"Rockland, Maine--Wow, Did we ever find some great dining experiences

by Jeanne Bartlett

One of the compelling reasons I went to Maine was to dine on my favorite food: lobster. Why not, since on a recent prime-time T.V. show someone identified the perfect date as “going to Maine to eat a Maine lobster.” Fortunately, one of the first places I ventured in search of the perfect crustacean was The Pearl, a seafood restaurant located on the Pier in Rockland. The Pearl’s motto is, “Seafood, always fresh, always fun; the fresher you are, the funnier we get.”

It was love at first sight as it is a great, open restaurant with light-colored wood and windows with vistas of the sea in every direction. Once you walk in the door you can feel the hospitality. The bar is on your left-hand side and not only does the bartender greet you, all the customers seem to be smiling as well. Dividing the room is giant, oblong refrigerator, tilted so you could see all the items. The result is a mouth-watering display of the seafood available. There also is a raw bar, with oysters and other uncooked delicacies for those who enjoy them. The tables are arranged against the windows so you can look out at the ocean and numerous boats moored there.

The problem with The Pearl’s gorgeous presentation of lobster, scallops, shrimp, mussels, clams and oysters is that you are going to have to return another day to try them all. I couldn’t resist the offer of The Pearl’s shrimp cocktail, although I wanted to leave plenty of room for the main course. The restaurant prices its version in an interesting way: $2 per perfect shrimp, paired with a sauce appropriately tangy to set off the taste. Looking at the menu you will find halibut, swordfish, and numerous local fish which can be cooked to your preference. The accommodating server gave us a sumptuous taste of the fish straight from the pan. However, lobster was my choice for the entrée, a two-and-a-half pound beauty that had been delivered directly from the boat to the dock in front of the restaurant that day. I was not disappointed; it was a treat that surpassed even my lofty expectations.

This is a restaurant that literally arose from the ashes. Previously known as the Black Pearl, it had been destroyed by fire about six years ago. Now owned by Jimmy Fanning and Frank Nasworthy, the restaurant is a popular spot for locals and tourists alike. The owners have decided to make their establishment more than just a restaurant. There are events such as Reggae Monday, a “Live” DJ at night, dollar oysters, and any cocktail you might think up available from skilled mixologists.

The Pearl is located on the Pier, Public Landing, 275 Main Street, Rockland, Maine, phone 207. 594-9889. It is open for lunch, dinner and cocktails, 7 days a week.

Here I was on Main Street in Rockland, Maine looking for another seafood restaurant when I saw the name, Lily Bistro. The change of pace sounded like a good idea. Once inside I felt I was back in a cafe in a small French village in Provence. On my left were walls of a color the owners call “lily bud green”, a hue so bright it seems to be saying, “wake up it’s spring, even if its winter outside.” The wall on the right is exposed brick, quite a contrast in color and texture.

The thing that catches your eyes is the chandelier, a work of art. The craftsman who executed the fixture is Patti Kissinger, a glass blower at Prism Glass in Rockport. There are sconces in the shape of a bulb with a light inside with green scapes floating around them. A scape is a long, curly, shoot which spikes out at the end of a bulb. The name of the restaurant again goes back to bulbs. As Chef Lynette explains, lilies, onions, garlic, and leeks are all members of the same family. Bulbs have traditionally invoked thoughts of spring and renewed life, but to her it says, “You can’t do French cooking without it,”

The chefs have a unique division of labor. Chef Bob is the baker, including using his own fifty-year old starter for the sourdough, while handling the bar and cocktails. Chef Lynette handles the kitchen duties producing cuisine that they hope is simple, classic, and focused. She isn’t timid about mixing things up, trying unique combinations. One theme is that she puts together foods in the same family since as she says, “If it grows together, it goes together.” That means to her that leeks, garlic, onions, and asparagus work together. They pride themselves on sourcing their food products from local sources, even herbs and vegetables grown in their own backyard.

The night I was there for an appetizer I had Soft Corn pudding with creamed green garlic, bacon emulsion, and pea sprouts, served in a ramekin piping hot from the kitchen. What a fantastic combination. Several other dishes were tempting--Maine crab salad with avocado, cucumber, red onion, and aioli or their famous rustic port pate with pistachios, crostini, cornichons, and two different mustards. For the entrée I couldn’t pass up the steak with blue velvet butter and frites, as it brought back memories of the “bifteck et pommes frites” our teenagers, Diana and Michael, ordered everywhere in France, missing a lot of good things! And I must mention it was served with fiddleheads with garlic and sautéed in butter. Fiddleheads? Turns out they are unfurled fronds from young fern and prized as a delicacy by New Englanders. Figures they have to be good for you! The desserts, chocolate ganache cake, house spun ice cream, and cream brulee, would be hard to decide between except for the fact that I never pass up chocolate ganache!

After dinner you might take a short walk downstairs to see the wine cellar. The walls are granite and brick, with table to enjoy a glass of wine or beer or cocktails from their full bar. I find the wine list intriguing in its eclectic choices and reasonable price, with many wines available by the glass. I understand that Bob changes it seasonally, an interesting twist.

Lily is located at 421 Main Street, Rockland, Maine. They are open year round, seven days a week, 5 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. Phone (highly recommended as they are a ten-table establishment) is 207-594-4141. Rockland Café

In the town of Rockland, Maine, particularly on Main Street, you can find a great variety of restaurants. One can eat French, Mexican, or Thai cuisine. But if you want a simple meal, served by friendly people, and you like it fast, look for the Rockland Café at 441 Main Street. Its motto is, “Come as a stranger; leave as a friend” and it lives up to that promise.

Looking at the menu the proprietors seem to serve almost everything. It even boasts a low-carb menu! Choose from prime rib to lobster, pork chop to seafood lasagna, crabmeat melts to Texas chili, it’s all there. You can order sandwiches or every combination of seafood salad you can think of. Breakfast until noon, its got it covered. You can choose seafood as “all you can eat” or just a platter and have it with a glass of wine.

I arrived a cool day just looking for something to fill the gap between a hardy breakfast and a dinner I knew would be plentiful. There was a friendly and helpful server to guide me. Listening to the choices, I knew that seafood chowder was just the thing I needed. It was served promptly, hot and delicious. And off I went, a friend, not a stranger.

Rockland Café is open seven days a week. Their hours vary with the season, with longer hours May to September, phone 207.596-7556.

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