ROCKLAND — If, in the aftermath of this snowstorm, you can even manage to remember back to Sunday, let us reminisce about a day of feasting.
The weather had stabilized enough for me to get off Matinicus and I was privileged to attend the 11th annual Pies on Parade event on Jan. 25. We had plentiful sunshine and nippy winter temperatures keeping the mud at bay, and I enjoyed the good company of daughter Emily and friend Ben, who had carpooled up from the Portland area. We met at Rock City around noon for a coffee and a few minutes to go over the list of offerings.
I had already collected our tickets at the Lighthouse Museum, where we fortunate early-birds were treated to a little pre-game treat. The folks from Bartlett Woods were set up there, offering a couple of options including a wonderful Blueberry Coconut Tart. This was not the traditional Maine blueberry pie, but instead something decadent and creamy...a blueberry mousse, maybe, or a blueberry cheesecake filling, or a blueberry chiffon? I'm not sure which, but the texture was elegant and the toasted coconut flakes added a special touch — and not a combination I'd have ever thought of.
Let me confess, assert and confirm that I am no "foodie" in the sense of having the proper lingo down or any experience with obscure ingredients or unexpected combinations of flavors. I am most assuredly not a restaurant critic (I'd be hard-pressed to criticize anybody who makes food for others). In all honesty, I tend to gravitate to "comfort food," if you will pardon an overused expression. A good pizza — even just plain cheese — ideally made on a handmade crust in a wood fire, with a glass of non-light draft beer, is just about my favorite meal out. When staying in, there's little that can beat macaroni and cheese, except maybe deer steak and hot biscuits, or homemade-bread French toast, or something involving gravy. So there; do not expect expressions of culinary refinement from me.
Ben was new to Rockland and had never eaten in any of these places. He studied the Pies on Parade map and tried making a list of stops that might be favorites — a list that quickly grew too long to be in any way useful. We started our official rounds at Archer's, where we were greeted at the door by Lynn Archer, then seated, and served Haddock Shepherd's Pie.
Emily said, "This goes on the list of things I want to cook." She was pleased to discover that Lynn would be making it on the 207 television program on WCSH very soon, and she fully intended to get the recipe.
Outside the Terra Optima farm store, before we even got across Main Street, we noticed the tempting fragrance of good cooking. Inside, Ben, Emily and I all enjoyed the Tourtiere (Canadian-style pork pie) but fell entirely in love with the chicken pot pie. Emily looked around, discovering spätzle, local meat, and art made out of wrenches... "What a wonderful place!"
Next, we slogged over snowy sidewalks down Park Street to the Blackboard Deli, where we were offered samples of two specialty pizzas. The first, with bleu cheese, bacon and some other things, was deemed very good by Ben and Emily, who encouraged me to try it. I can't stand bleu cheese, but even I liked this pizza. However, the sausage, pepper, onion and roasted garlic offering was just my style! There were great chunks of sweet Italian sausage, and garlic not like a seasoning but like a vegetable — big, soft chunks of roasty garlicky sweetness.
So good...and so worth the hike off Main Street!
At Speakeasy, the bar at the Trade Winds, we had some more pizza. Like I said, I love pizza. The printed list indicated that Speakeasy was offering Margarita Pie. Before we got there, Ben asked what we thought that might be. Lime, maybe? Hopefully not much salt. It was, of course Margherita Pizza, meaning simple pizza in the classic style, with slices of tomato rather than gobs of red sauce. I'd rather have a margherita pizza than a margarita pie, whatever that might be.
Besides, we knew that actual lime pie would be coming up later.
At the Puffin Project Center the little Cream Puffins were cunning as ever, and the local ukulele band, advertised as the Puffin Pluckers and strumming away in the back room added to the happy goofiness of the day. We then crossed the street back to Rock City for Red Berry Pie and their version of Shepherd's Pie — a popular offering around town, as it happened. Across the street at Rustica it was another pizza sample, with great handmade crust, and another nod to "I'll come back here and get a whole pizza sometime soon." Breakwater Vineyards offered little Pumpkin Whoopie pies — which Ben snapped up — along with little samples of their un-oaked chardonnay, something we truly did not expect. Chardonnay is not a big deal to me, but this was really very good. I heard Emily say, "I would pay money for that wine." She doesn't say that about everything. A splash of wine in the middle of this food just made us all smile.
At Snowdrop Confections — which, I might add, is a feast for the eyes as well as the palate — we were presented with samples of traditional New York Style Cheesecake, and something very pleasing and simple called Buttermilk Pie, which none of us had tried before but that we all liked. The cheesecake was extremely good, and I for one was delighted that it was just plain cheesecake, nothing complicated. It was exactly what one hopes for when "cheesecake" is promised.
The three of us — and dozens of others — started up Limerock Street for the Limerock Inn, the first of the group of historic inns of Rockland we visited. These establishments are the founders of this feast, and are due a hearty thanks for their effort. However, as we plugged away into the sharp westerly wind, we were stopped by a small group coming the other way.
