Home Kitchen Cafe a nice stop on a Midcoast ride

David "WingMan" Reed with his delicious Banh Home salad, which features pork meatballs. (PHOTO BY DAVID M. FITZPATRICK)
David “WingMan” Reed with his delicious Banh Home salad, which features pork meatballs. (PHOTO BY DAVID M. FITZPATRICK)

During a spring ride with exceptionally warm temperatures, I met up with my RZ friend WingMan at Home Kitchen Café in Rockland. I’m always on the lookout for good places to eat, since the only thing I review on RZ are exemplary eateries, and WingMan, who works in Rockland and has frequented this location, gave it a strong recommendation.

There are a few things to remember, such as that the café doesn’t accept reservations, and that all members of your party must be present before being seated. Home Kitchen Cafe is a nice, cozy dining room, but space is limited, and so are tables for lots of people. This isn’t really the ideal spot for a convoy of twenty motorcycles to pull in, so reserve this one for when there’s just a few of you. Parking is tight out front, but there’s more parking in back, and so long as you don’t mind braving this busy street, there’s also plenty of on-street parking.

We sat at the counter for no particular reason, but it gave me a chance to soak in the elegant interior. This is a nice place—maybe a bit too posh for those days when we’re wearing leather, boots, and chaps, and realizing that we might have considered showering and shaving this morning before heading out to sweat up a ride and fill our teeth full of bugs. I doubt that they’ll throw anyone out for being too biker-casual, but if you’re looking to fit in, maybe a little closer to normal-casual instead of road-warrior-casual might be wise. That being said, the place is available evenings for private parties.

WingMan’s thumbs up to this place before I even arrived had me confident that I’d agree with him, and I did. And who would we be to argue with Yankee Magazine, which named this place the best breakfast in New England in 2014? He’d already ordered the Banh Home, a Vietnamese pork-meatball salad made with pickled daikon and carrots, fresh jalapenos, cilantro, and hot chili mayonnaise. The dish typically comes on a grilled sub roll, but WingMan chose a bed of greens to better serve his diet. WingMan was kind enough to let me sample one of those Vietnamese pork meatballs—and if he hadn’t, I would have stolen one off his plate when he wasn’t looking anyway—and it was quite tasty. The whole dish was a picture of beautiful presentation, too.

I chose the Rock City Steak & Cheese, because a steak and cheese is something of a go-to dish for me in a new place. A steak and cheese is one of those things where it’s hard to screw it up; use quality ingredients and pay a little attention to preparation, and it’s hard to not come out with something at least OK. Screw that up, and you’ve probably lost me. But knock it out of the park with a steak and cheese that exceeds expectations, and I’ll be coming back.

On that note: I will indeed be coming back. This was a great steak and cheese, made with shaved steak that wasn’t full of fat like some of those cheaper food-service specials you often find. They sauté onions along with red and green peppers and stuff the roll, which, like with all their sandwiches, is homemade bread. But it’s the cheese choice that ties the whole sandwich together in the way The Dude’s rug tied the whole room together. Home Kitchen Cafe uses Cooper sharp American cheese, and it’s a delicious alternative to the usual non-sharp American, provolone, or even Cheez Whiz that you find in a typical Philly-style cheesesteak. And the home fries—wish I knew what they did to them—were delicious, and I didn’t even do the option of having onions and peppers added to them.

RZer David "WingMan" Reed with his Banh Home salad with pork meatballs. (PHOTO BY DAVID M. FITZPATRICK)

Our meals were terrific, and when I was done I really didn’t have room for anything else, but a lunch that good has to be followed by dessert. Judge an eatery by its meals; judge how quickly you’ll return by its desserts. I had a carrot cupcake—basically, carrot cake in cupcake form. It was perfectly moist—carrot-cake aficionados know that “too dry” just ruins it—and the cream-cheese frosting was truly a sock-knocker-offer. I really didn’t think I could eat one bite, much less the whole thing, but I polished it off in good time. Thank goodness I rode a pothole-free route after this, or my stomach might have let me hear about it.

It’s worth noting that although I chose the cupcake, Home Kitchen Cafe is known for its buns—“Our Buns,” which they claim are so named because they’re quickly becoming local legends: sticky buns with pecans and a glaze, and sinny buns with cinnamon and white icing (they’re sinful, thus “sinny”). There are also cookies, whoopee pies, and other desserts. I haven’t tried any of that, but don’t think I won’t be doing so down the road.

If it matters to you, Home Kitchen Cafe proudly notes that all of its chicken and meats are sustainably farmed and contain no antibiotics or hormones. Well, except for pastrami and corned beef; there’s no indication why, but their obvious efforts certainly earns them points. And based on their claim that their eggs are locally sourced, it sounds like this place has its priorities straight. And an outlook like it says on its Web site—“to serve fresh, hearty, satisfying food, all made on the premises. Flavor is our friend, and your enjoyment is our reward”—only cements that.

Home Kitchen Cafe was a great lunch stop, one that I look forward to repeating. Recently, the owners opened three other locations: Home Kitchen Cafe Subs & Burritos is just down the street, making sandwiches to order; Home Sweet Home Bakery makes bread, pastries, pies, and cakes from scratch; and Cone Home offers 40 ice-cream flavors. With those new options, it might be awhile before I can get to the desserts at the original location. But, fate willing, and my motorcycle able to handle my increasingly broad midsection, I’m willing to try.

Home Kitchen Cafe at 650 Main Street in Rockland is open Monday and Wednesday-Saturday from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m., and Sunday from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. It is closed on Tuesday. Visit www.homekitchencafe.com to learn more.

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