Mamma Mia's!

Elegant meals with great flavors
By BRIAN DUFF  |  July 16, 2008
STACKED: A tower of terrific tastes.

Mia’s At Pepperell Square | 17 Pepperell Square, Saco | Sun 9 am-2 pm; Mon-Thurs 5:30-9 pm ; Fri-Sat 11 am-2 pm & 5:30-9:30 pm | Visa/MC/AMEX | 207.284.6427
The end of a long day at the beach is not always the best time for an elegant dinner out. And while some of Maine’s more far-flung beaches are near restaurants alluring enough to tempt you despite being sweaty, salty, and sun-tired (like MC Perkins Cove in Ogunquit), the Scarborough-to-Saco stretch of coast Portlanders favor has had less to offer restaurant-wise.

But Mia’s in Saco has changed this dynamic. This quaint but elegant little restaurant is serving some of the best meals south of Portland. Mia’s is in the little house that used to be the Lily Moon, a beloved and more casual Saco restaurant forced to close after being swindled by their accountant. (Cathy Cyr of Lily Moon now cooks her terrific breakfasts at Skippers on Elm Street in Saco.) Mia’s chef-owner is now Steve Rogers, formerly of Windows on the Water in Kennebunk.

The waitstaff is notable for their big-city professionalism. Mike, who seems to head things up in the front of the house, is among the best waiters in Maine. Whether he is discussing where you might sit, explaining the dishes, parsing the great little wine list, or describing the gardens where Mia’s grows its own vegetables, you feel reassured that your evening is in very good hands. He guided us to a terrific red, dry but tasting of black currant, called “Spellbinder.”

The hands in the kitchen are also clearly skilled and have a flair for presentation. They like to stack things. Even if Mia’s did not have its own garden, I would risk salmonella to order the incredible fried mozzarella capri salad with tomato. The cheese is given enough breading and time in the hot oil to remind you of a great bar snack, but it is stacked gorgeously with smears of garlicky fresh pesto, sweet juicy tomato, and bitter greens. A thin lobster bisque was simple and wonderful.

Mia’s has divided its entrees into two categories. The very affordable ($15) small entrees are not actually very small. A wild king salmon, well-seared but terrifically moist, was great with just a bit of lemon caper butter. The beets were earthier than the typical sugary large-farm version. The root’s color and taste were consonant with the greens. A creamy orzo risotto was not too heavy for summer.

Larger entrees run $18 to $24 and differ only by offering a bit more of everything: protein, starch, and vegetable. A soft, buttery tilefish perched on a “hashbrown” of shaved potato with colorful pickled vegetables is one of the best dishes I have had this year. Chicken breast, pounded flat and folded over a handful of crab, got a bit lost under a thick, sweet sherry-tomato sauce. Served with terrific, bitter, sautéed arugula, and garlic mashed potatoes, this dish was a little heavy for this time of year. Large scallops were seared a lovely golden brown. They came with a different risotto, this one softer and cheesier, and sweet-crisp snap peas served with their greens.

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