There’s no such thing as an intimate dinner out for two on an unbridged Maine island. Here in Penobscot Bay, on Islesboro, there might be someone we don’t know sitting nearby at the Community Center Café, or enjoying a Wednesday night dinner there, or up at the new barbecue place, Seasmoke, but generally anonymity is a temporary condition.
In fact, there is almost no such thing as eating out at all, in the sense of going someplace with tables for two or four, sitting down, ordering drinks, reading a menu and enjoying a relaxed hour or two of conversation and good food. Nor is there a place to go for a beer.
Much of our island’s eating out has a temporary aspect, highly seasonal, emerging in late May or June and evaporating in late August or September. Mostly it is daytime eating out: at Billy’s for sandwiches and ice cream; or the grill at the ferry terminal; or pizza, burgers and subs at Durkee’s, where Richard installed actual booths and a counter with stools. At the Island Market, Shake and Loony offer sandwiches, pizza and hot lunches which you can eat sitting on benches at the back corner by the coffee carafes.
Lately, Hanna and Elana preside at Rabbit Corner Café, where we can acquire various permutations on coffee and chai, like espresso, lattes and cappuccinos. Pretty exciting; an island variation on Starbuck’s. And lunches of gazpacho, and sandwiches squeezed until toasty in the panini machine, and Wednesday night dinners, served buffet style, with music from our mailman Mike and his friends, that give us, and six or seven others around a table, a chance to eat out without washing dishes.
Weekly Thursday lunches at the Fellowship Hall, now in their 11th year, serve a noon meal cooked and served by volunteers to anyone who shows up. It used to be mostly gray heads at the tables, but some of the younger island workers drop in, preschoolers once in a while, and even visiting cyclists eat with us, getting a glimpse of island life and leaving behind welcome donations.
The Sporting Club, school, and other organizations offer lasagna suppers, or boiled dinners, or steak dinners, all welcome breaks from cooking, and a chance to support an organization.
This summer the island acquired a barbecue place, called Seasmoke. Ryan’s smoker produces brisket, pulled pork, ribs, with a side of coleslaw to-go, or you can eat-in at picnic tables and B.Y.O.B. Best of all, it is a place to linger after eating, to socialize as we might at a local bar, and it is even open after Labor Day, though upcoming frosty nights will soon close it down.
All these put our community together at table, not entirely a bad thing, because goodness knows we need to converse, get to know people we don’t work with or see on our daily rounds.
We long for a restaurant. Well, we long for a pub, actually, and we’d probably be happy if it was attached to a restaurant. We used to have The Pub in Dark Harbor, a bastion of music, drink and seasonal pizza. During the ’70s, it was an anchor for social life; local and visiting musicians regaled its habitués. Romance blossomed there: island couples now approaching retirement years met there and married. Tales, wild and mild, emerged from The Pub’s all-too-brief tenure. A couple of generations have grown up here deprived of a similar watering hole.
Personally, I am a little jealous of North Haven with its Nebo Lodge, where I once had a wonderful dinner on a weekend visit, acutely aware that practically everyone else in the place was local, and knew I wasn’t. Now there is even another place to eat in downtown North Haven within walking distance of the ferry. Vinalhaven has places to eat not far from the ferry, but on Islesboro, it is a long, hungry and thirsty walk from Grindle Point to the nearest comestibles, and one has to be prescient enough to make the correct right-hand turn at the end of Ferry Road to get to them. And once you do, most of us will know that you aren’t From Here as you sit down to eat and drink next to those of us who know each other, perhaps too well.
Still, if we want to talk with neighbors, share opinions, create helpful and informative networks, we need a sociable joint, a place to eat out, have a beer and be able to do it after work.
Sandy Oliver lives, cooks and writes on Islesboro.