BELFAST, Maine — The pizza at Chase’s Daily here is as iconic as any lobster roll. At lunchtime, chef and co-owner Freddy Lafage puts his head down and cranks out pie after perfect thin-crust pie. The Chase family tends a large farm just outside of town. Today’s special pie is topped with home-grown caramelized onions, dried chili peppers, and rosemary (in addition to the imported oil-cured olives, tomato sauce, ricotta, and Parmesan cheese).
It is a pleasure to come in from the cold, grab a seat at the counter, and order one of Lafage’s pies — maybe with a salad of hardy winter greens. In the summer, when the farm is in full swing, the pizzas will be topped with farm fresh everything — sweet corn, fresh arugula, heirloom tomatoes. But even now, in late winter, Chase’s Daily delivers a sincere sense of place. To drink — a glass of beer. 96 Main St., Belfast, 207-338-0555, lunchtime pizzas $8 for the Margherita, and $11 for the special.
Chase’s Daily is not the only restaurant in the state serving destination-worthy food in winter and early spring. There are bright spots up and down the coast. Here are 10 dishes worth a drive.
HUEVOS RANCHEROS Home Kitchen Café, Rockland
For this dish, chef-owner James Hatch makes his own corn tortillas, soaks and simmers black beans, and poaches a couple of eggs in salsa. The dish is topped with sour cream, fresh avocado, cilantro, and plenty of spicy ranchero sauce. “People say that it’s the most authentic huevos this side of California,” says Hatch. To drink — Rock City Coffee (roasted in Rockland). 650 Main St., 207-596-2449, homekitchencafe.com, huevos rancheros $8.95
PAD SEE EW Long Grain, Camden
Chef-owner Ravin “Bas” Nakjaroen, originally from Bangkok, is putting his own nostalgic and progressive spin on Thai home cooking and street food. For pad see ew he makes wide rice noodles from scratch, stir fries them with local kale and collard greens, local eggs, sweet, salty soy-based sauce, and chicken, pork, or locally made Heiwa tofu. The dish is topped with pickled jalapenos. To drink — Kikusakari Taru Sake, aged in cedar barrels. 31 Elm St., 207-236-9001, pad see ew $12.50
CHOUCROUTE GARNI Morse’s Sauerkraut, North Waldoboro
This is a delicious mess of smoked, brined, bone-in porkchop (“Kasseler Rippchen”) from Schaller + Weber in New York, smoked sausages, potatoes, and a pile of sauerkraut cooked slowly in goose fat with apples, onions, caraway, and juniper berries. Eat the whole plate and you could sleep outside in the snow. To drink — mulled cider. 3856 Washington Road, 866-832-5569, morsessauerkraut.com, choucroute garni $13
PAI TAN RAMEN Pai Men Miyake, Portland
The dish begins with a rich broth of pork and chicken bones, simmered for days with ginger and aromatics. The rich broth is ladled over a bowl of noodles, and topped with pork belly, soy-marinated egg, scallion, and nori. Many of the pigs and chickens are raised organically on chef-owner Masa Miyake’s 3-acre farm in Freeport. To drink — Hitachino Nest Beer from North Eastern Japan. 188 State St., 207-541-9204, miyakerestaurants.com, pai tan ramen $9.50
FLUKE MEUNIERE Petite Jacqueline, Portland
The elegant fluke meuniere (“millers wife”) is fluke (summer flounder) dredged in flour, pan fried in butter, and served with lemon, capers, and fines herbes on a pile of bright green haricot verts. “In France, the dish is traditionally made with sole. We can get beautiful fluke year round right from Casco Bay and the Gulf of Maine,” says managing owner Liz Koenigsberg. The restaurant is named for co-owner Michelle Corry’s French grandmother, an excellent home cook and inspiration for the bistro. To drink — French 75 (gin, simple syrup, lemon juice, champagne). 190 State St., 207-553-7044, bistropj.com, fluke meuniere $21
CHEESEBURGER WITH SEA SALT AND PEPPER FRENCH FRIES Nosh Kitchen Bar, Portland
This cheeseburger is a patty of ground beef and pork griddled crispy and served on a brioche bun with American cheese, shredded iceberg lettuce, and tomato. The fries are the best in town — thick cut, crispy on the outside, and light on the inside. Nosh serves food until last call (which is just before 1 a.m.) seven nights a week. To drink — local beers on tap. 551 Congress St., 207-553-2227, noshkitchenbar.com, cheeseburger $9, fries $5
POTATO PANCAKES WITH HOUSE-CURED LOX, HORSERADISH, CAPERS, AND CORNICHONS Schulte & Herr, Portland
Schulte & Herr opened a few months ago in a sunny little space on an otherwise desolate stretch of Cumberland Avenue. The food is hearty and homemade — German classics prepared with a light hand and local ingredients. The potato pancakes are crispy and golden brown. “We grate the potatoes very finely so that they will be light and fluffy on the inside,” says owner Steffi Davin, a native of Berlin. The salmon is cured with salt, sugar, orange juice, and dill and served with the horseradish sauce, capers, and sliced cornichons. Start with the potato pancakes, then eat your way through the menu from the spatzle to the sauerbraten to the apple strudel. To drink — bring your own beer (for now). 349 Cumberland Ave., 207-773-1997, schulteundherr.wordpress.com, potato pancakes with lox, horseradish, capers, and cornichons $9
OMAKASE Suzuki’s Sushi Bar, Rockland
Owner Keiko Suzuki Steinberger is passionate about local seafood. She knows which urchin divers can find the fattest, fullest, sweetest urchins, which crab pickers pick the cleanest lumps of crabmeat, and where to find the fishermen with the snappiest catch. Working to the sound of classic jazz albums played all the way through, Steinberger prepares her omakase with whimsy and precision. To drink — the “working man’s” sake, served hot: Genbei San No Onikoroshi. 419 Main St., 207-596-7447, suzukisushi.com, omakase assortment $30 for one person, $56 for two
MENUDO/PLATO MONTANERO Tu Casa Salvadoran Restaurant, Portland
The plato montanero here is a ridiculous spread of yellow rice; pinto beans; avocado; fried plantain; giant, thin-cut ribeye steak; and crema. It pairs nicely with the menudo, a rustic stew of honeycomb tripe and hominy, seasoned with chili peppers and lime and known as the ultimate cure for a nasty hangover. To drink — homemade horchata (rice milk seasoned with cinnamon). 70 Washington Ave., 207-828-4971, tucasaportland.com, plato montanero $11.95, menudoJonathan Levitt can be reached at www.jonathanlevitt.com.