Somewhere between the quest for discount designer loafers and cold-weather camping gear, you’re going to need a break when shopping in Freeport. You’ve worked up an appetite and maybe an attitude, too. You need a place to soothe those frazzled nerves—a respite with a friendly face, a glass of wine, and something really good to eat. What you really need to do is look just beyond that famous outdoor sporting empire that anchors the town to Azure Cafe.
Azure Cafe has been on Main Street for 12 years. It’s not flashy or trendy; it’s amiable and warm. Much of that feeling comes from the calm, confident demeanor of executive chef Christopher Bassett. He has cooked at Azure since the beginning and recently earned the title of Chef of the Year from the Maine Restaurant Association. Aside from his skills in the kitchen, the award also celebrates Bassett’s dedication and generosity to his community. For the past several years, and once again next week, Bassett and restaurant owner Jonas Werner will spend Thanksgiving at Freeport Community Services. They’ll put on a bountiful spread that attracts those in need and those who simply enjoy spending the day with other members of their community. Turkey dinners will be delivered to people who are unable to leave home.
Bassett has an artist’s eye for food and a talent for visualizing how flavors work together. He was a student of graphic design, but admits, “I couldn’t deal with the sitting still part, so I was attracted to the action of culinary arts,” he says. “Cooking is a temporary art, all that’s left is the memory of the meal, so it’s important to be at my best every day.” After attending culinary school in Vermont, he pursued baking for its challenge and level of difficulty. But he soon discovered that to be successful as a chef, he’d have to expand his range. And he has expanded it, much to the benefit of Azure’s diners.
Bassett prepares a cheese plate with a mild blue, Evangeline, a soft-ripened ashed and Le Mistral, an aged variety all from the nearby Spring Day Creamery in Durham. Pairings include onion jam and savory nut-and-seed brittle. There’s plenty of pasta from simple alfredo or fresh marinara to a luscious and decadent lobster mac and cheese. Tuscan short rib braised in Chianti and served over rich saffron risotto with peas is hearty and filling, and the meat is so tender a knife is unnecessary. A house specialty is zuppa di pesce—a light and flavorful tomato-saffron broth filled with Maine countneck clams, mussels, and pollack, topped with fennel slaw. Bassett likes to use the underutilized, but delicious white fish, and he works with the Gulf of Maine Research Institute to find sustainable options. A selection of small plates has been added recently, such as a quinoa-and-kale cake and a delicious roasted beet salad. These options have proven to be very popular.
Every year for the past ten years, Wine Spectator has recognized the cafe’s wine list with an Award of Excellence. Much of the credit for this accomplishment goes to Zeus-Hannah Suzette, who along with Werner, has created an extensive, international list that stays true to old-style grape varieties. A glass of Stuhlmuller “Estate” Chardonnay was just perfect with my meal, especially that lovely cheese plate. Suzette has also put together an excellent cocktail menu including a potent blueberry margarita that’s tangy with fresh berries and lime and a Hot-and-Dirty martini for the adventurous drinker, which features blue cheese-stuffed olives and hot sauce. Like the kitchen, she uses all fresh ingredients at the bar.
The uncluttered, calm atmosphere at Azure is the antidote to the frenzy of Freeport. Or better yet, skip the shopping and make Azure Cafe your destination.
Azure Café | 123 Main St. | Freeport | 207.865.1237 | azurecafe.com