Salt Water Farm now in Rockport
ROCKPORT — Salt Water Farm, of Lincolnville fame, has opened a café and market in Rockport at 24 Central St. in the village's Union Hall. The café will serve breakfast, lunch and dinner. The market is integrated with the café and offers fresh produce, goods and provisions. Baked goods and bread are all made fresh on site, plus to-go items are available from the daily menu. Penobscot Bay Pilot spent a few minutes with Annemarie Ahearn Friday morning to get the scoop on the new venture.
“The view, simply put,” she said. “We were up at the cooking school in Lincolville with a pretty incredible view of Penobscot Bay and to try to replicate that in a restaurant form geographically was a challenge. We looked at many spaces and couldn’t find something that felt like the right setting until we realized this was an option and we went with it.”
Annemarie said the cooking school was a stepping stone to a larger commercial enterprise.
“This has allowed the hiring of a lot more staff members. We have 25 now and a half of them moved to Maine just because of the project, which was pretty exciting. The other half are from Maine and it’s just a wonderful group of people, so that was a big part — that we wanted to expand and hire more staff and ultimately reach more people. Beyond that we wanted to be open every day in a more open setting, so that people felt that they can come anytime.”
I noticed the workers are in the process of finishing a big deck out back. Will there be dining on it?
“There will be 24 seats on the deck if we can fit all the tables on it,” she said. “It should be ready in about two days, so we’re really, really excited about that and as you can see it’s a wonderful view of Rockport Harbor.”
Things have been touch-and-go this last week. When will you officially be open for breakfast, lunch and dinner?
“So far we’ve got breakfast down, brunch down and dinner down, and next week we’re going to work on lunch. We’ll have sandwiches and salads on the menu and basically we’re trying to expand the service. We’re trying to have an organic growth here. Trying to have three different services is a lot until you have your systems in place and then it becomes pretty serious fun for everyone.”
You like to use small local farms for your supplies?
“We have granola and yogurt from a woman who is a very good friend of ours called Milk House Yogurt,” she said. “There are young dairy farmers, so yes, a lot of our sources are from very small farmers in the state of Maine and a lot of them are from around here. Our focus for all three meals, I would say, is working predominately with small farms, many of whom can’t work with larger restaurants because of the high demands put on them. Because we do a single menu each night and we change it every day, we can get these ingredients fresh every day and in much smaller quantities and support these farmers. Otherwise they have to spend one or two days at a farmer’s market when they could be growing.”
What can we expect to see on the menu as far as fare goes?
“Breakfast and lunch are pretty informal,” said Annemarie. “For breakfast we have some wonderful pastry. Our pastry chef is Caitlin McCrea. She comes to use from a restaurant in New York and she makes some of the best croissants, blueberry buckles and cinnamon toast. For lunch, we’ll have a number of open-face sandwiches, mostly vegetable driven, and some meats. For summer we’ll do salads and soups in the winter. For dinner it’s what we call, Tonight’s Dinner, it’s a procession of food that fluctuates depending on what we get in and it ranges from $28 to $45 and there are various courses. We also have a sides menu that features some other items that we got in that day, maybe in smaller quantities. We’ll do five or six items and offer them until they’re sold, just so people can taste some things that maybe they wouldn’t get a chance to otherwise.”
A single menu item each night is a pretty brave thing to do. What will it accomplish for you?
“What we are accomplishing with a single menu each night is to openly create a more sustainable restaurant model, “she said. “Yes, it is a very brave thing, because as you can expect, the feedback is mixed, but we strongly believe that the food is so good and there is very little waste as a result of this menu, and if people would come as if they’re coming to a dinner party and just let us take care of them, we can guarantee a phenomenal experience. We need their trust and that is something that will take time, but we are totally committed to it.”
I hear you also have an outstanding selection of beers and wine.
“We do have an outstanding selection of beers and wines and our cocktail list is a big part of the fun,” said Annemarie. “We have a friend who was a very dear friend of our general manager who works at a very busy bar in New York City called Frankies. He came up to teach fundamental cocktail making to our bar staff and our bar staff is all from Maine, so they already have a lot of knowledge of what grows here, so with his knowledge and their knowledge we put together a pretty cool list that not only reflects Maine, but has a lot of strength in the recipe-making.”
Let’s get back to the local farmers for a minute. Local has always been a philosophy that has been yours. Are you happy with that philosophy and what it has done for you?
“Yes, I would say that one of the more exciting things that we do is interacting on a personal level with the local farmers we work with,” said Annemarie. “We’ll be doing a series of dinner that will be “Meet the Farmers Dinners” where we feature their product and they come in and talk about what goes into growing, or fishing, or foraging, or whatever they do.”
Salt Water Farm will have 55 seats inside with an additional 24 on the deck. Reservations are recommended as the restaurant is running about 80 percent booked each night. Breakfast and lunch is very casual and no reservations are currently required. It’s a unique place that honors where you are with food. Highly recommended and it carries the Wolffie seal of approval.