Café Miranda offers Adventures in Comfort Food and lots more

Jul 09, 2017
Photo by: George Smith Cafe Miranda in Rockland.

Linda

Some restaurants are so special that I often find myself thinking about their food. That’s certainly true of Cafe Miranda in Rockland. I can close my eyes and almost see their Fire Roasted Greens dish. Seasonal greens, caramelized onions and mushrooms are roasted in their wood-fired oven, then served with a balsamic drizzle and a chunk of feta cheese. You know a dish is great when even George gets excited about a vegetable appetizer.

I crave that dish whenever I think about it, so I try not to think about it, because I don’t have a wood-fired oven. Then along comes Chef/owner Kerry Altiero’s new cookbook, "Adventures in Comfort Food," and there it is: a recipe for Oven Roasted Kale. I don’t know how well my oven cooks at 500 degrees, but I will surely be trying it this winter.

There are so many reasons to love Cafe Miranda. The menu features fun food packed with flavor. There’s nothing boring about this restaurant’s offerings! From the lengthy list of appetizers and small plates, to Italian dishes inspired by Kerry’s grandmother, to large plates with American, Thai or Mexican influences, the only problem is trying to decide what you should have! But this trip I was on a mission to order things that were in the "Comfort Food" cookbook.

So I perused Kerry’s book before we went, making a list of 11 dishes that intrigued me or that I knew George would like. Chef Andrew has been cooking the last few times we visited, and we were happy to see him once again. Kerry doesn’t cook here much now, but rest assured that he is still involved in the restaurant!

We were lucky enough to get a seat at the counter, where we could watch Andrew masterfully churn out the orders to a packed house. I cannot imagine how he keeps everything straight. Combine the ingredients, toss the dish into the massive wood-fired oven, check on it a few minutes later and perhaps toss some greens on the top for another round in the oven, and voila! Miranda Magic has occurred. I will never understand how the chef can keep track of all the dishes in there and keep straight which sauce and sides each dish needs – especially with such a lengthy menu.

It was a given that we would split the Fire Roasted Greens Delight which comes in a huge bowl. Meanwhile, servings of Miranda’s incredible focaccia bread arrive. Again that oven comes through to produce giant loaves of the best focaccia anywhere. Yes, a recipe for this, too, is in the cookbook. The charred parts of the bread give it a unique taste, and they use this bread for their sandwiches and as a roll to hold hot dogs or lobster.

We saw a man come up after he’d dined to inquire whether they sell focaccia to go. It was getting on in the evening and they determined that they could indeed sell him a half a loaf. What a lucky, lucky man!

Checking my list, I was torn between the Veggie Wowie and the Gnu Thing, both curry-style dishes. Then there was also Chicken X, an entree with Mexican flair. Somehow I landed on Eggplant Parmesan, an item not even on my list, but in the cookbook. There’s a whole section of the menu devoted to Italian dishes, many with house-made pasta.

Thick slices of eggplant are roasted without breading and topped with basil, marinara and cheese. They add kale or spinach for the last few minutes and finish it off with rigatoni. The lack of breading lets the roasted eggplant shine, and of course the marinara and kale put this in a class by itself.

Cafe Miranda is open every day,(except Christmas Eve, Christmas, and Thanksgiving), for lunch and supper. They now offer their egg dishes at lunchtime, so you can get breakfast throughout the day. They also offer Sunday Brunch, opening an hour earlier that day. Check out their menus on the Cafe Miranda website and look for that new cookbook. It just might inspire you to make some really creative comfort food to get you through the winter – and it certainly will propel you to the café for lunch or dinner!

George

I got whiplash just watching Andrew’s performance – and that’s just what it is as he “plays” the wood oven. Linda and I watch a lot of cooking shows, and this was better, because Andrew performed right in front of us.

Watching him work left me exhausted when we finished our meal – but that might have been because I ate far too much. After forgetting my leftovers on our last travel column visit in Bridgton, I wasn’t going to make that mistake here! I had no leftovers!

Kerry Altiero is at the top of our favorite chefs list. We first mentioned him and Café Miranda in the second column we ever wrote as the Travelin' Maine(rs). And we’ve included the café in several columns over the years, including a full column when Kerry began offering lunch here. But Linda and I were both surprised that we hadn’t written a column about the café’s awesome dinners since February 2011.

That was all the excuse we needed to return and write a new column. The best news is this: the café only gets better and better, constantly expanding the menu – a menu that you have to see to believe. Just the list of beers offers multiple choices in eight styles – and is 18 inches long!

Kerry gives his staff a lot of credit for the Miranda magic. “It’s a spirit, and you can’t mess with it,” he says. “It’s all about honesty, integrity and performance. HIP.”

Kerry had the second wood-fired oven in Maine and teaches other chefs how to use them. He takes pride in being cited as an “Environmental Leader” by Maine’s Department of Environmental Protection. He offers gluten-free dishes, including pasta – emphasizing that it is “good gluten-free.” I noticed gluten-free beer is also served here.

There are so many appetizers offered that you could eat a different one every day and still be dining here a month and a half later. Which makes it hard to explain why we always have the Fired Roasted Greens. Well, it’s unique and incredibly tasty, that’s why.

I do venture into new territory on entrees here. So I bounced from the list of Miranda Style entrees to the Comfort Foods, lingering over those in the section titled My Italian American Grandma. You can even get burgers, hotdogs and pizza here – something for everyone, for sure.

I ended up choosing the first thing at the top of the menu, the Bistro Job, described as “our version of ‘Steak Frites,’ seared flat iron with organic fries tossed with greens, bleu cheese, and roasted mushroom sauce.”

We were enjoying a sip of wine after finishing our appetizer, watching the action in the kitchen, when I saw Andrew pull a steak dish out of the oven, set it on the counter behind him, and cover it in a mushroom sauce. I started drooling, glanced at Lin and whispered, “Please God, let that be mine.”

“I’ll tell you what,” she replied. “If that’s yours, you’ll have leftovers.” But she was wrong!

Well, not exactly, because I could not eat the mountain of fries that came with the meal, but every bit of the steak was consumed, all with a smile on my face. And yes, I remembered to thank God – and Andrew - after the first bite!

Textures and tastes were amazing, from the crispy mushrooms to the cheese to the perfectly cooked, tender and seasoned steak.

The Café is a farm-to-table restaurant with its own “headacre” farm in Owls Head, and two dozen local farmers, brewers, fisheries and food artisans who supply the café are listed on the menu. Just another great reason to eat here, early and often!

If You Go

Café Miranda, 15 Oak St. (just off Main Street), Rockland, 594-2034, cafemiranda.com.

"Adventures in Comfort Food," by Kerry Altiero with Katherine Gaudet, published by Page Street Publishing Co.

(Photo by: George Smith)
(Photo by: George Smith)
Kitchen staff at work at Cafe Miranda. (Photo by: George Smith)
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