It’s all about good food on Saturday mornings in Skowhegan.

The Farmers Market and Pickup Cafe should be your destination.

Linda

If you are looking for the perfect way to spend a Saturday morning in Maine, head for Skowhegan. We chose to hit the farmers market first, then have lunch at the cafe.

As soon as you step out of your car you’ll be met with lively music. Twisted Springs was playing that day and let me tell you, that was great fiddling. This market sources locally grown food from 17 farms in the area. I spotted several meat venues which offered turkey, duck, rabbit, sausage and organic beef. The Maine Meal has gourmet frozen meals in individual servings. What a great concept!

The Good Bread had an array of delicious looking breads, and had I been going home I’d certainly have stocked up. I did grab a baguette to go with the pasta dinner I was taking to our son Josh and daughter-in-law Kelly in Massachusetts. It was fantastic. Now I just have to time our trips to our north woods camp to coincide with the farmers market. They also sell their breads at Uncle Dean’s and Barrels, in Waterville.

Blue Ribbon Farm offered a variety of greens. Bob Burr told us that during the winter, he and his wife were trying to come up with something different to bring to the market. They settled on homemade fresh pasta. Genius. Better visit their stall early on, as they sell out of the pasta every week.

From One Drop Farm, I picked up some goat cheese to take to Massachusetts. Josh was raving about it as he indulged himself by having it for breakfast the next morning! The farm also produces ricotta, brie and feta. Mmmmm.

We visited with Sarah Smith, the founder and manager of the farmers market, CSA and cafe. Her farm offers organic milk, veggies and organic beef. Sarah said this market is “all about community, family and diversity.”

One glance around finds the stalls doing a brisk business, kids happily playing and visiting, as the fiddling music continues. This is what life in Maine in the summer should look like.

We were excited to try the brunch at the Pickup Cafe after our incredible dinner there last winter. Things look a little different as they have put up a pergola and tables for outside dining. The new awning had just gone up the day before. With the sun beating down, the shade was much appreciated.

Six nice breakfast choices run the gamut from a bagel with cream cheese and salmon to pancakes or Eggs Benedict. Lunch items included burgers, sandwiches and salads. Everything served here is prepared using locally sourced farm-fresh food. The salads and breakfast dishes looked yummy.

I chose the Black Bean Veggie Burger which came on a challah roll. It was topped with pesto mayo, lettuce, onion and tomato. The crunchy sesame ginger coleslaw was anything but ordinary. I could have made a meal of just that! Incredibly flavored pickles make you wonder how on earth they make these.

We were way too full to try dessert (OK, I was). My plan next time might be to go early and have breakfast, shop the farmers market, then have dessert!

George

If this market doesn’t have it, you probably don’t need it. From beautiful bowls to packaged meat to fresh vegetables to cheese and pasta and so much more, plan to spend a lot of time here. This is super shopping, not supermarket shopping. I concentrated on getting to know the farmers and other vendors, hoping to tell you their stories. But there were so many!

Mark LaCasse, of The Maine Meal, has a store in his grandmother’s old Candlelight Restaurant in Skowhegan. He went to culinary school and cooked at Lakewood for five years, but wanted more time with his wife and kids, so he and Kelly launched this business. His packed meat and meals looked really good, and Mark said his braised beef is a favorite of customers. He’s also at farmers markets in Waterville and Belfast.

We’ve driven by the “Pies, Pies, Pies” sign on Route 27 in Belgrade a lot (Linda always forbids me from stopping), so it was great to meet the Winterberry Farm Perry family. The three kids are actively engaged in the farm with the youngest, just 8 years old, leading their farm tours. On Sunday (July 27) they’ll offer a special farm dinner, with fiddlers, kids’ games, farm tours and a feast served in the barn for just $37 per person or $55 for a family. Call 495-2593 for a reservation. Sounds like fun!

We had a great visit with Bob Burr, of Blue Ribbon Farm in Mercer. When we noted their pasta business, we asked Bob if they’d ever been to Italy. Turns out they love Italy as much we do, so we stood in the hot sun talking Tuscany for quite a while! Later, we learned that Mary painted two of the outstanding works of art in the cafe. Farmers are so talented and diversified these days!

We’ve sent many people to the Pickup Cafe, and every single person has loved it. Adam and Rosa Rosario have created a welcoming, informal, comfortable place to linger, but its Rosa’s talent in the kitchen that makes this place special.

We shared a starter bowl of hearty tomato soup, and it was all of that — thick, with Amy’s ricotta cheese from Crooked Face on top, accompanied by two crispy pieces of toast. It was a race to see who could eat more of it. Pretty sure I won. It was delicious.

I was drawn to Rosa’s Cuban sandwich, one of my all-time favorites in many restaurants, but I’d just had one that week at Hot Suppa in Portland, so I decided instead to step out of my comfort zone with the Greek Hummus Wrap, described as, “Garlic scape hummus, Mediterranean feta spread, olive tapenade, red onion, tomato and spinach.”

Wow! The serving came in two wraps and was incredibly tasty. Linda said it was probably due to the black olive tapenade. Forget the Cuban. This wrap will be my go-to sandwich at the Pickup from now on.

Linda and I both enjoyed iced tea, but the hot day also required lots of cold water, which comes in jars with a slice of lemon. To give you an idea of just how great the service here is, our server, Jodi Taylor, filled our jars a couple of times and when our sandwiches arrived, she brought out new jars filled with ice and poured more water for us. She’d noticed that our ice had melted in the other jars.

Kids wandered through the market and cafe, where everyone clearly loved children (and the cafe does offer a substantial kids’ menu).

The family-friendly atmosphere, fiddling and food on a delightful day made us reluctant to leave. But our train beckoned us to Portland. Just before we left, State Rep. Jeff McCabe wandered into the cafe, giving us a chance to catch up with him. He seemed quite relieved to be out of the legislature!

 

TAKE THE TRAIN!

State Rep. Mike Shaw, of Sebago, who drives an Amtrak train from Portland to Boston when he’s not at the legislature, has been urging Linda and I to take the train for several years. So we finally took him up on the suggestion, catching the 2:50 p.m. train in Portland on the Saturday we visited Skowhegan.

What a great ride! No traffic, nice views, comfortable seating in air conditioned cars, WiFi, a cafe — really, everything we needed and more. One-way tickets are just $25 and there are a lot of special discounts. After we passed through Scarborough Marsh, watching birds including a beautiful egret, I put my chair back and had a nap.

Maybe because it was Saturday, the mood on the train was festive. Two kids wheeled their bikes on board, and stored them at the front of our car.

We arrived two and a half hours later at Boston’s North Station, where Josh and Kelly and our precious new 3-month-old granddaughter, Ada, picked us up.

Mike had recommended an Italian restaurant a short walk from North Station, so we tried it Saturday night. Dino’s is a tiny takeout with 10 tables on a Salem Street corner. Mike claimed it has the best Italian sandwiches “in the world,” so Linda had one. And boy, he was right. I enjoyed a huge and tasty eggplant parmesan. The food was fabulous, the staff super friendly and, when we finished the meal, we took Mike’s other suggestion — walking across the street to Bova’s Bakery, where we found the amazing array of cannoli that Mike also raved about. And he was right again!

Returning to Boston for our Monday evening train trip home, we both had Italians at Dino’s and grabbed cannoli from Bova’s for the train. It was so hot that the train’s speed had to be reduced through New Hampshire, and it took three and a half hours to get back to Portland.

But we didn’t mind a bit. I read half of a novel, Linda focused on gardening articles on her iPad and we enjoyed the ride. It won’t be our last!

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.


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