Review: The Well

The Well dispenses with snobbery, focuses on food
By BRIAN DUFF  |  August 10, 2011

A LOVELY SPOT And a lovely meal.

Foodie snobbery and "locavore" sanctimony have become so egregious that the New York Times Magazine recently made a cover story of one writer's description of participating in a two-day backyard feast in the Napa Valley. Goats were killed, sabayan custards whipped, and lessons learned. At the end the writer, locavore king Michael Pollan, concludes, "I've gotten at least as much pleasure from working together to create these meals as I have from eating them. Sometimes producing things is more gratifying . . . than consuming them, I decide." Ugh.

But the pictures of the meal — great food served informally in a garden — certainly do look good! What is particularly great about the Well at Jordan's Farm, a seasonal Cape Elizabeth restaurant in its second summer, is that you can place yourself in that picture without having to hear Pollan, or anyone else, drone on self-righteously about their relationship to what they eat. At the Well you sit at a picnic table surrounded by gardens of flowers, herbs, and vegetables, and you eat things that largely grew nearby. But, luckily, the Well and its chef do not seem particularly eager to teach you a lesson about food. The Well and its chef seem pretty chill. The folks there seem more concerned that you enjoy your dinner than that you think about just how they made it. They don't make a big deal about the provenance of your chicken or fish (though if you ask, the answers meet food-snob standards), or the exoticism of the preparation. The Well delivers much of what is appealing about contemporary food trends, stripped of what is annoying about them.

The Well does it from an adorable little cottage perched in front of Jordan's Farm in Cape Elizabeth. The cottage is mostly kitchen, with two little screened porches. Inside you order from the night's brief chalkboard menu. Then you grab a spot at a table in the garden, open the drinks you brought, and tear into a loaf of country bread. It's almost comically charming back there, and the sunflowers in particular loom appealingly. The flattish, lumpy bread looked so good as the last loaf was handed to the customer in front of us that we strongly considered asking them to split it. While you wait for your meal you can pick flowers from the garden. Really, you can!

The meals served at the Well are unfussy in a way that highlights the native appeal of the ingredients. There are few sauces or complex preparations. Our salad with greens, beets, and goat cheese looked like one you have seen before. But the big pieces of beet were particularly resonant with vegetal sweetness, and the slightly bitter greens so fresh we found a few sandy bits of earth in them. We ordered the vegetarian entrée as an appetizer/side. It might have disappointing as a dinner: a simple dish of sautéed onions, greens, and summer squash, with kidney beans and white rice. But as a side it was just right.

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  Topics: Restaurant Reviews , Michael Pollan, food, Cape Elizabeth,  More more >
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