Down East 2013 ©
On a spring night with streetlamps on the walls, Edith Piaf’s voice in the background, and the homemade pork pate on the table, the City of Lights is as close as a hole-in-the-wall on Main Street in Rockland.
Above you hang chandeliers of glass garlic scapes made by Prism Glass a few miles up Route 1. Their green hue accents the verdant spring-green wall on one side of the restaurant, whose brightness is answered by rustic brick laced with mirrors on the other side. The six-seat bar is topped off by a chalkboard colorfully touting libations.
For two years, this 1,800-square-foot restaurant, occupying the former Amalfi space next to Suzuki’s Sushi and In Good Company, has been drawing Francophiles and fishermen alike. Chef Lynette Mosher and husband Robert Krajewski met and trained at Johnson & Wales before moving on to work in high-end restaurants in Boston and eventually Maine. The pair insists that their food has no American twist, but they also admit that there is something about classic French food that speaks to a population raised in the New England culinary tradition, says Mosher.
“Country French food is very rustic,” says Mosher. “It’s not that different from a lot of old school New England [cuisine]. For instance, cassoulet is kind of the French version of baked beans. And because of the cold weather and our proximity to Canada, we do poutine [a highly recommended indulgence], and we have steak frites. The perception is that French food is fancy — it’s really not.”
Maybe fancy isn’t the right word, but other adjectives certainly apply to Lily Bistro’s culinary offerings: rich, sumptuous, flavorful, decadent, local, and fresh.
Depending on the day and season, puff pastry might engulf a meaty chunk of salmon. Plump scallops top a bed of lentils. A sweet lobster tail shines in a pot au feu a la Maine. The cassoulet (once you get through the bread crumbs) features ham hocks, pork shoulder, and homemade smoked bacon and duck confit. “I make it twice a week,” says Mosher. “We go through thirty pounds of pork alone just to make that dish each week.” On a recent slow night, ten out of fifteen guests ordered it.
Pork is popular in another form as well: pate. The homemade pork country pate with pistachios might come wrapped in grape leaves, bacon, or pickled carrots. “We probably go through ten pounds of pork pate per week on average, and in the summer it’s not unusual to go through four pounds a night.” The dish’s popularity is a bit of a mystery to Mosher: “I don’t know if it’s old-school Mainers, or if it’s trendy.”
The secret to Lily Bistro’s success is that it caters to both clienteles — the humble and the hip. The experience feels sophisticated yet simple, posh yet welcoming. The wallet- and palate-friendly wine list embodies this ethos perfectly. “We’re a bistro, and that means that the wines need to be affordable and approachable,” says front-of-the-house manager Krajewski, formerly the head chef at Natalie’s at the Camden Harbour Inn. “People need to get in and out with a full course and hopefully a bottle of wine for around a hundred bucks [total].”
Another option is to go for dessert only. It’s a perfect post-movie destination, and the spot-on crème brûlée is a crispy and creamy ramekin of bliss. While enjoying it, look out to the oft-bustling streets of Rockland’s downtown and for just a minute let yourself think it’s springtime and you’re in Paris.
Lily Bistro is located at 421 Main Street in Rockland. The restaurant is open seven days a week from 5 to 9:30 p.m. Appetizers $8-$12; entrees $18-$26; desserts $6-$8. 207-594-4141. Wheelchair accessible. www.lilybistromaine.com