Table: A Farmhouse Bistro
Written + Photographed by Jonathan Levitt
Rich and I sit on the downstairs porch at Table, sharing a plate of fish and chips. The stream flows below us.
2 Meals with Rich Hanson Coffee Cake + Coffee | Artisana Farm | Bucksport
The Hansons live on a 17-acre farm outside of Bucksport. The long dirt driveway is lined with sugar maple trees and paved with oyster shells and clam shells from the raw bar at Cleonice. The farmhouse, an 1830 Cape, was the original homestead for the whole neighborhood. Its chicken barns are still standing, way off in the distance, but most of the land has been broken up into a rural suburban patchworka public golf course, a Christmas tree farm, some lawnmower Home Depot doublewide ranches, and gentleman hobby horse homesteads.
I park in front of the barn. Cary Hanson and Cameron McClellan, a line cook from Cleonice, sit in the shade washing salad greens in a kiddie pool full of good well water.
Inside, Rich makes a coffee cake for breakfast.
Its hot and muggy. Cary wears a tank top, long shorts, and marble blue Crocs. Shes been working in the gardens all morning. During the growing season, she spends her days tending to Artisana Farm and her nights running the front of the house at either Cleonice or Table. She prefers the farm.
Rich comes outside with a cup of coffee. Hes wearing science teacher glasses and a short-sleeved plaid shirt.
He stands in the sun looking out at the farm. You know Artisana is a made-up word, but people are always telling us that we are spelling it wrong, he says. Its the same with Cleonice. Its pronounced clee-oh-neese. Its my mothers name, and thats how my mother pronounced her name, but people like to say that it must be clee-oh-neech-aye. Funny.
A flock of ducks parades around the gardens. Theyre Khaki Campbells, says Rich. Good layers and very social.
The ducks are followed by 34 chickensBarred Rocks, Buff Orpingtons, and Black Australorps.
The chickens and ducks are bossed and herded by two geese, a Toulouse and a Chinese. Theyre pets, says Rich. We call them Auntie and Uncle. Uncle takes care of all the birds.
We take a walk through the garden.
We had a great spring, but then it was too wet to plant, says Cary. It looks pretty good to me. There are mature artichokes, Italian heirloom squashes, tons of herbs, every variety of tomato and pepper. Rich stands in the pumpkin patch.
I think of pumpkins as being bashful, he says. Theyre always covered in leaves.
Rich moves into the tomatoes and calls out to Carey, Hey! The German Stripeys are ready.
Last year, Cary froze 60 quarts of tomato sauce30 quarts each of red and yellow tomatoes. We had it until June, says Rich.
This year, the Hansons are raising six pigs on a piece of land next to the barn. Rich says, theyre not really a breed, but theyre what the old-timers call bacon pigs. Theyre long pigs with long bellies. Theyre sort of like pig Dachshunds.
The Hansons planted the ground by the barn with field peas and sugar beets. The pigs root around in the dirt, nap in the shade of the barn, and wallow in the mud. Rich feeds them leftovers from the restaurants and finishes them on apples. In October, Rich plans to have a beer and pork dinner at Table. Were calling it, A Beer Some Pork a Knife and a Fork, he says. I like to use all the different parts of the pig. For the dinner we will smoke the hocks, spice the ribs, braise the ribs with kraut, spice the belly, and cure the jowls into traditional guanciale. Each course will be paired with a Maine beer and its European counterpart.
The coffee cake is ready. We walk inside. The farmhouse is appealingly messy. Carys paintings are all over the walls. Krishna, an old black mutt, lay by the woodstove. Garrison Keillor sings the opening song to A Prairie Home Companion. There are cookbooks and food magazines, jars of cut sunflowers, and potted succulents on the shelves. Consuela The Oaxacan Bikini Girl Lamp lights the room. Rich says, We like kitschy things.
Rich brews more coffee. Cary brings the coffee cake to the table. Its warm, with a pine nut streusel topping. Meg Carton, the bar manager at Cleonice, bounds into the kitchen. She lives next door with her two horses and three dogsPam, the Italian greyhoundAustralian shepherd mix; Casey, the Malamute; and Flash, the black lab. The dogs lie under the table and they get up to beg. Rich eats a lot of coffee cake. The cake is bottomless. The coffee is bottomless.
Fish + Chips | Table, A Farmhouse Bistro | Blue Hill
This is very good fish and chips. The chips are slender French fries, hand-cut from Aroostock County potatoes and cooked in canola oil. The used oil is filtered and saved to power a friends diesel Mercedes.
The fish is haddock from Port Clyde Fresh Catch, a local cooperative of fisherman. They also bring cod, sole, flounder, and monkfish. Were curing monkfish liver right now, says Rich.
The cooks at Table make their own ketchup
and mayonnaise and then use the mayonnaise
to make tartar sauce. The eggs in the mayonnaise come from Rich and Carys hens.
I love classic fish and chips, but we could never do it this way at Cleonice, says Rich. At Cleonice, were stuck in the Mediterranean. We can use local ingredients but its not just ingredients that make a cuisine. Food culture is about the way people cook. Around here thats bean hole beans, chowder, salt pork, sauerkrautstuff thats simple and economical, food to get people through the winter.
The building fits the theme. As a forge and a blacksmith shop, this spot has always had a close connection to the farming and fishing communities, says Rich.
To continue the tradition, Hanson stocks the restaurants larder with the best of whats around. He buys bread from Blue Hill Hearth, the bakery next door. The cheese on the burger is Buggywhip Cheddar made by an Amish couple from Pennsylvania who traveled to Holden in Aroostock County by horse and buggy to build a new life in the north country. George Parr from Upstream Trucking in Portland sends harpooned swordfish. Aquaman, a Trenton diver, drops off hand-harvested urchins and scallops with his young son, Aquaboy. The beef is grass-fed from Wee Bit Farm in Orland, which raises Scottish Highland cows. Rich says that theyre small, lean, and flavorful. Done Roving Farm in Harrington raises their cows on pastures that slope down to the shore. Rich says, Its a saltwater farmso the meat tastes a little bit salty.
The ingredients are local and the recipes are local, but the food doesnt have to be dowdy New England. Actually Maine has always been a cosmopolitan place, Rich says. There were sailing ships out of Castine. Some of the sea captains had Chinese chefs. There was trade with East India. Joshua Chamberlain, the civil war hero from Brunswick, had a black Southern cook who was locally famous. So well make Joshua Chamberlains favorite chicken stew with biscuits. We have an Asian noodle stew called Far East of Downeast because a local person was making tofu and we wanted to use it. Many of the Stoneworkers in Stonington were Italian. And the French influence in Maine is strong. The restaurant has the look of a French country bistro so lobster pot au feu seems appropriate.
Rich and I eat the fish and chips with our hands, dipping the hot crispy fish and the hot crispy fries into the tartar sauce and the homemade ketchup. It is gone all too quickly.
Table, A Farmhouse Bistro | 66 Main St. | Blue Hill | 207.374.5677 | farmkitchentable.com