"They're closed. They're all out." Hmm...really? Should we turn back? It seemed awfully early in the afternoon for a founding inn to be out of pie. We were skeptical of the advice, and needed to walk a few blocks anyway to try and rekindle an appetite. "Let's just go check on this ourselves."
The Limerock Inn was by no means closed up or out of pie, but the Pies on Parade poster prominently displayed in the window said "Sold Out." Of course, it meant that the event was sold out, that tickets were no longer available — nothing to do with the supply of goodies! As soon as we stepped through the purple doors Emily found the proprietor and said, "Something terrible is happening. People are turning others away because they think you're all done already..." and she explained the problem. "Well," he replied, "I'll just go and rip down that sign right now!" He did. Problem solved.
Ben said something to Emily about being a "pie hero."
"In that case, that woman who tried to turn us away was a pie villain!" she smiled. Surely an honest mistake.
To the contrary, at the Limerock Inn an elegant sideboard was heavy laden with neat slices of Key Lime Pie and Fudge Pecan Pie (and I think there was a savory offering as well, not out at that moment). We relaxed at a table in a comfy room and counted ourselves both lucky and wise. The fudge pecan pie was the chocolate I'd been hankering for. Of the lime, Ben commented that "this is the Platonic Ideal of a Key Lime Pie." With much oohing and ahhing — seriously — we allowed it sour and tart and luscious and beautiful.
We headed back out into the wind, to Main Street, and ducked into the Rock Harbor pub, which was offering a Shepherd's Pie made with the house Imperial Stout. The next pan of pie was yet to come out of the oven, and we were advised of the wait, but they were pouring 4-ounce beers. We settled down for a break, and sampled the Rock Harbor stout without the Shepherd's Pie around it, at least for the moment.
Ben, who among us was most likely to go for the obscure and the sophisticated, was eager to try Fiore's Avocado Sesame Tuna Wonton Pie. Life is not all pizza, shepherd's Pie, and Cheesecake; sometimes you have to be brave. He liked it. By that point we were getting full, and could not each manage a whole serving of everything. We began to consider some division of labor.
At the Captain Lindsey House we happened to get the absolute last piece of chocolate pie. It was eight minutes after 3 p.m., and this brownie-in-a-pie offering was a triumph. There was about enough for one bite apiece. Lucky, lucky us.
On to another of the historic inns, up blustery Talbot Avenue to the Berry Manor, where we found old-timey favorites — Maine Blueberry Pie, Raspberry Pie and Pecan Pie, which I love, and never object to having more than once in a day. Emily and Ben, however, are hearty respecters of raspberries, and as I crunched my pecans they both happily tucked into the raspberry offering.
The Granite Inn was next — another sponsoring historic inn — and for the second time we happened to be the last party served. One sliver of mushroom pie was left, and our Ben made short work of that. He pronounced it most delicious. We felt in no way shortchanged, however, as they offered us hot cider, which at that point hit the spot perfectly. We talked about that mulled cider for an hour. Timing is everything, and we couldn't have been happier.
Was the Brown Bag still serving? It was getting late, and the first door we tried was locked, but the second door opened to the enveloping warmth and smell of...gravy! Hello! Yes! Before us, turkey pot pies, with amazing flaky crust, and a voice behind us recommending "Take a plate. That way you can have gravy!" Pitchers of gravy! We parked ourselves at a table and you'd have thought we hadn't been eating steadily for the better part of three hours. So good!
The event was scheduled to end at 4 p.m., and at 3:55 we made for our last stop (unfortunately, because we realized we had missed a couple of places). At Cone Home, the ice cream store affiliated with Home Kitchen Café, we were each issued a plate with a slice of their signature Sticky Bun, some Round Top vanilla ice cream, and brown-sugary caramel sauce. Susan, the proprietor, mentioned to us that Round Top had donated the ice cream to the event. With our bellies full and that satisfaction only ice cream can provide, we dropped off our metal forks, promising ourselves to see them again next year.
Pies on Parade is of course a fundraiser for the Area Interfaith Food Pantry, but it is more than that. No doubt area merchants hope that out-of-towners will be reminded that Rockland is not just about summertime tourism and lobsters (and boats, and the Blues.) It sometimes takes some effort to get locals to step into places they may not have patronized yet, and this event draws us all into new shops and places off our "beaten path." I definitely will be going back to a few newly discovered places. Of note: the pizza at the Blackboard Deli (on Park Street where Amato's used to be). Archer's on the Pier, which I'd been planning to visit since the day they opened but somehow hadn't been to yet, will be on my list for a nice supper in town this winter. Sadly we missed the offering from Fog Bar, but Emily and I and maybe a few others have plans to go try it for Drink and Draw some evening. We also should have stopped into Loyal Biscuit and collected dog treats for Rossi back on Matinicus and Juneau in Scarborough. There's always next year. Thorndike's was crowded when we passed, but they were offering pizza; I go there for pizza quite often when I am in Rockland, and I recommend it heartily.
In yesterday’s blizzard, it's hard to believe that just a few days before that the streets and shops of Rockland were full of people. Let us think of gravy and pizza and Key Lime pie — and smile.
Eva Murray lives on Matinicus
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