Recognizing that most Mainers eat more lunches out than dinners, let’s do lunch!

George

In response to reader requests and the recognition that most of our out-of-the-house meals are lunches, we’re embarking on a culinary luncheon tour of the state. Today, let’s do lunch at the China Dine-ah!

Norm Elvin, who also happens to own a major roofing company, has turned his Dine-ah into a warm and wonderful restaurant. Last summer he opened China Dine-ah Too on Route 3, where he was able to snare a lot of the traffic headed from central Maine to Belfast and other coastal locations. Norm even did the cooking there.

Don’t ask me how he did that, while his company was putting the roof on the new hospital. The man must never sleep! Actually, he told me that the folks who work with and for him make it all possible.

He’s closed the China Dine-ah Too restaurant for the winter, so you must now divert about a mile north of Route 3 where you will find him hosting customers at China Dine-ah for breakfast, lunch and dinner. I love the way Norm connects with his customers, both in person and online.

I’ve been on the China Dine-ah email list for a long time, a list that now includes 17,200 customers. The Dine-ah’s weekly email message always includes a trivia contest, plus info about their special events and dining offers. They also maintain a great Facebook page with 5,500 friends.

The Dine-ah’s manager, Sherri Glidden, offered us a warm welcome, seated us in a nice large booth with plenty of room for note pads, camera, menus and food, and turned us over to server Kathy, who helped us through the extensive menu. The Dine-ah offers a special lunch menu, but you may also order anything on the dinner menu. I’m talking six pages of food.

From the dinner menu I was eyeing Beef Chili and Cheese — homemade with green onions and topped with jack cheese, served with crispy tortilla chips and sour cream on the side. At just $7.95, this looked like a real bargain.

But of course, I wanted to give you a thorough review of the food here, so I also suggested to Lin that I should order the Loaded Prime Rib Steak and Cheese on the luncheon menu — shaved prime rib grilled with mushrooms, peppers and onions, topped with my choice of cheese, and served on a grilled sub roll with French fries. I was astonished at the low price of $9.85.

“Gee honey, have some beef,” exclaimed Lin with a look of disapproval. I glanced away, toward Kathy, as I ordered both the chili and steak sandwich, enjoying the refreshing taste of a lemonade.

Norm arrived at our table just in time and took the conversation in a new direction. His suggestion that he’d “get out the doggy bag,” mollified Lin a bit. But then the chili arrived. The portion is huge — certainly enough for lunch. I did end up bringing half of it home. It was very good.

The sandwich was also large, and the steak was perfectly cooked — nice and tender — and well spiced. I am somewhat ashamed to admit I ate the entire sandwich — but hey, I did not eat most of the large amount of fries — even though they were crispy, just the way I like them.

With Lin’s two dishes, my two, and our refillable drinks, our bill totaled only $35.40. Two can easily do lunch here for less than $20. For this quality of food and service, that is amazing.

Linda

 

My mind goes to one thing when I hear the name diner — an image of the metal diner cars with booths of plastic seats and some swivel stools around the serving counter. Norm Elvin started the China Dine-ah in 2007. His vision of a diner is quite a step above my version. It’s still a place where you can expect good home cooked food at reasonable prices. But Norm’s diner is enormous, to start with.

This is a “down home” kind of place finished with beautiful wide pine boards that were milled by Viking Lumber in Belfast. The hand built counter of the bar is a work of craftsmanship like the dove tailed corner details. The large built-in booths are roomy and comfortable. But plenty of tables are here too if you prefer them.

The lunch menu gives you lots of choices of hot or cold sandwiches, served with pickles and chips. There are many club sandwich versions and you can choose to make any sandwich a wrap. The hot sandwiches include a Reuben, burgers, hot dogs, pulled pork, fried haddock or a sub roll of prime rib and cheese.

Or you may simply choose from one of their homemade soups or chili. I went with the onion soup, which was a wonderful version. It turns out that Sherri, the manager, brought in her own recipe to use here! Topped with a garlic crouton and lots of mozzarella cheese, it’s not exactly a dainty dish with cheese stretching everywhere, but boy is it delicious.

The chicken tenders are prepared two ways. The first is with seasonings such as Thai chili, Parmesan peppercorn or Buffalo tossed with the tenders after they are cooked. The second option, and the one I went with, was plain chicken tenders with a choice of side dipping sauces. The tenders were perfectly cooked and not at all greasy. (I always wonder how they can do that.)

I tried two sauces, the Thai chili sauce and a Ranch. I especially enjoyed the Ranch dipping sauce. It also went well with the carrot and celery that came on the side. This was an appetizer, but made a great lunch. The dinner order of this dish includes choice of potato and a side salad. I snuck a few fries from George’s plate and tried his chili and prime rib sub too. I have to say that everything I tasted was very very good.

People come here for the home cooked food. We met a couple we know who explained that they come here often and always order the Turkey dinner. Hmmm, might have to go back soon and try that!

Norm invests himself fully in his restaurant. He says he doesn’t know much about cooking but will do whatever he can to help out. I noticed that he makes a point to connect with his customers. It’s not superficial. He deeply cares that everyone is treated well and enjoys the food served here.

So if you are looking for a super lunch stop do try the China Dine-ah. It’s just a short distance from busy Route 3. You can come here by truck, three-wheeler or Corvette (as witnessed by the parking lot the day we arrived.) You have to love a place like that!

Visit George’s website — georgesmithmaine.com — for book reviews, outdoor news and all Travelin’ Maine(rs) columns, found listed in the “Best of Maine” section.

IF YOU GO

China Dine-ah
281 Lakeview Drive, Route 202, China
ON THE WEB: www.chinadine-ah.com
PHONE: 445-5700
HOURS: Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday 7 a.m. – 8 p.m.
Friday and Saturday 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. w
Sunday 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. with a special breakfast buffet from 7 a.m. to noon.