A Historic Stockton Springs House Becomes a Destination Restaurant

The owners of the Hichborn bring locally sourced cooking and a dinner party sensibility to a former shipbuilder’s home in the midcoast.

A Historic Stockton Springs House Becomes a Destination Restaurant

The owners of the Hichborn bring locally sourced cooking and a dinner party sensibility to a former shipbuilder’s home in the midcoast.

By Sandy Lang
Photography by Peter Frank Edwards

Issue: March/April 2022

Over margaritas at the Hichborn in Stockton Springs, we’re talking about the restaurant’s namesake. A shipbuilder in Maine in the 1860s, Nathan G. Hichborn was a leader in the temperance movement. Owners Kirk P. Linder and Charlie Zorich, who join the conversation with photographer Peter Frank Edwards and I, get a kick out the historic irony.

These days, in the large nineteenth-century house that Mr. Hichborn built, bottle selections from a deep wine list are popular orders at dinner, along with cocktails concocted by Zorich and beverage director Jon Marsiglia. The house margarita is made with local peppers and pickled blueberries; the Shock and Awe uses gin infused with local celery and tarragon.

Plating up in the Hichborn kitchen, where Zorich builds menus around ingredients from local farms.

Opened in 2018, the Hichborn is on a hilltop street a few minutes off Route 1 in Stockton Springs (population 1,628), a Penobscot Bay–facing town about 30 miles from Camden in one direction and 30 miles from Ellsworth in the other. It doesn’t take long for guests who arrive for dinner to notice that Linder and Zorich have a penchant for witty details. A photo of Andy Warhol is posted in the hallway near the restroom with a quote by the iconic artist: “The idea of waiting for something makes it more exciting.”

The hope is that you’ll keep a light mood even if there’s a wait, Linder explains. (There’s an amusing story, though, about a couple of guests who got too carefree once and tried out the bathroom’s extant clawfoot tub.) Warhol’s sentiment could refer to the food and drink here, too. Reservation slots at the Hichborn are often fully booked, so getting a table can take some forethought. As married business partners, Linder and Zorich have essentially been throwing dinner parties several nights a week in season for about three years, give or take, because of pandemic interruptions. The Hichborn seats 30, and except at the five-stool bar where fritters or other bar snacks may be ordered, it’s a prix fixe menu based around what’s in season, whether farmed, fished, or foraged. Courses include such dishes as short rib from Wee Bit Farm on potatoes, a single icy oyster from Stockton Harbor, or a galette baked with Maine apples.

But first, we’re sipping and taking it in. In a corner of the bar top, which is a gorgeous slab of Maine slate, I notice one of the Hichborn matchboxes; inside, the match strikers are hot pink. An orb-shaped light in a similarly bright pink hue glows near an elegant, spiky palm in the next room of the mid-1800s Italianate manse. The chef brings in a small pyramid of just-made arancini, and I break one open to see peekytoe crab inside. Already, I can’t wait for dinner.

Larri Brought Them

“Larri was that catalyst that pushed us here,” says Zorich, thinking back to the 2017 cross-country drive that he and Linder made in Larri, their 1984 Volkswagen Westfalia van. Larri is painted in the palest powder blue shade. “You aren’t even sure it’s blue until you see it in snow.”

Zorich, the chef, hails from Astoria, Oregon, and previously helmed West Coast kitchens including the Pickled Fish in Long Beach, Washington. Linder is originally from upstate New York, and his professional background is in graphic design and art. The two met through a mutual friend in the restaurant business and discovered shared interests and compatibility during snowboarding trips in Oregon before they decided to drive across the country to refocus their lives. It would be a new adventure together. They came close to buying a property in Kingfield, but the deal fell through, so they kept exploring until they found a fit. In Stockton Springs, it was the abundance of nearby farms and the variety of fresh food that sealed the deal. “Within a few miles, we can source everything,” Zorich says, “from just-harvested oysters a half-mile down the road at the harbor to local-grown ginger from just down the street—and even Maine-grown saffron.”

The couple knew they wanted to buy the Hichborn “by the time we walked into the second parlor,” recalls Linder. Once they purchased the house, the two immediately began renovations to remove lacy curtains and floral wallpaper, install a full commercial kitchen, and create an airy style and warmth in the dining rooms. Building community connections was a priority from the start. They commissioned Belfast artist and woodworker Wes Reddick to craft a long table from beams found in the original hayloft of the attached barn, and they bought New England–made, pewter Danforth lamps. Zorich began working at the Belfast Co-Op, where he quickly met others in the local food community and learned more about local farms and purveyors. And they made a parking spot for Larri inside the attached barn, where they also store their snowboarding gear.

