The Travelin Maine(rs), George and Linda Smith of Mount Vernon, have spent their lifetimes enjoying all that Maine has to offer. Now they’ll tell you all about it — their favorite inns, restaurants, trips, activities, experiences, and travel books and websites — in their own personal style. They’ll be offering anecdotes, tips and all the details you need. So join them in exploring, experiencing and enjoying the great state of Maine.

 

Rockland continues to call us back — and not just because our daughter Rebekah, son-in-law Patrick and grandsons Addison and Vishal live nearby in Union (although that helps).

We like to browse in Readfield native Lacy Simon’s bookstore (Hello, Hello — yes, that’s the name of the store!). The Main Street is full of interesting art galleries and stores featuring clothes, cooking supplies, wine, toys and more.

The Farnsworth Museum always has something of interest and we love the public walkway along the shore. This amazing coastal community is chock full of inns, B&Bs and many of its two dozen restaurants are surprisingly good.

One of our favorite restaurants is Rustica. Chef/owner John Stowe is exceptionally creative and takes us back to Italy every time we visit. He also happens to be a good friend of Rebekah and Patrick, and catered (even though he doesn’t offer a catering service) Becky’s surprise birthday bash in July. The food was very, very good, reminding us that we needed to tell you about John’s restaurant.

So when we scheduled our August train adventure from Brunswick to Rockland, we made a luncheon reservation at Rustica.

Linda

While walking down Rockland’s Main Street one day several years ago, we noticed a great possibility for lunch — Rustica. The sign said “Cucina Italiana”. As I perused the menu I knew we had to eat here — intriguing salads, paninis and pizza.

We were taken with the décor — an open seating space with lots of dark wood. The menu choices all sounded great, but on that day it was chilly so we ended up trying soups and splitting a panini. We were sold.

The soup specials change each day but frankly, every soup I’ve ever tried here has been great. On our recent visit we enjoyed potato fennel soup. Yummy. The paninis hold creative ingredients — roasted pork, eggplant, artichoke or sausage and mushroom.

The pizzas looked great. They are not your corner-store pepperoni variety. Look for Margherita, goat cheese, spinach and feta, or chicken and mushroom. Creative additions to these pies, (grilled balsamic onions, roasted garlic and wild mushroom), make them really special. We haven’t tried them yet, but saw others enjoying them.

I’ve got to say that the roasted beet salad is spectacular. Our waitress, Bridget, told us on our recent visit that it was one of the more popular dishes, and rightly so. The salad includes warm baby artichokes and roasted beets, arugula, goat cheese and champagne vinaigrette. Holy cow.

We tried the salad special that day, a panzanella salad. Arugula, green olives, tomatoes, cucumbers and fresh mozzarella were combined with grilled focaccia chunks and served with a balsamic dressing. Other panzanella salads I’ve tried hold soggy bread, but not this one. Perfect.

You can tell owner John Stowe loves what he does. He’s as passionate a man as I’ve met when he talks about his food creations. He values fresh ingredients and understands Italian cuisine. He told us that he makes fresh pasta twice a week.

We got to try some of that handmade pasta on our last visit there. John served us the previous night’s dinner special — Basil Alfredo over fettuccine. This dish included homemade sausage, portobello mushrooms, tomatoes and spinach. All of its ingredients were super fresh, and combined with perfectly cooked pasta.

This dish was amazing. It was exactly like what you’d get in Italy. (I will return often and be asking what fresh pasta dishes are on their menu that day!)

John is also the baker here and wanted us to try a sampling of his canoli and tiramisu. George loves canoli, as do I, and John’s are great. I don’t like cake but I loved the tiramisu! Moist and very delicious.

We’ve visited Rustica three times so far for lunch, but will be making a real effort to get there for dinner service. The lunch menu is great, but the dinner menu looks spectacular! Eleven pasta choices were on the menu I saw, and that didn’t include the specials! There are also main dish offerings featuring meats, fish, eggplant parmigiana and risotto. Mmmmm. I can hardly wait to go back!

George

Well, there isn’t much more to say, is there? Perhaps you’ve already left the house, headed for Rockland!

If not, let me add a few things. The atmosphere here is old world, the service friendly and fun, the food both Italian and Mediterranean. I love John’s homemade sausage.

Although the restaurant has 80 seats, John often serves upwards of 150 people for dinner, so get a reservation if your party includes five or more.

He offers a good wine and beer selection — we enjoyed cold Allagash whites with lemon on the hot July day we last visited.

When we finally get there for dinner, I’m going to have a difficult choice between Cavatelli Saltimbocca, Veal Marsala, Wild Mushroom and Three Cheese Lasagna, and John’s traditionally slow-cooked meat sauce in the Penne alla Bolognese. Got to go to dinner here more than once, I guess.

If there are two of you, ask for table #6 in the window and watch the world go by. Both rooms at the restaurant are charming, and there is also seating at the bar.

John relies on local repeat customers. “That’s who I cook for,” he told us. You should become one.

Visit George’s website: www.georgesmithmaine.com for travel tips, book reviews, outdoor news and more.


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