June 21, 2018
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Rockland’s food on the map for greatness

Emmet Meara
By Emmet Meara, Special to the News

I can remember when a “gourmet meal” in Rockland consisted of a burger and (fabulous) fries at G.I. Mom’s, a lunch wagon parked beside the Oasis Bar. Now, the city wins a foodie award every other week.

This week, it is The Daily Meal website that has placed Rockland among the best small towns in the country for food. All right, they were rated up there with Walla Walla, Wash., Healdsburg, Calif., and Savannah, Ga. (which is no small town), but still.

You take praise, and awards, where you can get them. Let’s pay attention to the folks at Daily Meal. They are experts, after all.

“Where some of these towns have specific foods to love (and host festivals around them), such as lobsters in Rockland, Maine, others have a surprising number of dining options that run the gamut from fine dining to holes-in-the-wall. So in putting together this year’s list, we not only took stock of population and density of dining options, but looked at food-focused buzz in the media and accessibility of local ingredients. These are not just our favorite towns to stop along your next road trip; these are towns we’d want to spend some time in,” they said.

Rockland, for your information, is that “quaint New England seaside town that is the stuff of summer getaway dreams. The salty air and fresh-caught lobster are just the start,” according to the Daily Meal. Singled out for praise was Cafe Miranda, where Chef Kerry Altiero mans his brick oven to create a bewildering array of meals supported by the funniest menu I have ever seen.

“We do not serve the food of cowards,” the menu warns.

Strangely, Daily Meal fell in love with the sticky buns, of all things, at the Home Kitchen Cafe. I, myself, would have singled out the delicious home fries (with onions), the true measure of any breakfast spot. If you don’t get them right, nothing else matters. The waterfront restaurant also serves fresh-baked bread as well.

Main Street has become an art center as well as an international food court. Daily Meal focused on the sushi at Suzuki’s. I don’t know about you, but I plan to finish this life without sampling sushi. Sue me. I have a delicate Irish stomach and the farthest I will go is the Pad Thai at Roselyn, which is next to McDonald’s of all places.

“Why get a lobster roll in New York City when you can get one direct from the source in Maine?” Daily Meal asks. I don’t eat lobster rolls either (sorry) but Daily Meal sends you to Linda Bean’s, Waterman’s Beach or Miller’s Lobster Co. I understand that people stand in line for hours waiting for lobster rolls at Red’s Eats in Wiscasset and I just don’t get it. Not if they were free.

Naturally, Daily Meal endorsed the “fresh Italian” offerings at Primo’s, Rockland’s (actually Owls Head’s) most famous restaurant. I am not allowed to attend that eatery since (vegetarian) Blue Eyes spotted the meat drying, hanging (honest to God) in their bar. Primo has won a bread basket full of awards and grows their own vegetables and slaughters their own pigs. Maybe when Blue Eyes is out of town.

Every foodie story on Rockland always omits my favorite spot: Conte’s on South Main Street. Yes, it looks like an abandoned fishing shack. Yes, the waitresses will bite your head off if you try to sit down before you order from the butcher’s paper roll-menu or have the effrontery to ask for separate checks, even if the place is empty. They don’t hire waitresses until they have flunked multiple personality tests. Yes, they have moved from their charming waterfront location to mundane South Main Street. But I challenge you to find better, fresher fish anywhere, anytime, anyplace. Sometimes your scallops have been caught that afternoon. Yes, you will have plenty for tomorrow’s lunch. Food maven Anthony Bourdain called Chef John Conte a “genius” after his visit several years ago. Who am I to argue with an expert? Now sit down, shut up and eat.

I promise to never go to Walla Walla, Wash., but if you do, Daily Meal says it was originally a farming community, which has evolved into a “pretension-free and wine- and food-obsessed” locale.

I would consider Healdsburg, Calif., since it is just north of Sonoma where you can drown in good, cheap wine. Healdsburg is “a postage stamp-sized town that packs in ample wine tasting with hole-in-the-wall restaurants, fine dining, and heaps of charm.”

I have always bypassed Savannah on my annual trip through Georgia, but I might have to rethink my itinerary now. I have never thought of Savannah as a “small town” to compare to Rockland, but Daily Meal does. In a backhanded compliment, they say, “Savannah is even more charming and idyllic than it sounds, sitting along the water as an old Southern port town with cobblestoned streets and endless amounts of mouthwatering Southern cuisine. The historic district is home to some of the city’s most welcoming eateries, like B. Matthews Eatery, where locals flock for brunch, and the town’s sugar-sweetness can be found at places like Back in the Day Bakery and the Gryphon Tea Room. More serious Southern meals can be found at Olde Pink House.”

That might go into my “Florida trip” file for some new adventures. After all, Savannah has a huge St. Patrick’s Day celebration. That counts for a lot.

For your information, G.I. Mom’s is long gone from Rockland. Sorry. You will have to find your “summer getaway dreams” somewhere else.

Send complaints and compliments to Emmet Meara at emmetmeara@msn.com.

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