Hikers love good food, and lots of it and would flip at finding this double-shot combination at “Conti’s 1894 Restaurant” in the working-class south end of Rockland, ME.
My wife ( Auntie Mame) and sister-in-law (V8) I ate there tonight, a Thursday, when we were one of three parties that entered the restaurant at exactly the same time. Things work differently at Conti’s. Rather than seating us in individual groups as we walked through the door, the sole waitress stacked us up as one big group while she graced three tables with home made bread, bowls of salad, house Italian salad dressing and place settings. The decor of the single dining room was casual, with the recycled school cafeteria chairs clustered around an array of tables covered with newspaper.
Next the ordering process. There is just one menu here, hand scribbled on a long sheet of newsprint that hangs in front of the dining room. Penmanship is not Palmer Method-I couldn’t read most of it, but our hostess/waitress led us through the day’s choices-It’s mostly seafood, maybe 10 dishes worth. I chose haddock with scallops, Marcia had Scottish salmon ( “the good stuff”) and swordfish, and Jan had the haddock.
Next, you decide what sauce comes with your meal: Al olio ( garlic and olive oil), marina, and then two more gradations of red sauce, each with increasing heat. All of it comes on pasta, which for the three of us, was dressed with warm olive oil and minced garlic. That’s it!
Then onto the dining room, where we got one of the three coveted booths on the right wall. A fresh candle stuck in a wine bottle, was quickly lit, and provided ambience. The bread is crumbly and a bit dry, but it’s something to munch on with the salad while we endured the short wait for our dinners.
Then came wow.
The dinners came to us on fresh-hot-from-the oven 10” glass pie plates, heaped. My cut of the action tonight was sixteen large fresh-schucked scallops, plus about a half a pound of haddock.
Marcia’s slabs of fish were seared and cooked to perfection.
She knows fish and said that the pound of Scottish salmon retailed for $13, and then there was the 1/2 pound of swordfish. She ate all she could. Her leftovers amounted to 1 pound six ounces (and two additional meals’ worth, which we weighed out when we reached home) of goodness.
Jan had about a pound of haddock-she was a first-timer and was shocked.
The wine was Woodbridge-but at $6 a glass, and filled to the brim, I didn’t complain. The last time we came here and it was refill time, Marcia asked about the second red wine choice and the waitress brought her a fresh glass full, and even didn’t charge for it, even after we told here she forgot to tally it in. A variety of bottled beers in the cooler are something you get for yourself. When the waitress came and checked on us after 5 minutes, she asked if we needed anything else-I asked for some extra olive oil. She soon returned with a soup bowl full of warm “extra virgin olive oil,” with lots of fresh chopped garlic. I put the big spoon that came with it to use.
You laugh a lot here. What’s not to like? Crosby, Stills and Nash and classic 70’s rock emanated from the kitchen, where John was back at it, as he is every day, 365 days a year. Just remember to bring your cash, as there are no credit cards, nor are there any reservations, appetizers, microwave, freezer, or individual menus here. They have even stopped the desserts.
Be forewarned. John Conti’s approach to dining may ruin your experience at other local seafood establishments. I was disappointed in the meager fish plate I had at a renown waterfront restaurant in Camden last week, where the same twenty bucks that brought me to satisfaction city here tonight bought me just five scallops and a small piece of haddock. Camden has the view, but my heart’s right at Conti’s.
The total for the three of us was $83, including the wine, and that bowl of olive oil.