FAIRFIELD, Maine — You wouldn’t know it from the shabby gray storefront, but Kennebec Cafe may have the best-tasting cake doughnuts in the Northeast. They are at least the most imaginative.
The 90-seat diner on the short strip of Main Street here in central Maine is owned by John and Ann Maglaras, and offers an array of home-cooked food for breakfast and lunch. The couple bought the red brick building that houses the cafe five years ago. And despite the struggling economy and a population drop in town, their little spot is flourishing, especially on weekends when families and students from nearby Colby and Thomas colleges and local folks fill up the old lacquered pine chairs and vinyl booths. The same familiar faces keep coming back. “That’s why I repair the booths with duct tape,” says John, who functions as the diner’s gregarious and amiable host, “so the customers will stick around.”
While daughter Megan Maglaras-Stevenson makes eggs Benedict, French toast, including a Nutella-stuffed version, and a cheesy hash-brown casserole whose recipe John invented and will not divulge, regulars know that the specialties of the house are Ann Maglaras’s cake doughnuts. (Hers are made without yeast, though she does offer honey-dipped raised confections on weekends.) If the cooking world has its fair share of master pastry chefs, Maglaras may arguably be its first dean of doughnuts.
A favorite creation is the “Olive Oyl at the Beach,” a sweet and savory mix of salt, pepper, sugar, and olive oil. “I thought it looked like sand,” says Maglaras, a Maine native. “People say, ‘Olive oil?’ And I say, ‘Try it, and that’s what you’ll order every time you come in.’ ’’
Above the brown booths and pale countertop is a large white board, listing over 60 varieties of doughnuts. And you cannot escape the alluring scent of fresh rounds in hot oil. These confections are not your typical gobs of sweet dough. They are a kind of inspired cuisine.
A lemon ricotta number topped with a fresh raspberry glaze has a pleasing mouth-feel. That’s what the Maglarases aim for. Every round is handmade from a buttermilk-based cake batter. Ann melts her own chocolate for the chocolate doughnuts — “no mixes here,” she says — and crafts all the glazes on site, from the candied bacon to the chai. “I steep the tea. I mean, who does that?” she says. “I must either love it or be crazy. Maybe a little of both.”
There is a level of artistry and whimsy to Maglaras’s creations. She makes plenty of standard doughnuts, including a simple plain and a scrumptious sweet potato, but there are also inventions such as the “Fatty Arbuckle” (a whoopie pie doughnut with peanut butter glaze), the “Drop-Kick Murphy” (a chocolate doughnut with Bailey’s Irish Cream), the “Jamaican Me Crazy” (bananas and cornflakes), and the “Sequin Jumpsuit” (Elvis’s favorite: chocolate, peanut butter, and banana).
“I get bored easily,” admits Maglaras, whose list of flavors is ever-growing. She recalls one unique construction: the “Margarita,” glazed with Jose Cuervo, sea salt, and lime. “Oh, what a good doughnut.”
This summer, the Maglarases will celebrate their 10th year in the restaurant business and their 31st year of marriage. John worked for decades as a long-haul trucker for Massachusetts-based Spinning Wheels Express and the National Starch and Chemical Co. They met when Ann worked at the Eating House, another Fairfield restaurant, in the 1970s. Eventually, she left for New Hampshire, where she “drove truck” with her husband for several years, then returned here to do what she knows best. “And I’ve been frying ever since,” she says.
On a recent weekend, the occasionally cantankerous Ann, who wakes up at 4 a.m. to prepare the multiple batters, rolled 118 doughnuts. “To be honest with you, it’s not fun anymore,” she says. “It’s too busy. I’m not complaining; it’s a bad good.” Because she fries all the doughnuts herself, she can only make four varieties and a dozen individual flavors at once. Customers cannot expect to sample 10 different doughnuts at a time.
She recalls a patron who came in every day to try each one on the board. “But he gave up,” says Maglaras.
One regular at the counter, wearing a logger’s cap and enjoying a round, says, “I tell you what: I find no place anywhere that makes doughnuts like that,” he says. “No place anywhere I know.”
Kennebec Cafe166 Main St., Fairfield, Maine, 207-453-4478