November 19, 2019
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Bucking trends, creative chef turns Pittsfield into a dining hotspot

PITTSFIELD, Maine — When the staff at Vittles see regulars park their car on Main Street, the pancake batter hits the griddle. The last piece of haddock is saved. Coffee is poured.

“I know the same man comes in every other Saturday sits in Booth 1 Position B and wants one blueberry pancake,” chef Richard LeRose said.

At this American restaurant with Italian undertones, regulars are treated like gold. And they’re treated to some of the freshest, sophisticated fare in this neck of the woods.

“Food is really part of your soul,” co-owner Kathleen Phelan, the chef’s mother, said. “Our menu is modeled after that.”

The whole family is involved in all aspects of this scratch kitchen. The tangy pickle, onion, pepper side is LeRose’s wife Erin’s recipe. Kathleen bakes pies — strawberry is a favorite. LeRose’s stepfather Robert is the face of the operation as Vittles affable maitre d’.

What’s a Culinary Institute of America grad doing behind the stove seven days per week in this small farming town? “Making people eat out of their comfort zone,” said LeRose, a Connecticut native, who has cooked in Northeast Harbor, throughout the Nutmeg State and started a catering company here before opening Vittles in 2011.

Diners drive over from Dixmont, up from Waterville and down from Bangor for his avocado ice cream and garlic cheddar sour cream smashed potatoes. Meals such as chicken cordon bleu doctored with tarragon and mustard are new for many. Touches like hot sauce made with a rainbow carrot base are a few octaves above what neighboring pizza joints are laying down.

“I’m flattered that someone would come 40 miles from Bangor to eat here,” said LeRose, whose cozy, 49-seater feels like a diner. The 1900s building with high, pressed-tin ceilings is a gathering place for elevated but not fussy fare.

Vittles is not farm to table, though the waitress, who also owns a farm, brings in seasonal veggies that end up as specials. Everything is made to order. Potatoes from Green Thumb Farms in Fryeburg become hand-cut fries and lightly seasoned potato chips. Inventive specials such as roasted duck breast club with brown butter sage mayo dressed spinach, bacon and tomato turn heads all day.

“We are taking the familiar and putting a twist on it,” LeRose said. A pulled pork shepherd’s pie is another example of his random twists that keep things lively.

On Friday and Saturday nights, dinner is served. A new menu is created both nights, featuring rotating specials such as beer-battered Maine haddock and five-spice seared duck breast served with blueberry red wine reduction sauce.

Appetizers such as shrimp Mozambique served in a spicy buffalo garlic and wine butter sauce over focaccia bread, would be right at home in Portland’s bustling restaurant scene. But LeRose is not intent on competing for food supremacy in a crowded market.

“I moved here to get out of the hubbub. I’m not interested in cookoffs,” LeRose, 37, said. “What I do is not very different from a good electrician or plumber.”

Seeking accolades on blogs, mentions in food glossies, James Beard nods “are not essential to make me tick.”

He creates wholesome meals broadened with on-trend ingredients. Glancing over his lunch menu last week, the cook winces. Sriracha is getting 86’d.

“The minute Frito-Lay starts using it,” he says with a wry smile, “it’s kind of over.”

Vittlesofpittsfield.com 107 Main St., Pittsfield. For more information, call 207-487-8181. Open seven days per week. Dinner is served Friday and Saturday until 7:30 p.m.

 



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