in their reservations no later than noon that day — and the earlier the better, especially if there are more than two diners. First and second courses feature small plates like potato and sausade soup or escargot, fig and pear bruschetta, and salads like tomato caprese and house greens with Roquefort.
Main plates include dishes like the old favorite boeuf bourguignon or the decadent roasted Cornish game hens, stuffed with fruit and wrapped in bacon. But Smith also branches out to other cuisines, such as a red curry made with sweet potatoes and baby kale. For dessert? An assortment of tarts and cakes created by local baker Adam Moore.
A four-course dinner can skyrocket in price, but Smith sets her meal at just $35 — $47 with a wine pairing, prepared by Wicked Wines. While it’s fine dining, it’s not pretentious. It’s excellent food, served in an atmosphere that’s more akin to a dinner party with friends, rather than a fine French restaurant.
“To me, this is really simple food. It’s peasant food from France. They didn’t have a lot of money, so they cooked with whatever they had, and developed it over the centuries,” said Kim Smith. “That’s why I go shopping everyday for whatever is freshest and most local and in season. That’s why I want to find a good source for rabbit, and why we use local cheeses and potatoes and meat. That’s how this food is made, and that’s what we want to do here.”
Bennett’s Market is open from 6:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Monday-Friday, and 7 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturdays. The Unbridled Bistro is open from 6 to 9 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday, and reservations can be made by calling 941-9594 or 941-9480. On Mondays, all profits from the sales of soups at Bennett’s will go to benefit Haiti Earthquake relief. For information, look both restaurants up on Facebook.