AN UNEXPECTED LUNCH INVITATION

This morning, around 9:00 A.M., my friend Claire called and asked me if I would like to go to Slates Restaurant in Hallowell for lunch today. “There’s someone I would like you to meet. Her name is Sybil Baker. She goes to my church, but she’s lived in New York, and she’s acted in theater.” Banishing the list of chores that danced in my mind’s eye, I said, “I’d love to.” After all, why let the chores, which fortunately were without immediate deadlines, get in the way of meeting someone new and eating at one of my favorite restaurants in central Maine? 

Now, it must be said that although quaint and Maine are often paired, central Maine is seldom included in that mix. Although the area has lakes, hills, farms, orchards, and woods, central Maine also has a string of mill towns, gritty and edgy, with abandoned factories, some of which have been pressed into alternative uses and some of which just stand empty and decaying, a sad reminder of better times. Accordingly, while we have some culinary bright spots, what we mostly have are chains with their mediocre food. 

Hallowell, however, has somehow pulled itself up from the abandoned mill doldrums to become, well, funky and arty, even. Running along the edge of the Kennebec River, the short main street, with its brick buildings, is a contradictory blend of old New England with a touch of European and a dash of freshness. Hence the funkiness. The city might be small—with a population of about 2,500, perhaps the smallest in the country—but it sure has a lot of restaurants, and Slates, which has been in Hallowell for at least twenty-five years, serenely presides over them all. Slates is the best place to eat in the area, and it seems to me that it has reigned supreme for most of its twenty-five years. 

I suppose the best description of  Slates’s food would be progressive American, with an eclectic borrowing of various cuisines—French, Mexican, Italian, to name a few—which are often combined. For example, today I had crêpes with roasted chicken in an Alfredo sauce made with enough garlic to send the crew from Twilight running for dear life. The crêpes were utterly delicious, and they came with bread and a salad. (Clif is on his own for dinner this evening. Fortunately, there are leftovers in the refrigerator.) I have eaten many meals at Slates, which also has a bakery that makes all its breads, pastas, desserts, and ice creams, and their croissants are the only food I have been able to find fault with, soft and chewy rather than flaky. I have learned to avoid them. 

But who needs croissants when you can have such splendid crêpes? And the company was as good as the food. Sybil Baker is one of those astonishingly vital elders who makes growing old look fun. In her younger days, she had an interesting life, working in theater, television, and newspaper, and she continues to have an interesting life—traveling, writing, and, of course, eating. Sybil has a lively mind and a keen sense of humor, and when the meal was over, we decided we all must meet again in the near future. 

Naturally, the chores were still waiting for me when I got home—chores are like that—but I was pleased I had pushed them aside for a couple of hours. A very good decision that led to good food and good conversation, two of the greatest pleasures in life.

Correction: Sybill does not go to Claire’s church. They met through a mutual friend.