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Photos and story by Ted Axelrod
A recent photo assignment sent me to the far reaches of Maine: Presque Isle. The landscape here, even in the winter, is breathtakingly beautiful, with rolling hills, fields and mountains in the distance.
But its also a remote, deeply rural place where snow machines are a common form of transportation. As far as dining options go, there’s not much in Presque Isle beyond chains like Bonanza Steakhouse and fast food. Fortunately, our friend Angie Helton, a Presque Isle native who lives in South Portland, had steered me to The Whole Potato, the only option in town for healthy and locally sourced food.
Full disclosure: The Whole Potato Cafe & Commons is owned by Angie’s sister-in-law, Carol Ayoob, also a native of Presque Isle. Her great-grandparents emigrated from Lebanon to neighboring Fort Fairfield, where they owned a restaurant called “The Greasy Spoon.”
Carol describes herself as an “activist, hippie and artist.” She opened The Whole Potato about a year ago, determined to establish a community gathering space for food, music and art. Everything about the place is very organic — and I don’t mean in just the food-growing way. Exposed brick, natural fibers and re-purposed objects give the large storefront space a rustic, charmingly eclectic vibe. A chalkboard wall encourages visitors to express themselves and some people come in just to have a beer and to play cribbage. This is encouraged; Carol welcomes everyone.
Even the plates, glassware and silverware have a story. Originally from Northern Maine Community College, the vintage diner-style china and chunky amber glassware was donated to the local Catholic Charities thrift store, where Carol snapped up the whole lot.
The restaurant’s kitchen is open to the dining room and is bright, clean and inviting. As much of the food as possible is organic and locally sourced. Everything I tasted was delicious.
In addition to serving food, The Whole Potato Cafe & Commons hosts cooking and food preservation classes, concerts and art events. On her website/blog, Carol describes it as “a ‘collaboratory’ … Opportunities for deep love and forgiveness, acceptance and learning comes through food sharing … Central to how we survive as a community, is the nourishment that becomes us, beyond a crop. The Whole Potato is an infinite space – wondrous, magnificent, thriving.”