Farmers, including Alex McCaffree of Calyx Farm in Morrill, deliver produce weekly in season to the attached barn of the historic house; from there, the kitchen and dining rooms are steps away.

Bounty at the Barn Door

The Hichborn’s original barn isn’t just for storage. It’s where the restaurant receives deliveries directly from farmers, foragers, and fishermen. On a Thursday in late September, Bo Dennis arrives first with armloads of dahlias, eucalyptus, and ornamental kale from Dandy Ram Farm in Monroe, which Linder takes immediately to a table in the barn to begin cutting and arranging for vases.

Then a parade of farmers and vegetables continues for the next hour or so. Next, it’s Dylan Brown and Laura McLaughlin from Stubborn Ox Farm with a huge sack of brussels sprouts and squash from their farm fields, on about three acres in Brooks.

Alex McCaffree and Catherine Durkin from Calyx Farm in Morrill say they’re growing on about one and a half acres. They bring delicata squash that will be served with Gulf of Maine cod tonight, along with about 15 heads of radicchio, and onions, shishito peppers, and a sweet Italian pepper variety called Jimmy Nardello that’s used at the Hichborn to make a sweet-and-sour relish to dollop onto oysters.

Christa and Mike Bahner deliver carrots, beets, shallots, and garlic from their farm and roadside stand in Belmont. They first met Zorich when he stopped at the Bahner Farm stand to buy vegetables, and later the Bahners came to eat at the Hichborn. “I could go on for 20 minutes about the eggplant and heirloom tomatoes and the pork chop we had that night,” Christa Bahner says, smiling at the memory.

The Bahners’ beets will be used in a roasted beet salad, Zorich notes. In fact, all of this local and organic produce will be cooked by Zorich and his kitchen team or baked into recipes by pastry chef Lee Dunn. And some will end up as inspiration and ingredients for cocktails developed by Marsiglia at the bar. “It’s such a pleasure having so much shared passion for local-grown and organic produce,” says Zorich, adding that getting to know the farmers and the food they grow has added to a feeling of home here. “All of it contributes to the great quality of life in Maine.”

With the food sources and team established, Linder and Zorich are embarking on a second project this year. They’ve been renovating a couple of storefronts on Route 1 in Searsport, with their sense of wit in full swing. In a preview peek inside the upcoming eatery and bar, I notice a 1970s vibe and round lights that look like underwater bubbles. The new venture, Hey Sailor, is set to open early this year and is just a four-mile drive from the Hichborn.

Beverage director Jon Marsiglia shakes up the next drink.

And Now, We Dine

Finally, it’s dinnertime. We already went home to change, and as we return, Linder greets us and a couple dozen other guests on the porch. He is wearing a burgundy-colored shirt in a paisley design, and affixed above one chest pocket is a kilt pin with a sparkling garnet gemstone. The celebratory tone is set. For the next two and a half hours we taste the oysters and the short ribs, the lovely galette, and a fresh scallop in citrusy crudo style. Other favorite courses of the night are a grilled radicchio and kale salad with silvery boquerones and a bowl of beautifully enveloped lamb dumplings in a steaming broth of ginger and pepper.

After all the sips and forkfuls and conversation, we’re offered an off-the-menu slice of coconut cream pie as a finale. It’s a specialty of the chef’s, we’re told, and we nod yes even though we’re plenty satiated already. What arrives, in the center of a round plate, is the fattest, tallest wedge of whipped cream and crust that I’ve ever seen, encircled by toasted coconut confetti. I hear whoops of laughter when other tables are served slices, too. “It is kind of ridiculous,” Zorich says when he stops by the table to wish us goodnight and sees us scooping up spoonfuls of coconut cream. “But it’s supposed to be fun and lighthearted. I just had no idea that people would love it so much.”

Destination Stockton + Searsport

Focused on local ingredients and designed with a bit of West Coast style and sensibility, the food and drink of Charlie Zorich and Kirk Linder can be found in two locations, just four miles apart on the midcoast.

The Hichborn
10 Church St., Stockton Springs

Open seasonally since 2018, the 30-seat Hichborn offers a five-course, prix fixe menu in a historic house.

Hey Sailor
25 E. Main St., Searsport

Opened earlier this year, Hey Sailor is a new bar-restaurant venue centered around casual fare and fun, with “tacos, art, and booze.”

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