June 22, 2018
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Down East dining with Jamaican flair, at small Steuben eatery

By Emily Burnham, BDN Staff

When Alva Lowe and Jessie King bought their house at 335 Village Road in Steuben, there was a tree growing through the dining room. Needless to say, the house was a fixer-upper.

Fortunately Lowe, a native of Jamaica who immigrated to the U.S. decades ago, is a man of many skills, and over the years renovated the building and surrounding grounds. The stone pathways, made of scrap granite, winding throughout the gardens? That was Alva. The gray shingled chicken coops in the backyard, full of chilled-out heritage chicken breeds? Alva. The warm wooden accents inside? Alva again, who’s also known in Maine as a wood sculptor.

“It feels like paradise,” said Lowe. “At least for us it does.”

Lowe and King share their slice of Down East paradise with an array of guests each summer, when for three months they turn their home into The Kitchen Garden, a small, reservation-only restaurant that has been delighting in-the-know diners for nearly 20 years. People come to their home to sit, chat, relax and eat King and Lowe’s distinctive blend of French and down-home American cuisine with Caribbean classics. The best place to eat Jamaican jerk chicken in Maine is in a little white house near the Washington-Hancock county line.

“It’s kind of eclectic. There’s a little bit of everything,” said King. “We make a seafood chowder, but we make it with coconut milk instead of cream. We have creme brulee, and we have curried goat.”

Lowe and King met in the ’80s in Connecticut, where Lowe had been working as an artist and as a personal chef, and King was a teacher. Neither cared for the pace of city life, so when the opportunity arose to move to Maine — a place King had visited and loved for some time — they jumped at it. For the most part, the couple have lived in Steuben, though they also did a stint living in Portland in the mid-2000s. They’ve been permanently Down East for nearly ten years now.

“It is so easy to just be what you want to be here,” said Lowe. “We can do whatever we want to our property. We can have as many gardens as we want, wherever we want. We grow everything we want to here.”

Broccoli, lettuce and snow peas thrive in their greenhouses, while outside a wild array of herbs are grown in every corner, along with corn in the front yard, potatoes in the back, tomatoes all around and, new this year, some peach and pear trees. If it can be grown in Maine, King and Lowe will give it a shot.

“We try to source everything we possibly can right from our own garden,” said King.

Dinner at The Kitchen Garden is more akin to a dinner party with friends, rather than a sit-down meal at a restaurant. Over five leisurely-delivered courses, diners will eat everything from Alva’s light, crispy turnovers, made with mushrooms or tomatoes, to Scallops Steuben, with the shellfish served in a lightly herbed cream sauce over quinoa, almonds and vegetables. The real treat is Lowe’s Jamaican cuisine — either the jerk chicken, spicy and incredibly moist, or his curried goat, marinated overnight and slow-cooked until it falls off the bone.

Lowe attributes his skill in the kitchen to childhood with his grandparents in Jamaica. His grandfather was a butcher, and his grandmother was a cook. They fed everyone, whether they could afford it or not.

“I learned how to do everything from them,” said Lowe. “They raised all their own food, and so do we.”

The Kitchen Garden, located at 335 Village Road in Steuben, opens for the season on Friday, July 5. Seatings for the five-course meal are at 6 and 8 p.m., Thursdays-Sundays. For reservations, visit thekitchengardenrestaurant.com or call 546-4269.

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