AS FRESH AS IT GETS Just feet from garden to your plate.
If, four years ago, you read in the Phoenix a story about Jamaican-born chef and artist Alva Lowe, you probably had one regret. (See "If You're Not Sweating..." by Lindsay Sterling, September 26, 2008.) You would have read how Lowe learned to cook on the island in the 1960s while "hanging onto the skirt" of his grandmother. The article mentioned that Lowe and his wife Jessie King once ran a restaurant called the Kitchen Garden. In fact the restaurant was something of an underground legend in Downeast Maine a decade ago. You could not read Sterling's description of Lowe's succulent jerk chicken and not think to yourself: I wish I had tried that restaurant when I had the chance.
Now you have the chance again. Lowe and King have reopened the Kitchen Garden, in the same 1860s house on a quiet road in Steuben, a few minutes from Acadia National Park. The house is surrounded by the organic gardens that Lowe and King work with their own hands, and which supply the ingredients for your meal. The kitchen is stocked with seafood fresh off local boats, and meat from local farms. The Kitchen Garden has actually created the experience that a restaurant like Primo is trying to simulate — the sense that you are at someone's home, enjoying a meal cooked just for you, made from the same plants and chickens you see out the window from your table.
Some of the quirks of the Kitchen Garden enhance the charm. For example, they ask that you look over the menu online and call early in the day to with your order. This way they can literally walk out into the garden to pick the ingredients for your particular dish. Anticipating your meal all day, it feels like you are going to friend's house for a dinner party, having called ahead to know what they are preparing so you can bring the right wine. The feeling is especially resonant since the Kitchen Garden is BYOB.
The menu is inflected by Lowe's Jamaican background, but dictated by what is fresh. The salad is lightly dressed so you can appreciate the fresh greens, and animated by the sweet-sour of their own pickled beets, artichoke hearts, and the crunch of cucumbers and dilly beans. With an edible flower on top, the salad looked so tempting that at the table next to mine they dug right in and had to scold themselves for forgetting to say grace. Fresh spring rolls are served sliced so you can appreciate the pretty medley of lettuce, avocado, dilly bean, and cucumber inside — making for a unique combination of flavors, and creamy-crunchy textures.
Tomato basil soup is a gorgeous carrot-orange, rich with deep tomato flavor and a nice vegetal undercurrent from the fresh basil. Another appetizer featured a pile of sweet Maine shrimp — sautéed simply with olive oil, lemon, and lots of diced fresh herbs, with give the sauce depth and richness.