Click image for slideshow.
When you find yourself deep in the heart of small town Maine, the chance of culinary intrigue invariably concedes to some family-style hash house with a disputatious Rachel Ray disciple sweating at the stove.
But sometimes you stumble into an unassuming dining establishment to encounter the marvel of a fine meal — great home-style heartland cooking that makes the world a viable universe again.
Sayonara House of Pizza!
An assignment brought me to the central Maine farming town of Pittsfield, 100 miles north of Portland and 40 miles south of Bangor.
Downtown Pittsfield is more than a blink of the eye. There’s the requisite strip mall right off the highway, but a lovely, stately, wide main street unfolds, boasting a movie theatre, museum, a town park and sundry shops.
What stood out on Main Street was a storefront whose sign read “Vittles.” What else could it be but the only eatery in town?
A few hours later at the lunch hour, I pulled into the parking lot behind Main Street and saw car after car unloading passengers by the restaurant’s back door.
As I walked in, I knew, without hesitation, that this place would pass muster .The space was charming and genuine: The intricately carved tin ceiling, the long communal table down the center of the room, the booths on one side and the counter on the other all spelled small-town bonhomie.
I sat down at the counter behind which I met Bob — Robert Phelan, that is, the owner of Vittles who was slicing into a luscious-looking blueberry pie.
“Should I save you a piece?” he asked. I laughed without answering and studied the menu.
The list offered the requisite burgers, soups, chili, salads and sandwiches. But what I saw coming out of the kitchen, went beyond standard luncheonette fare. Everything looked well made, especially a popular item being ordered that day—a Portobello mushroom cap stuffed with crab meat astride a dome of sautéed spinach.
Open since April, Vittles is very much the family business : wife Kathleen does the desserts, daughter-in-law Erin runs the room and son Richard Lerose is the chef with CIA Hyde Park cooking school credentials.
I could have chosen any of the he-man offerings on the menu — from tortilla shell filled with house-made chili and shredded cheddar to a BLT with blue cheese and thick slices of country bacon and real red tomatoes.
I played it safe and ordered a grilled ham and cheese sandwich. It actually was a delicious sandwich made with maple-roasted slices of ham, Swiss and provolone cheese served on thick slices of grilled bread. With it were terrific home-made pickles and crinkly style potato chips fresh from the fryolator.
As for Bob’s original question about that slice of pie, I couldn’t resist, especially when he suggested that I have it a la mode, with ice cream that he had just pulled out of the ice cream machine.
Blueberry pie is one of his wife’s house specialties. The wild berries come from Addison, near Columbia Falls, harvested by the Wescogus Wild Berries
, a farm owned by the Emerson family since the 1800s.
As for the ice cream, it had the texture of whipped cream fresh from the whisk and was filled with blackberries and raspberries in its rich vanilla custard base.
The chef also prepares a special weekly dinner served every Friday night.
“Prime rib is the main event, what people want,” he said. “But we always have three or four specials, too.”
This past week pork osso bucco was on the menu as was grilled squash, zucchini, eggplant, carrots, caramelized onions, mushrooms, baby spinach and basil over pasta. There was also seafood pie with grilled biscuit; game hen roasted with honey mustard, thyme and cornbread stuffing and a tortilla pizza with all the fixings.
I may have had only one very good sandwich, some terrific pie and luscious ice cream, but Vittles is the type of place we all want to have, but rarely do, as home-town haunts.
Vittles: 107 Main Street, Pittsfield, Maine. 207-487-8181