Down East 2013 ©
The Blue Hill peninsula has been needing a Table. Rich and Cary Hanson’s wildly successful first restaurant Cleonice is extraordinarily good, but its location in Ellsworth makes it something of a trek from any of the seven towns south and west of Blue Hill. When the wonderful old space that was originally a forge (and subsequently several restaurants) became available in downtown Blue Hill last spring, Rich, Cary, and a third partner Kate Holden, found the opportunity to create Table, a farmhouse bistro, irresistible. “I love bistro-style food,” says Rich, “and here I’m interested in finding the nexus between available ingredients, old-style Maine food, and country French dishes.”
Hanson articulates the broader philosophy behind the restaurant. “Communities in Maine, including Blue Hill, are not alienated from the source of their food, and that provides a rich vein of mutual sustenance. Neighbors, fishermen, farmers, and appreciative consumers walk together in these towns, working side by side and eating together. I think of food as the underpinning of the community.” A permanent fireside table for twelve is the centerpiece of the restaurant’s lower level and the custom-made granite slab has a potent symbolic quality, inviting anyone who wishes to sit down and share with others in the community.
Hanson, twice nominated by the James Beard Foundation for Best Chef in the Northeast, is executive chef, and Jeff Kelly is the chef de cuisine. As at Cleonice, Table strongly supports Maine fishermen, organic growers, farmers, and food producers, “not just because it helps sustain community,” says Rich, “but because the food tastes better.” The Hansons’ Bucksport farm, Artisana, supplies charcuterie from their own pigs and heirloom vegetables such as shell beans and specialty greens, but they also gather products from all over the state, including much from the Crown O’ Maine Organic Cooperative.
Table has two separate but overlapping menus. Upstairs in the lounge and cocktail bar, the menu lists lighter, more casual bistro fare. A Maine cheddar imparts its pleasantly sharp edge to Aroostook County Buggywhip Cheddar Cheese Puffs, the sweet flavor of Gulf of Maine haddock infuses a light and creamy (if somewhat erratically seasoned) Maine fish chowder, and a tangy house-made dressing on their farmhouse salad is based on buttermilk from the Smith Family Farm on Mount Desert Island. Every day the kitchen creates a different pâté, terrine, or galantine that is accompanied by homemade crackers and house-pickled vegetables. Two examples include the wonderful salty and peppery smoked mackerel pâté and a divinely unctuous and earthy terrine of chicken livers with capers. One especially delectable entrée is Table’s fish and chips, an “inside out” version in which strips of local haddock are dipped first in light beer batter and then in crumbs and fried to an unusually crispy crust. This plate arrives with hand-cut fries, house-made tartar sauce, and cider vinegar. Other bistro main courses include a grilled flat-iron steak with Longfellow Farm “camdenzola” cheese and sautéed greens, and Table’s extravagantly rich signature baked macaroni and cheese, served plain or with the meat of a whole lobster.