So, last weekend, we're enjoying a brief sojourn to Maine just to get away for a few days. To change things up, we don't head for the coast like usual but instead travel inland to explore some towns we've never visited. While Greta Garmin sits on the dashboard making sure we don't run too far afield (or can find our way back if we do), we wander about exploring back roads and small towns.
As we do, we pass the A-1 Diner in Gardiner, a true classic perched above Cobbosseecontee Stream (isn't that a great Maine name?) and just a short stroll from the banks of the Kennebec River. Sadly, we're too late for Sunday brunch and they're closed. A quick perusal one of our Maine guide books lets us know that we might have missed out on one of those unique small town experiences. Oh well.
Not so fast, my fellow gourmands.
In the end, there is no doubt that we'll be heading back that way on that very trip for a visit to the A-1 once my wife discovers that said classic diner had previously been featured on Diners, Drive-ins & Dives. For those of you as yet unexposed to this paragon of food porn, "Triple D" as it's known is a hit on the Food Network and features the uniquely coiffed Guy Fieri traveling the country to find unusual, remarkable hole-in-the-wall restaurants with excellent food and that typically are only known by the protective locals. More importantly, it's one of my wife's guilty pleasures.
(OK, I'll admit to watching it sometimes, too. And yes, last year I did write down the name of a pizza joint Guy visited in Chicago just in case I ever happened to be in the neighborhood the next time I'm in the Windy City on business.)
Anyhow, once we know that we're in range of a Triple D-featured joint (you can watch the segment here), well, we just can't leave Maine without stopping. And so we do, popping for dinner on our last evening right before making the drive home. And it is oh sooooo worth it, especially after the tremendous disappointment that was dinner the evening before at what passed for a barbeque place in Augusta. (I'll never doubt my wife's new #1 rule for barbeque places -- don't eat there if there's no one else in the place; it never turns out well.)
First of all, the A-1 really is a classic old school diner, built in the '40s and lovingly cared for though clearly showing the years. We settle into a battered booth at the end where we could look down to see Cobbosseecontee Stream (damn, I can't stop saying that name) rolling down to the Kennebec. The friendly young waitress chats with us, reminisces about the Triple D visit -- "the crew loved the onion rings and the rest of the food...they told us they often just shoot the video but don't eat it but here they chowed down!" -- and greets various arriving and departing patrons by name.
(On a side note, is there anything better than having a great local store or a restaurant you enjoy so much and that is so welcoming that you just keep going back to the point where the staff knows your name and you know all of them? I've only got one of those in my life right now...Island Books in Middletown, RI, and I love popping in just to browse and visit.)
OK, back on task here...
The A-1 menu is full of standard diner fare there but we go for the specials...a wonderfully grilled pork chop with homemade apple chutney for Jennifer and "cajun meatloaf" for me. Sorry, Mom but that is the best meatloaf I've ever had and it runs a distant second to the bite of chop and chutney that my lovely wife shares with me. The homemade onion rings are pretty spectacular, too. I can understand why the Triple D crew enjoyed themselves.
Sadly, the meal is so good and the portions so generous that there is no room to sample one of the desserts before we stumble back out to the car and begin our trek home. However, I think it will all work out. The A-1 has been there for 60-some odd years and doesn't appear to be going anywhere. Maine certainly isn't going anywhere. And we're certainly not planning to stop our occasional visits to the Pine Tree State.
I think I might start with dessert next time.