The clue to this chef's previous life is a James Beard Award nearly buried by papers at the front reception desk. Melissa Kelly won the foundation's honor as Best Chef in the Northeast in 1999, when she was at Old Chatham Sheepherding Company. Last spring, surrounded by family, she and fiancé Price Kushner opened the restaurant Primo in this down East town. Exemplary seasonal ingredients are one of the hallmarks of her award-winning style. And while the setting may be new, her emphasis on clear, true flavors, cleverly but not pretentiously blended, remains. Her fans, many of whom have already done the drive north, won't be disappointed.
The decor of the redone Victorian house is simple--sponged gold walls, white swag drapes. It's a homey space for deeply satisfying food in rich, vivid combinations: wood-roasted Weskeag River oysters with fennel butter and scallions; bread and heirloom tomato salad with ricotta salata; scaloppini of pork saltimbocca in a sage-mushroom-Madeira jus; and supremely tender braised short ribs with horseradish mashed potatoes and red cabbage. And you'll want a bite of everything else ordered by surrounding diners. If this town's not on your itinerary, make a change, because Primo's worth a detour. $100. 2 South Main Street, Rockland, ME 04841; 207-596-0770. primorestaurant.com/index.htm