Down East 2013 ©
By Kristen Andresen Lainsbury
In the dining room overlooking Main Street, posh leather couches have a prime view of the restored Braden Theater marquee. Neon signs in the windows cast a pale blue glow that matches the sleek light fixtures over the bar. Oversize prints of nineteenth-century photographs dominate the walls. At white-clothed tables, diners chat over seared sea scallops, tender fingerling potatoes, buttery filet mignon, and glasses of Bordeaux.
While the vibe at Café Sorpreso is decidedly urban, its location — in the heart of Presque Isle — is not. And that’s just the way Cliff Boudman likes it.
“This restaurant has a lot to do with finding an identity for downtown Presque Isle,” says Cliff Boudman, who owns the café along with his wife, Judy, and their business partners, Ryan and Stephanie Umphrey. “It has something to do with pride of place. We like it up here, and the people who come in really enjoy being , and we try to give them the best experience possible.”
In Italian, “sorpreso” means “to be surprised,” and it’s clear that the café takes its name seriously. For one thing, it’s hard to believe that this chic spot was a Curves fitness center in its previous life — as Boudman says, “it took a lot of work to get the Curves out.” For another, the menu, which changes weekly, could include anything from spaghetti and meatballs to seafood chowder to pork tenderloin in a Thai orange-curry sauce. Even seemingly pedestrian dishes emerge from the kitchen with a twist — baked artichoke dip packs the zing of aged Parmesan; roast chicken panini may be served with guava cream cheese; cocktail shrimps are roasted before they’re chilled.
Yes, it’s a departure for Presque Isle, and if the crowds on a Friday night are any indication, a welcome one.
Judy Boudman should know. She grew up in Aroostook County, the daughter of an “over-homer” — a Canadian citizen who often crossed the border to go “over home” — so she’s always had an international sensibility. Cliff, who grew up in Pennsylvania Dutch country, moved to Presque Isle in 1967 to become an art professor at the University of Maine at Presque Isle (the artwork in the restaurant is his).
Longtime local chef Patty Lewin, the only one at the café with any formal training, has finally found a place where her creativity can shine. But culinary collaboration is key at Sorpreso. The Thai pork loin was Ryan Umphrey’s idea, and he’s also responsible for many of the café’s decadent desserts. That being said, if Judy Boudman’s almond cheesecake, made with a slivered almond crust, is on the menu, you absolutely need to order it. It is divine.
In keeping with the owners’ pride of place, the ingredients are, by and large, local. Produce comes from the MSAD #1 Educational Farm, a student-run agricultural program headquartered just a mile from the restaurant. The filet mignon, which melts on the tongue, comes from Wolfe’s Neck Farm. Seafood is trucked up from Portland. Stephanie Umphrey’s mom grows some of the potatoes. A local senior brings in cookies in exchange for a weekly lunch. All of the breads are baked on site. The reasonably priced wine list, however, reads like an international flight itinerary with stops in France, Italy, and Argentina.
To keep the regulars surprised, the café offers multi-course world tour dinners such as Paris Bistro, New Orleans Mardi Gras, or Dublin St. Patrick’s Day. The special events are usually packed. Café Sorpreso’s cool blue neon signs and warm atmosphere beckon diners from as far away as Bangor or Fredericton, New Brunswick, and as close as the movie theater across the street. In other words, this restaurant is a true destination.
“It’s nice to have more businesses downtown, and we figure this is just a start,” Cliff Boudman says. “Maybe we can be a catalyst.”
Nobody would be surprised.
Café Sorpreso, 415 Main St., Presque Isle. Open for lunch Tuesday to Saturday, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.; open for dinner Thursday to Saturday from 5 p.m. 207-764-1854. www.sorpresocafe.net