SOUTHWEST HARBOR — Anyone who hasn’t checked out the goings on at the Common Good Café yet this winter should think about a trip to Seawall some upcoming Saturday, Sunday or Thursday.
On Thursdays, soup is served from 12-2 p.m., on Sundays it’s popovers from 9 a.m. to noon, and on Saturdays, well that’s when the fun happens from 5:30-8 p.m.
The late Annabelle Robbins, who managed her family restaurant, the Seawall Dining Room, for decades, would be pleased by the bustle and fun that is happening at this wonderful spot on Route 102, hard on the bank of a duck pond and across the street from a rarely placid sea.
After several years of under-use, the café got its re-boot several years ago when chef Bill Morrison and impresario Larry Sterner thought it might be a good place to offer Mount Desert Island folks a cheap or even free meal and some good entertainment to chase away the recession blues.
While things have improved economically somewhat since then, and Bill and Larry have passed the management reins to others, the Common Good continues to fill a niche for the community. People still enjoy coming here to be entertained and fed by their talented friends and neighbors. It’s something to look forward to each week during the cold dark days of winter.
Take Saturday night for instance. It was a cold, dark drive along the Seawall Road, but suddenly the brightly lit windows of the Common Good Café smiled through the gloom.
It was just 5:30 p.m., and already about 10 cars had pulled up in the parking lot.
Inside, a cheerful woman stood beside a cash box asking for donations for the evening’s food and musical fare, promising the best meal ever.
She was pretty close to the mark, all for just seven bucks.
Tonight, manager Laurie Ward and cooks Paul and Tricia Roe offered delicious spaghetti with choices of robust meat or vegetarian sauces; a rich beef stew; a brothy veggie soup; crisp green and perfectly seasoned pasta salad; and what really may be the best darned pizza you have ever eaten. There was strawberry shortcake and good coffee for dessert.
Just as you settled at a table with your full tray, a beautiful princess in pink and pearls and a rather fat and fuzzy looking frog showed up.
Brittany Parker and Andrew Simon of Mohawk Arts Collective (MAC), who entertained island folks all summer long with their original theater productions, have stuck around this winter to manage the weekend entertainment at the Common Good.
The evening typically starts out with a children’s program – tonight it was their musical take on “The Princess and the Frog.” In no time, about half a dozen toddlers had, uh, toddled up to the front of the room to check out the frog puppet. What ensued was a delightful interactive tale about an unlikely friendship between a rather prissy princess and puddle-jumping amphibian, punctuated with music from a variety of sources – altered slightly to fit their story.
“Beatles!” the frog enthused. “I love the Beatles. They are my favorite band and my favorite thing to eat!”
In the end, the princess learns how to have some messy good fun, and the frog learns to be a bit more sensitive to his friend’s feelings. One little boy was so charmed by the princess that after the show, he solemnly placed all his toys – including a cherished helicopter – at her daintily slippered feet.
As the families finished up their meals and kids were taken home, more grown-ups arrived (some bringing their own wine) and the music turned to boogie woogie and the blues in the capable hands and voice of Brian Kupiec. But the “who knew?” moment of the evening was when James Lindquist of Red Sky Restaurant in Southwest Harbor joined Kupiec and proceeded to wow us all with his unexpected country-ish sound. Think Willy Nelson smoke and gravel, Johnny Cash deep, and maybe a hint of Cat Stevens smooth, along with some great guitar licks. It was terrific and just got better when a third musician showed up with his harmonicas and a pedal drum.
According to Simon, this sort of Saturday night fun is going to go on all winter with MAC trying out new material of their own and finding new and familiar musical talents to keep us all entertained until the robins return.
Ward added that they are always looking for volunteers to help in the kitchen and on the floor, and that from time to time, they have special brunches. The Café and its staff are also available for private parties.