Rockport’s beautiful Salt Water Farm Cafe is just the place to linger over Sunday brunch.

Linda

Walking into the Salt Water Farm Cafe in Rockport’s Union Hall felt like paradise. While snow was falling and a brisk wind was blowing outside, doors opened to a brightly lit, cheery restaurant with jazz playing in the background. Rustic wooden tables are anchored by antique iron bases. Weathered barn-board columns mix with high ceilings and contemporary hanging lights. White walls make this open space seem huge.

You will see chefs busily preparing food in the open kitchen on your way to your table. Antique copper pans are part of the decor. A couple of long, hand-carved benches, topped with ticking cushions and pillows, serve as part of the seating. Open doors on the large hutch reveal glasses, cups and plates, reminding me of a Maine farmhouse. Kitchen dishtowels serve as napkins lending a homey feel. The cafe is warm and cozy and was a perfect place to enjoy a snowy scene in Rockport Harbor beyond the windows. One wants to linger here.

Andrew, the manager of the restaurant, welcomed us and wanted us to taste several of the brunch offerings. We were game! We started with a great cup of coffee (from Matt’s Coffee in Portland) and the Mexican Scramble ($9), eggs with a zesty flare. They were full of tomatoes and chilies, then topped with scallions. The lime wedge on the side was the perfect balance to the dish’s spiciness.

Andrew makes a lot of the sweets here, and we were beyond impressed when he brought out his Blackberry Cornmeal Buckle. This was a huge muffin with a crunchy exterior, yet was moist inside. It contained giant blackberries and was topped with cinnamon sugar.

When I thought nothing could top that, I tried the fig and anise scone. It was light as a feather, barely sweet and accompanied by a little dish of whipped cream for dipping. I am not a big sweets eater in the morning, but these pastries ($2-3) could make me a convert. That scone might have been one of my favorite things here. I kept going back for another bite.

The Duck Egg and Leek Toast entree ($12) was simple yet elegant. A thick slice of toast was topped with sauteed leeks, gruyere cheese and a sunny side up duck egg. Carefully gathering all those things with a little toast creates the perfect mouthful. It was served with fresh greens that were lightly dressed. This is brunch at its best, and another favorite.

I can’t tell you how happy I was that I hadn’t consumed anything but coffee before this late-morning feast! By the time a plate of French Toast arrived, people had taken notice of us quietly seated in the corner. The lady near me leans in and says, “Big appetite!” with a smile.

Talking with owner Annmarie Ahearn, I hear the excitement in her voice as she shares her passion for good food. She is young and full of energy and ideas. Her gardens at the Salt Water Farm supply some of the vegetables here in the summer. She works with about 50 farms to source great ingredients for her restaurant.

Annemarie also runs the Salt Water Farm Cooking School. You can sign up for a variety of classes or three-day workshops from June through October. The first year, she had participants from Maine; the second year, from New Hampshire and Massachusetts; and now she says they come from all over. Now that would be fun!

George

Salt Water Farm, owned by Annemarie’s parents, has drawn my interest for a long time. So when I heard she’d opened the cafe in Rockport, I began plotting a dinner there. Alas, they do not offer dinner in the winter. But that turned out to be a blessing because our brunch was a wonderful experience.

Brunch combines two of my favorite things — breakfast and lunch — and is all about lingering. And what a place to linger. I especially enjoyed the view of Rockport’s beautiful harbor looking out our table-side window. Annemarie’s artful eye and interest in old copper pots and pans turned this old brick building into a very warm and welcoming place. We saw only two tables change over the entire time we were there.

Linda proclaimed, “I’m in love!” with her first bite of the blackberry buckle. And I agreed. But I do love scones and theirs (with fig and anise) are very good, served with a heaping side dish of freshly whipped cream. Sinful. (And we were missing church!)

We already had our first main dish, the Mexican Scramble, in front of us when Matt read my mind and brought out the scone and buckle before I could ask for them. By that time, I was glad we had a big table because the food was piling up.

The Scramble is a colorful, spicy dish with the cafe’s own thick toast. They do their own baking here. I did, just briefly, stare longingly at a side dish of bacon at the next table but before I knew it, another dish was coming our way.

Our favorite of the day was the Duck Egg and Leek Toast. Lin got restless as I snapped photo after photo of this beautiful dish. Boy, it looked so good. And it was. The luscious bright greens, the perfectly poached egg, the thick blanket of cheese on the homemade toast — it’s a dish that went right to the top of my all-time breakfast favorites.

Sometime during this feast, Andrew surprised us with the French toast — and I dug right in. The hint of nutmeg, sugar coating, real maple syrup and thick toast made for a very special dish.

The table was littered with leftovers — a little bit of scramble here, a quarter of the buckle there — and, while I was so very full, everything was still tempting. Lin announced that she was going to the bathroom. “Do not eat anything while I’m gone,” she ordered. While she was gone, our server refilled our coffee cups from a stunning red pot. And I had a nibble or two of the buckle … and maybe a bit more of the French toast.

Annemarie, who once wrote about food and travel for Maine Magazine (and who has become well-known in the farm-to-table movement, especially for her cooking classes) is young and engaging. She’s now working with more than 50 farms and was serving as hostess on the morning of our visit, but she also sometimes cooks here.

Prices are astonishingly low — especially for this creative high-quality food. Many brunch choices were just $8 and $9, with sides $1.50 to $5. “It’s very important to us that people who live here, eat here,” Annemarie told us, while acknowledging that the cafe loses money in the winter. That’s very typical of Maine restaurants — too many of which now close for the winter months.

I’ve now got my eye on returning for a Wednesday night when the cafe serves Mexican food — the head chef, Sam Richman, used to run a Mexican restaurant called Gran Electrica in New York City.

“This is real Mexican food,” Annemarie said. “No tacos!”

The cafe is open on Saturday nights with live music and snacks. The night before we were there, they entertained 50 people. “The bar rocks!” exclaimed Annemarie.

I have no doubt, but our next visit here will have to be lunch. The lunch menu is amazing!

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.