Eating Local Goes World Class
From start to finish every dish was a revelation of taste and culinary superlatives. I’m referring to a special dinner that I was invited to at the Kennebunk restaurant, 50 Local. The name implies that locally sourced foods are the focus of this dining establishment. And indeed they are. The farms and local suppliers are prominently posted on a blackboard in the dining room, and there’s barely a dish that isn’t based on local provender from an excellent roster of farms.
Chef and proprietor David Ross along with his wife Merrilee Paul have raised the bar on fine dining. Ross is a very talented chef, armed with a bag of impressive credentials from some of New York’s top restaurants before opening up this popular outpost over a year ago.
First and foremost it’s a neighborhood restaurant, a bistro serving some very seriously good food. I only wish it were in my Portland neighborhood instead of 25 miles away.
The special menu was a five course dinner that began with an array of artisan meats including Sopresata from Smith’s Smoke House in Monroe accompanied by pickled onions and mustard, and an excellent liver pate made from Harris Farm veal liver. Harris Farm is highly regarded by restaurant chefs and local home cooks for its pastured beef and veal.
The next course was pasta—house made cavatelli in a sauce of wild mushrooms, local cream, and sweet corn. Here the corn immediately stood out, perfuming the entire dish with a wafting sweetness. What is this corn? I asked. It turns out that Harris Farm is also known for its corn—with two varieties, each of which are very sweet and crisp from large kernels that cover the cob.
The corn is available at the Saco Farmer’s Market on Wednesdays and Saturdays as well as the Harris Farm Store in nearby Dayton. I’ve made the trek to both places for the corn. It might be a long way to go, but it’s worth it. This is the only corn for me.
The next course was a rare offering indeed. Nunavut Artic Char is a rare fish that is available from northern Canada for just a few weeks in the summer. It was available retail at Browne Trading, but at this writing the season is pretty much over.
It doesn't resemble the farmed variety in any way but rather it's an intense fish, combining the vivid flavors of wild salmon and pink trout. It was treated beautifully here, pan roasted and served with a carrot top salsa, an unusual but delicious sauce, and pillows of pure white potato gnocchi.
Anytime such a dinner continues to wow course after course you wait for the one misstep. It didn’t happen. And certainly not in the next course of pan roasted chicken breast served with a dome of local potato puree enriched with crème fraiche.
The first bite revealed a chicken breast so tender and moist that I realized this must have had a special preparation. It turns out the breast was brined first and then cooked sous vide (a controlled water bath process) before being pan roasted. With it were more of those wild mushrooms and sunflower shoots, which the restaurant’s sous chef forages.
The high quality of the chicken itself was evident; it was sourced locally from Pullen Manor Farm, a small specialty poultry grower in Kennebunk. They are sold at the Kennebunk Farmer’s Market on Saturdays or by direct order from the farm.
I subsequently went to the Saturday market in Kennebunk to buy the chicken, which I roasted simply at home. It’s one of the best birds I’ve had this summer, full of flavor, sweet, and tender.
The final course of panna cotta served with a raspberry sauce and shortbread cookie was the perfect light ending. Most of the special dishes we had are also available on the regular menu.
If you happen to notice a big black station wagon hurriedly exiting the Maine Turnpike at Kennebunk, it could be me returning to 50 Local to enjoy another amazing meal.
John Golden makes no bones about sharing his opinion. If you'd like to share yours, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.