At the top of the hill heading north out of Southwest Harbor—where a restaurant of that name served patrons for years—now stands the reincarnation of Town Hill Bistro, which closed in the spring of 2014. Within weeks of re-opening this July, the parking lot is full and the new restaurant has climbed to the top of the rankings on TripAdvisor. The seasoned wife and husband team, Maureen Cosgrove and JJ Zeph, are calling their new venture the Rogue Café.
Why Rogue Café? When I visited recently, Maureen and JJ were too busy for me to ask, so I’ll have to speculate. Is it because it’s a bit playful to change the menu daily, depending upon what Maureen has discovered in the Mount Desert Island farmers markets where she sources her ingredients? Or perhaps they were thinking of Maureen as Rogue, the Marvel Comics female superhero who, displaying her magical powers back in the kitchen, has limited her physical contact with others. It certainly takes superhuman abilities to run such a tight operation.
When we dined, we noted that the wait staff was made up of former employees, as well as veterans from other top restaurants among Mount Desert Island’s active culinary scene. The coordination of service among the team was as if they had been working together for years. And their enthusiasm for the new operation was palpable. “I’m so thrilled you’re back,” I said to one server. “That’s so nice to hear every night,” she responded.
Simplicity and freshness characterize the menu. Small plates are likely to thrill you solely with the flavor of the greens that adorn them. To start I tried a special plate of seared queso blanco with a wonderful jalapeno jelly, but I couldn’t stop raving about the arugula. For his entrée, my husband ordered chicken thighs lightly accented with Asian flavors. Again, the star of the show was the quality of the chicken itself, which reminded me of how chicken tasted when I was a kid. Large plates offer a wide variety of meat and fish, plus tantalizing options for vegetarians.
The new space accommodates more diners than the cabin in Town Hill. Although it has a pitched ceiling of pine wood that is reminiscent of the former quarters, the walls are light with brightly colored works of art. There is a larger main dining area, with two other more intimate alcoves of three or four tables each. It all feels open and airy. Central to the space, physically and metaphorically, is a large bar which provides comfortable space for about eight people to dine. As at Town Hill Bistro, I expect it will be full year-round not only with new guests, but old friends and other restaurateurs who give this establishment its uniquely intimate vibe.
I’m most excited about what Maureen’s new kitchen must be like. I hope she’s happy! Past patrons are. Reincarnation never felt so heavenly.
Rogue Café, 1 Main Street, Southwest Harbor, Maine, 207-244-7101