George

Linda and I think dining out should be fun, so we eagerly anticipated Taco 2’s Day at Rockland’s 3Crow restaurant. And fun it was.

Part of the fun was that our daughter Rebekah and son-in-law Patrick joined us. But the friendly staff, beautiful interior and tasty food made this a particularly memorable evening.

The owners, chef Josh Hixson and his wife, Tara Barker, are front and center here. Josh cooks New Orleans-inspired food, another thing that drew our attention to this relatively new restaurant on Rockland’s Main Street. New Orleans food draws us often to our favorite Portland restaurant, Hot Suppa.

Given his focus on Southern cooking, you could imagine that Josh’s tacos would be awesome — and you would be right. Josh offers nine traditional and unique tacos. The tacos are small, so you can try a variety. Our table was covered in tacos when our server Brystle delivered them.

It would be hard to pick favorites, but I found the fish taco nice and spicy, and the steak taco unusual with feta cheese. But my favorite was the pork taco. Interestingly, we each had a different favorite. We all agreed that the smoky thin onion rings were exceptional.

Pat and I had a long discussion on the impressive offerings of beer, having a hard time making our choices. So I ordered a beer flight of three five-ounce servings with a light beer, a sweet beer and a stout. We both loved the Pemaquid Oyster Stout by Marshall Wharf in Belfast and ordered glasses of it.

Tara makes the desserts, and they are all gluten-free. And boy, are they delicious. The doughnut was just amazing. I sighed and said “ahhh,” when Linda responded “You couldn’t possibly have tasted that before you said ‘ahh.’ ” But she was wrong. Or I may have been ahhing in anticipation of that treat, given that Lin would never ever allow me to have a doughnut for dinner.

The mousse got a “wow” from me, featuring two of my favorites: peanut butter and chocolate. While I did like the doughnut, the mousse was my favorite dessert.

3Crow is a family place, with Josh and Tara’s two kids roaming around. Their kids have their own room downstairs and often have friends there. It is certainly a kid-friendly place. And it is a beautiful place. I especially loved the lighting and the water tank filled with plants on the wall beside us. There’s a variety of seating, including a bar. The building was once a bank, and I peaked into the old vault where they now store their wine. Neat!

I first took note of 3Crow when John Golden, at that time the restaurant critic for the Maine Sunday Telegram, wrote a very favorable review. And now, having enjoyed Taco 2’s Day, we hope to return for the regular menu, which is really intriguing. Justin and Tara also own 40 Paper, an Italian restaurant in Camden. And yes, that is now on our list for a visit, too.

Linda

Walking into the 3Crow restaurant for the first time, I was hit by the sheer beauty of the space. High tin ceilings make this space seem large. They are using the first floor for serving — both the bar and all the seating is found here. The kitchen is actually downstairs, so the servers are in good shape given all the travel up and down those stairs.

Paintings, flowers and mirrors are carefully placed and the openness of the room gave me the feel of an art gallery, and a beautiful one at that. A Louisiana influence in the flavors here is because John spent a lot of time there. Tara’s influence is on the sweet side of the menu, and she knows her way around delicious gluten-free desserts.

Lots of customers showed up for Taco 2’s Day the night we visited. We began with a few appetizers and their addictive guacamole. “It’s nice and limey,” remarked Rebekah. I was drawn to the hush puppies — crispy cornmeal cakes that came with a New Orleans remoulade.

Winner of the most unusual appetizer, and an absolute hit with all of us, was the Tobacco Onions. Thinly shaved onions are cold-smoked then fried to crispiness. The smokiness of the onions was a surprise and combined well with their housemade ketchup.

Lest you think tacos are boring, their offerings were very creative. We pondered over the choices of fish, pork carnitas, frijoles, steak, chorizo and Brussels sprouts. Lucky for us, Rebekah and Patrick were along, so we ordered two of each of them. The girls voted the Brussels sprouts with bacon as our favorite. So good.

I must say, unlike the rest of the Smiths, I am not a huge doughnut fan, but Tara’s warm, freshly prepared gingerbread doughnuts were, hands down, the best I ever tasted. The doughnut holes came in a funnel-shaped serving dish with a side of white chocolate dipping sauce. I dare anyone to guess these were gluten-free. She explained the types of ingredients she uses to substitute for the wheat, and some of them were completely unfamiliar to me. I just know one thing — that was an extraordinary dessert.

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.

Ice, Pies and the Samoset

Our end-of-January weekend in Rockland was lots of fun, highlighted by a stay in a luxurious suite overlooking the ocean at the Samoset Inn, where the ice bar was a big draw. And the annual Pies on Parade fundraiser for the local Interfaith Outreach Food Pantry and Fuel Assistance Program was, well, very filling.

It was great to see so many readers of this column at Pies on Parade, which sold all of its 650 tickets. I did fall far short of my goal of getting to all 25 places serving sweet and savory pies. My brother, Gordon Smith, sister-in-law Janet Smith and friend Katharine Ayer joined us. We were able to get to only nine places before we were stuffed. And it took us two hours to do that, because we spent a lot of time visiting with the hosts and guests at each place.

Anticipating this problem, I had prepared a map and list of our favorite places not to be missed. For the record, here are the nine we got to: Berry Manor Inn, LimeRock Inn, Captain Lindsey House, Breakwater Vineyards, Fiore Olive Oils, Terra Optima, Rustica, Fog Bar & Cafe and the Lighthouse Museum. Alas, two favorite restaurants, Cafe Miranda and In Good Company, were unable to participate that day.

This year’s event was record-setting, raising $25,695, and 11,000 pieces of pie were consumed — not all by me, thankfully.

We drove down to the Samoset early on that Saturday, to avoid the approaching storm, and chose to stay there right through the blizzard — thanks in part to a Maine Medical Association conference, led by Gordon. He invited us to their evening social hour, where the food was so good and plentiful that we didn’t need to have dinner. I have got to say the food at the Samoset, even for large groups, is exceptional.

That Saturday they were hosting their first-ever family winter festival, with lots of indoor and outdoor activities including a sleigh ride. Unfortunately, the snowstorm put a damper on that event.

But our grandsons, Addison and Vishal, arrived on Sunday morning to enjoy the outdoor ice rink and the indoor fun palace, a huge room where the Samoset has set up everything from ping pong to tumbling mats and structures.

A few weeks ago, someone told Linda she noticed we write about Rockland a lot. Yes indeed. Guilty as charged.


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