SKOWHEGAN — Former Skowhegan Town Manager Dale Watson likes to tell the story of a man back in the 1940s who did odd jobs around the old railroad yard near his father’s grist mill downtown, where Variety Drug is now.

The guy, Alley Perry, was a bit of a “hobo,” Watson said.

When the weather started to turn cold, Perry would get himself locked up so he could spend the winter at the county jail located across the street from the Spaulding and Watson grist mill.

“When he went to jail, he became the cook. He had quite a cook house down cellar there in the jail,” Watson, 82, said. “He’d make these biscuits, great big, nice fluffy biscuits that he would bring to the mill, and we’d put molasses on them to feed the inmates at the jail.”

A cafe at the grist mill has been renovated and expanded, and on Friday will open as a new restaurant and bar called The Miller’s Table at Maine Grains, featuring a revival of Perry’s famous “hobo” biscuits.

The restaurant will offer food and drink sourced from local farms and grain products from the grist mill. There will be wood-fired bake ovens, indoor and patio seating and an outdoor courtyard and gardens, all seating 80-100 people and employing about 20 people seven days a week.

Amber Lambke, owner of the Somerset Grist Mill, which opened in 2009 inside the former jail, likes the biscuit story, too.

The story of Perry’s jailhouse biscuits is fun, Lambke said, because part of the new restaurant and a future wine bar are in the old jail’s cook house where Perry would whip up his famous hobo biscuits. She said Dale Watson’s family operated the last functioning grist mill in Skowhegan before she opened hers.

“Perry was known about town, and they’d let him make biscuits here in the jail,” Lambke said. “Dale shared that story with me as a historic relationship that the mill used to have with the jail. We are going to revive Perry’s biscuits on the menu here and serve them with molasses and butter.”

Lambke, president of Maine Grains, is a co-founder and one of five investors in The Miller’s Table. The founding group includes Jon Kimbell and David James.  About 90 percent of the grains to be used in meals at the restaurant and in brewing artisan beers comes from Maine, Lambke said. In 2016 the grist mill doubled its production to about 700 tons of wheat, oats, rye, cornmeal, buckwheat and spelt.

The 1897 steel and stone former county jail also is home to the Skowhegan Farmers Market in the summer, marking the location’s identity as a hub for local food enterprises. The Somerset Grist Mill, which began milling in 2012, expanded in the former cell blocks to include a yarn shop, a radio station, a grain retail store, a computer instruction room called the Tech Spot and a cafe. The mill itself employs 11 people.

Kimbell said his background producing and running a restaurant at the North Shore Music Theater in Massachusetts gives him and James a good foundation to “avoid some of the pitfalls of a new business.” He said James’ background is in marketing and business.

“My expertise is dealing with customers and trying to make them happy,” Kimbell said.

Erin Savage, of Skowhegan, is the general manager of the restaurant and will be running the bar. She brings her own sales and experience in restaurant management to the table, Lambke said.

Two lead chefs will staff the kitchens. Lucas Cates, of Bingham, cooked for white water rafting companies on the Kennebec River and learned the craft of sourdough bread baking with stoneground whole grains at Petrillo’s Restaurant in Freeport. The other chef, Matthew Crate, of Waterville, is a graduate of Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts and will lead the baking program at The Miller’s Table.

Lana Swett, the culinary director at the Somerset Career and Technical Center at Skowhegan Area High School, will be working part-time through the summer.

“We have a robust team hired for the back of the house and the front of the house, because in this iteration of the cafe, we actually have the cooking station out here by the wood-fired oven and the cooking station back in the kitchen, so it’s requiring a lot of people,” Lambke said.

By the time all of the renovations and expansion is complete, the restaurant will seat 167 people. The covered courtyard — once the recreation area for jail inmates — will feature a long, family-style communal dining table — the miller’s table.

Restaurant hours will be 7 a.m.-2 p.m. Monday through Saturday with dinner served Thursday, Friday and Saturday until 10 p.m. and a Sunday brunch from 9 a.m. until 2 p.m.

The menu will feature homemade bread, pastries and English muffins for breakfast, all made from grains ground on site. There also will be omelets, crepes, breakfast sandwiches — and biscuits. Lunch will be “grab and go” market sandwiches, wood-fired pizza, smoothies, salads and house-made dips.

Dinners will include wood-fired pizza, tourtiere pie, lobster bisque, chicken and dumplings, house-made baked beans and cornbread and “Jailhouse” stout beef stew.

Lambke, co-founder of Maine Grains and the Kneading Conference, said the focus of the menu will be affordable pricing ranging from “down home, good scratch cooking” to occasional specials to showcase the craft of the chefs.

“I think people will find us to be an every day, casual, affordable place to make part of their weekly routine,” she said.

Lambke said the new restaurant builds on the success of The Pickup Cafe, which operated in the same place on weekends from 2012 to 2016.

Doug Harlow — 612-2367

[email protected]


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