Life is full of happy surprises. Here’s one: A couple of nights ago, I was desperately burned out so I thought that going to dinner might push me over the edge. Instead, it was just the thing I needed to transport me across the threshold from my typical state of stress into a vacation state of mind.
Aunt Matoo and I were on our way to catch the Port Clyde ferry to spend a week writing (me) and painting (her) on Monhegan Island. As we drove, I tried to ignore that I felt terrible. My head throbbed. My eyes hurt. I was used up as a soiled baby wipe.
Around dinnertime, we hit the proverbial fork in the road. Port Clyde, our B&B, and sleep were to the right. Primo, chef Melissa Kelly’s heralded mid-coast Maine restaurant, lay straight ahead. My body begged: turn right. But I knew Matoo wanted to eat at Primo “It’s my friend Barbara’s favorite restaurant in the world,” Matoo had said.
I continued straight.
Ten minutes later we arrived at Primo’s steep gravel driveway. As the rental car climbed upward, my head tilted back to face somewhat skyward. It felt like I was on a roller coaster, climbing the first big hill—looking up and wondering just how scary that first big drop was going to be.
But the big drop never came.
Instead, at the top of the hill, we were rewarded with a panorama. The restaurant, housed in a scrupulously maintained Victorian, stood to our left. To our right, ahead of us and everywhere else sat a lush chartreuse oval of farm—outlined by a curtain of forest and dotted with flower heads of red, blue and gold.
Matoo and I stepped out of the car. The air smelled of earth and meadow. The late afternoon sun painted golden halos around the trees and flowers.
We walked to the chicken pen. I eyed a little red hen through the wired fence. She eyed me back. Then she whipped her head to one side and gave me the stink eye. The way teenage girls do when they see you shopping in American Eagle or one of the stores that they consider their domain.
I grinned at her arrogance. The nerve–especially considering someday soon, she was going to be someone’s dinner. Obviously she hadn’t fully grasped the concept of farm-to-table.
In that moment, everything changed. My headache vanished. All I could think about was how badly I wanted to capture what it felt like to be here. The serenity, the beauty, the chicken-with-an-attitude. I sprinted back to the car, grabbed my camera and started snapping away.
For the next twenty minutes, Aunt Matoo and I roamed the farm. We admired the seedlings.
We ogled the chicks as they basked under their heat lamp.
We envied the tomato plants.
We laughed at the pigs.
We wondered if the brown and white birds stalking through the lettuce patch were pheasant or partridge or wild turkeys or something else. (I have to say that whatever they were, they were not cooperative. They wouldn’t stay still long enough for me to get a decent photo.) My friend Deb says they are Guinea Hens.
After our farm walk, we ate upstairs, in the less-formal portion of the restaurant. Exposed filament light bulbs emit a candle-like glow. The gently vaulted ceiling added warmth and intimacy.
We sat the far end of the copper-clad bar. I took in every detail and scent and taste.
Matoo passed a vase containing the longest, most delicate cheese straws I’d ever seen. I crunched my way from one end to the other, sunk into my stool and took a deep breath.
I giggled in delight at our amuse: a fresh cucumber slice topped with smoked trout and radish—waving a tiny fennel-frond flag.
I salivated at a waft of the fresh-fried batter encasing our ricotta-stuffed squash blossoms. Like all things fresh-picked—the squash flower tasted like a concentrated version of itself. Likewise, the arugula beneath was eye-openingly peppery.
Our salumi arrived, paper-thin slices stacked on a wooden plank: Coppa—a smoky, cured pork product made from the neck portion of the animal. Speck, smoked and cured pork leg. And mortadella with pistachios—finely ground cured pork sausage polka-dotted with small squares of lardo (thinly sliced pork fat).
I remembered the mortadella in the deli at Shop-Rite when I was a child. My little brother and I cringed at the little squares of fat embedded in the meat. Gross. But now, pork belly and lardo are in vogue—so mortadella has been able to climb its way to a much higher rung on the cold cut social ladder.
Smoked swordfish fettuccine in puttanesca sauce arrived in a gloriously sculpted bowl. It was bright white formed into sort of a rounded diamond shape, somewhat like an eye—only less oblong. I ran my finger around the rim, cradled the cool ceramic in my hands. (Villeroy & Boch)
I took photos of the exposed filament bulbs, the cheese straws sticks, our amuse, the unusually shaped pasta bowl. I saw—and felt—the considerable thought behind every detail in the room. Some one—probably several people—had cared intensely about the experience their customers would have.
On our way back to our bed and breakfast, I thought how very happy I was that we’d chosen Primo over bed. If I’d listened to my body, I would have missed out on so much. It’s not supposed to work that way. But this time it did.
Life can be so random.