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 patchwork—a 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.
It’s hot and muggy. Cary wears a tank top, long shorts, and marble blue Crocs. She’s 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. He’s 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. “It’s the same with Cleonice. It’s pronounced ‘clee-oh-neese.’ It’s my mother’s name, and that’s 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. “They’re Khaki Campbells,” says Rich. “Good layers and very social.”
The ducks are followed by 34 chickens—Barred Rocks, Buff Orpingtons, and Black Australorps.
The chickens and ducks are bossed and herded by two geese, a Toulouse and a Chinese. “They’re 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. “They’re 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 sauce—30 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, “they’re not really a breed, but they’re what the old-timers call ‘bacon pigs.’ They’re long pigs with long bellies. They’re 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. “We’re 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. Cary’s 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. It’s 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 dogs—Pam, the Italian greyhound–Australian 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 friend’s diesel Mercedes.
The fish is haddock from Port Clyde Fresh Catch, a local cooperative of fisherman. They also bring cod, sole, flounder, and monkfish. “We’re 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 Cary’s hens.
“I love classic fish and chips, but we could never do it this way at Cleonice,” says Rich. “At Cleonice, we’re stuck in the Mediterranean. We can use local ingredients but it’s not just ingredients that make a cuisine. Food culture is about the way people cook. Around here that’s bean hole beans, chowder, salt pork, sauerkraut—stuff that’s 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 restaurant’s larder with the best of what’s 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 they’re “small, lean, and flavorful.” Done Roving Farm in Harrington raises their cows on pastures that slope down to the shore. Rich says, “It’s a saltwater farm—so the meat tastes a little bit salty.”
The ingredients are local and the recipes are local, but the food doesn’t 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 we’ll make Joshua Chamberlain’s 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