George

After reading articles about Rockport’s 18 Central in Zest and Down East magazines, we were eager to dine there. Chef Patrick Duffy and his wife Jessica have created a restaurant that is unique, with creative dishes and an ever-changing menu that keeps both locals and summer visitors flocking to this place. Be sure to get a reservation.

Our table overlooked Rockport Harbor, and every table was full on a Monday night, including the long bar near the entrance. Our server, Alexa, a young lady who aspires to be a professional photographer, has worked here since last November and was friendly and knowledgeable about the menu. That was a good thing because Patrick’s dishes are complicated.

Linda insisted on a single, shared appetizer (fried green tomatoes, $15). That turned out to be wise because portions are large. I did wish I’d had a chance to try the extensive raw bar menu, which includes oysters from six Maine suppliers and clams from New Meadows. Next time!

After reading about the scallop and pork belly entree in the magazines, I had to have it. Alexa confirmed that it is indeed very good. And boy, it sure was. Just imagine: grilled scallops, roasted pork belly, parsnip mashed potatoes, grilled radicchio, spring onion agradolce and a spicy mustard on the side.

With the first bite of scallop, I am in dining heaven. Then I hear Linda raving about her first bite of chicken, “Wow, Is that good!” Patrick’s sauces are amazing and some take more than a day to prepare.

We stayed that night at 250 Main, a gorgeous new hotel on the east end of Rockland’s great downtown. It has stunning views of the ocean from both the rooms and the rooftop deck. There are a lot of amenities from heated towel racks to afternoon wine and cheese gatherings.

A college-age young man, Joshua, carried our bags to our room and visited with us at the afternoon wine gathering. Every staffer here is friendly and smiling, and takes time to speak with you — something we appreciate. Our room on the fifth floor offered a great view of the ocean, and we lingered the next morning before heading home.

While we were in Rockland, we enjoyed a fantastic lunch at Close to Home, a new sandwich shop opened by the owners of Home Kitchen Cafe. My El Cubano was superb.

Linda

250 Main is the new contemporary hotel in Rockland. One step in and I noticed the European feel. The large, open layout of the main lobby was filled with artwork. High ceilings featured old wooden boards next to corrugated steel sections. Fresh coffee awaits, and there are several tables where small gatherings meet and breakfast is served.

Our room featured modern lighting and sleek furniture offset by white walls. An entire wall of windows filled the room with light and looked out over the harbor. The elegant bathroom had modern fixtures, fluffy towels and an extra-large glass door shower. Yes, one feels pampered here.

There is a lot of art throughout the building, featuring Maine artists in various mediums. A pamphlet in the lobby detailed the artwork on each floor and a little bit about each artist.

Dinner at 18 Central that evening was superb. We had dined here a couple of years ago when it was Shepard’s Pie. It is still a nice dining space with some tables overlooking the water. The open kitchen offers great views of the food being prepared. It always amazes me when you have a packed dining room and the chefs are very busy, but don’t seem stressed out. I’m pretty sure I would be.

I knew what I wanted for an appetizer, and yes, I did have some convincing to do to get George to share one. But this version of fried green tomatoes was topped with fresh crabmeat. Sold. With green goddess dressing, herbs, microgreens and a splash of chili oil, this appetizer was elegant. It was big enough to split and still be able to enjoy our entrees.

As I glanced through the menu, I thought, “It would probably be wrong to order fried chicken in a restaurant like this.” However, my gauge of a great restaurant is if they can take chicken and really elevate it. This dish proved that the chefs know exactly what they are doing.

The coating was crispy yet light, and the chicken was moist and tender. It was drizzled with a sesame cider vinaigrette. One bite and I was over the moon. This fried chicken dinner ($25) came with collards and heirloom grits. The collards had a smokey flavor (perhaps cooked with salt pork), and the grits had texture and a bit of spice.

Chef Patrick told us he grew up in Virginia. Yes, I thought, of course he has those southern flavors down. I was not wrong in ordering the chicken here, for it truly was the best fried chicken I have ever tasted.

We split the homemade strawberry rhubarb oatmeal crisp. It was served warm with a honey ricotta topping. It wasn’t overly sweet and tasted like spring — a great finish to a great dinner.

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