SULLIVAN, Maine — A silver sliver of a crescent moon rose over Frenchman Bay early Saturday morning as Bill and Stephanie Freeman’s alarm clock did its thing at their home in Trenton.
“We set our alarm for 5 a.m., so we would be the first ones here,” Stephanie said after the breakfast of her dreams at Chester Pike’s Galley, a restaurant on Route 1 in Sullivan that reopened Saturday morning. This is the 10th year of a seasonal operation that has made “Pike’s” the epicenter of a Down East culinary cult.
Stephanie Freeman’s first breakfast of the new season was French toast stuffed with wild blueberries and cream cheese, a treat well worth the 18-mile, pre-dawn road trip from Trenton, she said.
“I’m addicted,” Freeman said of her favorite breakfast. “Bill had corned beef hash with two eggs, which they normally don’t have on their breakfast menu until Sundays. But he’s been friends with the girls for a million years, and they knew we were coming, so they made some just for him.”
The “girls” are owners Jane Fogg, who does the cooking, and Amy McGarr, who does the baking — breads, rolls, muffins, pies, cakes, cookies, cobbler, cream puffs, cheesecakes and, on Sundays, doughnuts. As one regular patron said: “You know you’re in a great restaurant when the best part of a hamburger is the bun.”
The two women have been friends for life, coming of age together in Hulls Cove. That was long before they joined forces in 2004 to breathe new life into a building a half-mile west of Sumner Memorial High School that had seen more than a few short-lived and, by most accounts, dare-to-be-mediocre restaurant incarnations.
While the iconic harbingers of spring may include robins, Easter Sunday, the income tax due date and the emergence of long-dormant crocus, on the Schoodic Peninsula it’s just not spring until Pike’s reopens.
Named after one of Down East Maine’s last sardine boats, Pike’s decor is nautical, including old photos and artistic renderings of what historically was a massive sardine fleet.
Among the first through the door Saturday morning was Cathy Lewis of Sorrento, an early morning breakfast regular since day one in 2004. She compared being back at Pike’s to “coming out of hibernation.”
“What makes this place so special is the caring attitude of the two cooks,” Lewis said over bacon and eggs, raisin toast and hot tea. “They’re interested in people, and they want to make people happy with their food. Jane and Amy are a good fit for the area. They accept everybody for just who they are.”
Another regular — who has been described as Chester Pike’s “head cheerleader” — is Jean Girmscheid of Sullivan. She once worked two days a week with McGarr as an apprentice pastry chef. On Saturday, she arrived just before Fogg unlocked the front door 10 minutes early, at 5:50 a.m., delivering a just-printed batch of takeout menus.
“I have friends who are into baseball, who make a very big deal of opening day,” Girmscheid said Saturday. “Well, today is Pike’s opening day, only here everybody wins.”
Girmscheid was also once a member of The Friday Night Dinner Group. The group comprises six area couples who organized it years ago in direct response to a collective feeling of culinary deprivation that came with Pike’s shutting down each fall for the winter. Except for Fridays, Pike’s serves breakfast and lunch every day but Mondays, when it’s closed. On Fridays, dinner is served, too, and the six couples are usually among those who gather outside while waiting for a table.
“I’ll never forget one Friday night, when we knew we would have to wait to be seated, so we decided to tailgate it,” said Mike Shapiro of West Gouldsboro, a founding member of TFNDG. “We brought lawn chairs and had drinks outside while we waited probably about an hour. They finally came and said our table was ready. When we went in, our table was ready, but they had run out of chairs. So we went out to our cars and trucks and brought in our lawn chairs.”
Shapiro and TFNDG co-conspirator Roger Dean of Corea arrived at Pike’s on Saturday to make a special presentation just before the kitchen’s hectic conversion from breakfast to lunch fare. Over the winter, their group had compiled “Closed for the Season,” a whimsical, 100-plus-page collection of the recipes for the dishes served over years of off-season dinner parties.
Fogg and McGarr seemed delighted with the cookbook effort and had Dean, who took the lead in producing the limited-edition volume, write a dedication in the copy they were presented. As they paged through the cookbook, the two women chuckled at some of the many off-beat quotations, including this ditty from George Bernard Shaw: “Everything I eat has been proven by some doctor or other to be a deadly poison, and everything I don’t eat has been proved to be indispensable for life. But I go marching on.”
McGarr had been baking for days to ramp up for the weekend opening, while Fogg started prepping potatoes Friday afternoon for Saturday’s breakfast run on home fries. She generally expects to go through 50 pounds of potatoes during a busy weekend breakfast rush and as many as 30 dozen eggs.
On Saturday she was delighted to have sold out of her newest breakfast special: Eggs Bavarian. It’s a recipe she adapted from a restaurant where she once washed dishes. It’s a one-dish extravaganza in which a baking dish is layered with home fries, sliced ham, melted cheese (your choice), an egg (any style) and a beef-based meat sauce. Served with toast for $5.95.
By 8:30 Saturday morning, people were lined up out the door waiting for tables. Lunch proved to be just as busy. A new addition to the lunch menu this year is stuffed quahog clams, a staple in the Cape Cod area, where Fogg lived and worked before returning to Maine 10 years ago.
On display is a souvenir of last year’s “opening day,” a poem written by another member of the Pike’s faithful. It reads, in part:
It’s mostly about family, great friends and great food,
Now get those doors open and get that coffee brewed.
Start those fish a fryin, get the pancakes flippin’.
We miss you, we love you, now let us back in!!!
Good luck and break a leg. … I mean “egg.”