Food & Petrol Visits a classic & modern diner, The A-1 Diner in Gardiner Maine

Posted Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Remember your first visit to The A-1? Haven’t been? Well they have been waiting for you. By my best guess this groundbreaking diner (a cool restaurant by any description) has been in its current guise since 1988. The visionary founders and current owners, Mike Giberson & Neil Andersen really deserve major Cred (yes capitalized) for their place in the modern food history of Maine. They don’t get enough of it.

Back to first visits. My Cafe Miranda co-founder, Evelyn Donnelly (see current pics with her BF Chad) were off the interstate, heading to the coast and i needed, wanted a cuppa joe. We spied the A1, a preserved classic railroad car diner on the bridge in downtown Gardner. Marble , stainless, cool stools & booths, vintage lighting and well, vintage most everything. Great! I walked in, yeah, diner, seen plenty in Jersey, only a few this well preserved. Looking about the place noting its character, Nice if not quite over the top arrangement of gladiolas. Interesting. My eyes moved to beers on display for purchase. Beer in a diner? Am i in my dear Schuylkill County PA? Wait, the actual beers. Dos Equis in the green bottle, Geary’s Pale, Becks Dark (remember this is 1990 now…) whaaa? Then to the classic dinner menu board. The black velveteen behind glass panels with the moveable white block letters. Next was my loud and wholly inappropriate WHAAAAT THE F&*K? Cuban Pork stew w/ fried plantains & black beans, Falafel, tortellini, Asian noodles….Am i in the Twilight zone? Rod Serling’s baritone welcoming me to a dimension of sound, sight, mind and food in Gardiner Maine? Hardley. A perusal of the printed menu assured me of Diner fare. Dogs, chili, hand cut fries, Mashed spuds, burgers, beans and franks. All the usual and some unusual items plus breakfast as you may have guessed. The coffee was good, the beer tasty, the food, memorable.

So as a result of this initial encounter the A1 has been a regular stop for 25+ years.

As Food & Petrol’s mission is to well, eat, ride/drive & inform, the A-1 as a Maine Icon certainly fits the bill. So on another steamy, overly (for Maine) humid sunday i headed off to the A-1. The plan was to meet Evelyn & her motorbike car/boat nut Chad there. Their ride of choice was Ev’s 1981 BMW R-65. Under 15 k original miles. Sweet.

So we met. Someone was late, not going there. We have history. Niceties pushed aside we ordered FOOD. Now Sundays at A-1 are a different menu. Diner stuff but the specials are kinda Brunchy. To that end we got a few items. We wanted the Iraqi eggs w/ lamb. Sorry, sold out. So Zucchini & Farro cakes w/ eggs, herbed goat cheese, slow cooked tomato & greens. Yeh, tipical Diner food right? Delish. Unusual and comfort food satisfying. The Current & cottage cheese griddle cakes also well executed and with REAL maple syrup. Not the typical Table syrup. What do they make that stuff out of? Tables? Get it, maple- tables. Oh, nevermind. Our other was the Sausage and spinach brunch bake. Being the headline that is sort of a mouthful, so we ordered the dish . A ceramic casserole with cubed sourdough, Jack cheese, scallion, eggs and cream. Greens & home fries as well for major carbo loading. No sissy brunch here friends. Prepare to be fed, not fooled.

Oh, did i say that the coffee is strong enough to defend itself in the presence of these robust flavors? It is. The decaf too. For you all i wanted to get to the menu in the aforementioned classic diner glass signage. That would require a repeat trip? Yesiree Bob! Can do.

The Guzzi thumped and growled it’s way thru the baaaaaaak way to Gardiner. Leaving Rockland, Meadow street over Rt 90 to Hosmer Pond road, to Barnestown road to 235 and connect to 105. Love that 105. Great ride with a lot of elevation, tight and some fine hi speed sweepers that the Guzzi chews on. Growwwwwlllll, Roar! Past the Famous Hussies General store in Windsor “COLD BEER- AMMUNITION-WEDDING DRESSES” on the sign. No lie. Plus lumber, feed, lawn mowers, swimsuits and, and just go there. Worth a spelunking. Great smooth lakeside riding and waves from the residents.

This why living here is such a treat. Go out the driveway at my Headacre farm, turn right or left and ride for hours with nary a 4 lane or traffic jam to be seen.

Back to the food. Oh, a bit about the A-1 Staff. Cool, casual & they know the product. No addytood, just good service. Heads up: Elvis knows when you don’t tip well. Ah, and what to eat? Burgers, Fries, Grilled cheese, Oyster ‘Po boy, Moroccan roasted veg & hummus, EGG SALAD (a personal fave of mine)? Well i went weird, surprise, Shrimp Tagine w. Couscous. Clear flavor, not over stewed, perfect shrimp, fluffy couscous and an Arnold Palmer. At this point i considered dessert. Sure, Dessert Dog. With raw onion & chili. Nicely rounding out my repast and plenty of fodder to burp up inside the helmet to experience the meal all over again. Back on the road i required an espresso to fuel up me head. Just around the corner is the Gardiner Co-op, full of hippie stuff, patchouli and kombucha. Clean, nice selection, great staff and an outstanding espresso. So get your bulk brewers yeast and suck down a coffee. BTW, Espresso IS coffee to me. I was once told in a Cafe in the shadow of the Duomo in Florence that “Coffee with milk is for the infirm and children” . Got it.

So to you all, thanks for reading and I say farewell and happy riding-eating-working-loving,
Chef Kerry

Oh, and a Zippy The Pinhead comic? See the pics..

Petrol: Me, 2000 Ducati 996 Monoposto. 6k+ original miles, 166 MPH top speed 112HP. serviced and maintained by the unparalleled Micah Fenwick

Visit number 2 was on the 1988 Moto Guzzi Mille GT. Cafe’d in the late 80’s. Mild Race motor, hi compression heads, pipes, blueprinted, polished, cam drive changed, lighter flywheel, marzocchi forks, Koni rear shocks, corbin seat and more.. My favorite although it leaves me stranded more than i’d like . That said, Micah mentioned above has sorted it out i think. He is a saint. This growls down lo and bellows at full chat! Pretty awesome. You know these ital bikes are like a fun/bad Girl or boy friend. Those that know me….

Evelyn & Chad rode Ev’s 1981 BMW R-65. Stock, under 15 k mile original except for the LED head, tail and additional Denali running lights i put on it for her. Also serviced at Micah’s.

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