Primo, Rockland

I can’t think of a better way to spend a day off than eating a meal at Primo in Rockland with a group of creative, intelligent people who love to eat, drink, and talk about food as much as I do. A few weeks ago Courtney Hill, a cook at Eventide Oyster Co. and former sous chef at Bar Lola, suggested we take a trip to Primo before the end of the season. She used to work for chef Melissa Kelly and is excited to return with a group of new friends and coworkers.

On a crisp November night, our group of 14 hungry cooks and servers gather upstairs at the Primo bar for a drink before our meal. Primo is located in a farmhouse on a few acres of land where chef/owner Melissa Kelly and Price Kushner grow vegetables and flowers, raise animals, harvest honey, and perpetuate the farm-to-table cycle. Dining is on two floors—downstairs is more formal with cozy, intimate rooms, and upstairs is casual, modern, and dimly lit, featuring exposed wood and a copper bar.

We’re seated in an open yet private room off of the bar area where we can enjoy ourselves without disturbing others. Each night we strive to give people an amazing experience at Hugo’s and Eventide, and tonight, we’re on the receiving end. I look around at my dining companions—the owner, chefs, servers, and significant others who also work in the industry—and I’m happy to share this with them.

It’s the first night of the head-to-tail tasting menu featuring eight pigs—a total of 2,300 pounds—raised on site. The menu—”La Ringrazio,”—is a celebration of the pigs, and every morsel will be used. With a glass of cold Cava in hand, I’m ready to begin.

The first course is a pair of crispy pig tails served with lemon, spicy greens and gribiche—a sauce made of eggs, capers, and herbs. The next course is a tasting of pig liver served three ways—smoked liverwurst served with whiskey mustard and rye crackers; a pork liver mouse whipped with crème fraiche, topped with Madeira jelly and carrot marmalata, or jam; and parsnip and apple soup with pork liver rillettes on a thin slice of crusty bread.

The pig heart tartare is a delicacy I’ve never experienced. I expect the muscle to be tough and have a very strong flavor, but I’m wrong. The heart is diced very small and the muscle is tender. It tastes like rare meat tossed in a peppery puttanesca sauce with watercress, tomatoes, and capers.

So far everything is perfect and the Italian wines are flowing. The service is prompt, timing is just right, and everything is flawless.

Then the most tender, smoky, pulled pork ribs with homemade squash cappelletti arrive. The pasta is cooked to perfection, the roasted delicata squash is sweet, and there is plenty of creamy Gorgonzola cheese and pear flavors in each bite. The flavors work together to complement each other in a way that is truly masterful.

The final two courses—crispy pork belly with a seared scallop and pork shank served two ways—are over the top in flavor and richness. The pork belly cured in tamarind is succulent, and needs the ginger shallot sauce and tart, sweet pomegranate seeds to cut through the fattiness of the meat. The shank prepared two ways is unlike anything I’ve eaten. The first preparation is an osso buco-style piece of pork and Zampone—a trotter, or pig foot, stuffed with pork sausage. The second is a play on bubble and squeak, a traditional English dish using leftover potatoes, cabbage, carrots, and roasted meat to make a new meal. The Primo version is called bubble and “squeal” and is served with sweet potatoes, Brussels sprouts, and lentils.

The menu says we’re to expect a trio of desserts, but we receive many more plus a bottle Limoncello to share. We sample fluffy zeppole—light, fried dough made from pâte à choux—dusted with powdered sugar, quinoa apple cake with Jameson gelato and bacon caramel corn, sweet potato brulee with smoked marshmallows, and key lime cheesecake served with a miniature Baked Alaska filled with ginger gelato.

From the first cocktail to the last sip of espresso, Primo exceeds all of our expectations. The nose-to-tail tasting is a beautiful way to showcase a local product, prepared with gratitude and respect. We have a restaurant connection with chef Kelly and her staff, but you don’t have to know the owner for an extraordinary meal at Primo—this is the standard for everyone. From the way the animals are raised to the way customers are made to feel at home, the Primo experience is special. We are grateful for the experience, and eager to return.

2 South Main St. | Rockland | 207.596.0770 |

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