Cafe Miranda: 15 Oak Street, Rockland, Maine 04841; (207) 594-2034; cafemiranda.com
Like a very fancy lady who wears hats on the town with not a care in the world, today I took myself out to lunch. While Malcolm was working in his office and Violet slept in her crib, I packed up a notebook and camera and went to downtown Rockland, to Cafe Miranda. They open for lunch at 11:30, and were already busy with couples and foursomes seated in the smallish dining room filled with sunlight at noon. In deference to the larger parties, I should have sat at one of the bar stools which peek into the open kitchen. Instead I took a table for two, located by a window and a toasty radiator. The other patrons seemed like coworkers on lunch break, groups of retired friends, and folks picking up hefty brown bags of t0-go orders from the friendly waitstaff. I immediately had a glass of ice water, a lunch menu and a drink list in front of me. It was bliss.
The Cafe Miranda Facebook page advertises a $6 lunch, a complete meal with a fountain soda, which is the only way to have soda, in this writer’s opinion. I loved this idea, and it got me in the door. But once I was in and looking things over, there were so many other options, I had to expand my budget and my mind. They have a pretty extensive wine list: red/white, new world/old world/sparkling/sangria, and lots of beer displayed on the counter-bar, both bottles and tall-boy cans. The menu informs me that they serve a Colt .45 40-oz in a paper bag, which is just wonderful and hilarious. I liked it already. There is whimsy and humor everywhere; lots of tsotchkes, (especially pink flamingos, which I admit not not really get), as well as graphic, impasto, modern, local art on the walls. The lunch menu consists of salads and soups, burgers and hot dogs, sandwiches and pizza, fries with sauces, dips and spreads, veggie options, as well as some kind of bowl of Thai-inspired chicken and vegetables called, and I quote, the “Fabulous Bowl of Meat (FBOM).”
Cute. But is any of it good?
Cafe Miranda is located on a side street tucked just behind Main Street, and in the summer there is an outdoor bar and Lulu’s ice cream next door. These are people who have a lot of ideas. I am just one woman, and this was just one lunch. Not meant to be a full review, but more a sketch of lunch, a thumbnail or impression. The experience of dining alone. Which was absolutely fantastic. There’s a gentle buzz of conversation, lots to look around at, plenty to occupy yourself with while you wait, though the service is fast. It’s diner-ish. I am sure they are tired of being described as eclectic, but that word really applies. The floors are checkered, red and black, the chairs are chrome-shiny and the place has the feel of a funky lunch counter. It’s anachronistic in a way that is hard to describe.
So, the food! After careful consideration I went with the “Wedgie Salad,” ($8) as well as an “Ole Smokey Hot Dog Platter” ($9) and a glass of white sangria. The wedge was not your classic wedge, but clearly that is not the intent. The dressing is “zippy” and light, a little watery. The salad itself is like Fixins’ Bar rebellion, with banana peppers, wet tomatoes and red onion. It was pleasant. I will, however, try other salads.
My first choice was a lamb burger, which they didn’t have, so I went with hot dogs. I don’t know why. I repeat, hot dogs. What? I was intrigued.
Served on house-made, charred focaccia with bits of bacon stuffed into the fold and cheddar cheese melted in, two griddled, all-beef “Pearl Meats” dogs. Salty, snappy, smoky. Crunchy, Crackling, Crisp. And, oh yeah. Friggin’ awesome. The traditional hot dog bun is, by all accounts, the very worst kind of bread. Hot dog buns are to bread what Taylor Swift is to human beings. Squinty, white, insipid. Does the job satisfactorily, but honestly? Who cares. Focaccia, on the other hand, is outstanding, nuanced, and complex. As it turns out, what a hot dog NEEDS is focaccia. The resulting dish is more like eating hot dogs rolled up in light, fluffy pizza dough, with just a touch of char and a ton of melty sharp cheddar cheese. Eating them is fun. Which is, very clearly, what they are going for here at Cafe Miranda. It’s a silly place. But not at the expense of quality. It’s a solid restaurant; undeniably Rockland and proud, “because we can.” And I like that. I sipped and wrote and photographed and felt lovely and alone for less than thirty bucks and an hour.