Linda

Whenever I hear Skowhegan’s Pickup Cafe mentioned, I smile. The thought of a cafe that opens its garage door side wall to a wonderful patio and pergola in the summer, then closes those same doors to provide a unique cozy space when the weather turns chilly is true Maine. The farm-to-table movement is at the forefront and is the driving force behind this restaurant. The wall listing over 50 farms and local suppliers says it all. You know that freshness and quality ingredients matter here. Adam and Rosa Rosario do a superb job.

And here’s some really good news. The Pickup Cafe just started serving lunch during the week, Wednesday through Friday. It didn’t take us long after hearing this to set up a time to visit. They still serve dinners on Friday and Saturday nights and brunch from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. on the weekends.

We visited on a Wednesday, which happens to be the day they pack up and dole out weekly CSA shares. Bags upon bags were lined up, and Adam was getting ready to make wholesale deliveries to MaineGeneral in Augusta, Alfond Center at Thayer and Sugarloaf as well. Their share allotments can be garden produce and seasonal fruits, meat shares, or garden shares plus bread, milk and eggs. It’s downright impressive.

The new lunch menu has a Mexican flair with items like burritos, empanadas, quesadillas and veggie chili. A pulled pork sandwich, a green salad and a burrito bowl round out the menu.

Rosa visited with us a bit with her adorable 6-month-old baby on her hip. Smiling, cooing and oozing happiness, this little boy has been introduced to the restaurant business at a very young age and seems to like it. Rosa sent out small tasting sample plates of the veggie chili and the shredded chicken and pork used in the burritos. The braised meat was super tender. The vegetable chili was one of the best I have tasted. Butternut squash, corn and beans made up this chili, and it had a good kick of spice to it. You can order it in a bowl or as a burrito filling.

The ground beef empanadas ($10.95) intrigued me. It isn’t something that you see on many menus. Two flaky pastry empanadas arrived surrounded by pickled onions, pickled jalapeños and a great avocado-cilantro sour cream. The tasty meat filling had olives, capers and herbs. I especially enjoyed the crunchy pastry crust. The sour cream cooled off the effects of the jalapeños. Two empanadas made a perfect lunch.

My timing was very good, as I was just running out of whole wheat flour produced by Maine Grains. The Pickup Cafe is housed in the same building — the old Somerset County Jail — and sells some of their products right there. I love that I can get Maine grown wheat flour and use it making breads and crackers.

George

Amber Lambke has created an impressive array of businesses in the old jail — starting with Maine Grains and including the CSA and Cafe — and the team of owners and staff here are also impressive and very friendly. The cafe is a very welcoming place.

If the food was this good when the building was a jail, no prisoner would have wanted to be released. I had the shrimp quesadilla ($10,95) composed of wild Atlantic shrimp, a mixture of mozzarella and cheddar cheeses, red bell peppers, fresh cilantro and scallions, and served with picked onions, fresh salsa and avocado-cilantro sour cream. I probably don’t even have to tell you how tasty this was. The portion was large, but yes, I ate it all.

I also really liked the vegetable chili. Who knew I could like chili without meat? And of course I loved that sample of pulled pork — nice and salty. I also appreciated the excellent selection of beers. Unfortunately both of Skowhegan’s Oak Pond Brewery’s beers (some of my favorites) were served only in 22-ounce portions, a bit much for lunch, so I opted for another favorite, Atlantic Brewery’s Coal Porter ($4.50).

Two guys at a nearby table were talking hunting and fishing, making me feel right at home. Our server, Sarah, was taking care of everything that day and was both helpful and personable. Adam and Rosa are very hard workers with two young children (Rosa came back to work just two weeks after having the baby) and somehow still manage to be super friendly and enthusiastic.

Each menu — lunch, brunch and dinner — is different, although chef Scott has been known to prepare anything a customer asks for from any of the menus. Reminds me of the Olde Post Office Cafe in Mount Vernon, where they’ll prepare my favorites even if they’re not on the menu. Chef Scott told us his father was a chef, and he got bitten by the cooking bug early in life. He came here seven months ago because he wanted to work in a restaurant devoted to the farm-to-table movement.

Linda and I really want Adam and Rosa’s decision to expand to weekday lunches to be a great success, so please get up to Skowhegan soon and enjoy lunch. Tell them we sent you.

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.

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