When the news broke in August that Bon Appetit magazine had named Portland as its Restaurant City of the Year, it was the talk of the town, and places like Cong Tu Bot and Tandem Coffee and Bakery found themselves on the receiving end of mad rushes as foodies kicked it into high gear. It was an exciting time for sure and a well-deserved honor for Portland. Meanwhile, in smaller, surrounding towns life went on – and goes on – as usual at restaurants, diners and cafes. It’s these sort of spots that I’m more often drawn to, places like Mamie’s Farmhouse in Scarborough that I reviewed in July.
When the suggestion was made that I try my luck at the Tory Hill Cafe in Buxton, I was more than game. On a recent Wednesday, I took myself out for lunch there and devoured a massive serving of shepherd’s pie. Know this first: I’m already an early bird, but on this particular day, I was extra early and at my desk by about 10 minutes before 7 a.m. Point being, by the time noon rolled around, I barely remembered what I had eaten for breakfast, such was the cloud of hunger hanging over me. This is, of course, the justification I’m offering for polishing off a plate of food that could have easily filled two bellies. My only saving grace was that I only ate three of the four rolls that came with it.
I spend my money on concert tickets and sometimes plane tickets and hotel rooms pertaining to said concerts. When it comes to food, I’m cheap as they come. I also have some childhood holdover aversions to things like fish (most of which I’ve never tried) and have something of a laundry list of foods that I don’t eat. So, if you combine my cheapness with my fussiness, I’m pretty much the anti-foodie. But I sure do love to eat. Which brings me back to that Wednesday over at Tory Hill Cafe and that mountain of shepherd’s pie. The Tory Hill Cafe version was delicious, covered in brown gravy and with what was probably a half a pound of ground beef resting comfortably on a bed of corn and mashed potatoes. At firs,t I inhaled, then I slowed down enough to actually taste what I was eating, and the pie, paired with the aforementioned rolls and doused with just the right amount of ketchup, was comfort food perfection.
I sat at the counter, and a few seats away were two older gentleman also lunching. In fact, as I looked around, I noticed that most of the diners were seniors, and this endeared the place to me all the more. Tory Hill Cafe isn’t all that much to look at; it’s a fairly plain building, and the large dining space isn’t particularly interesting. But you know something? That doesn’t matter. This is an unassuming family joint that I can imagine has been the setting for many lively conversations, celebrations, moments of sorrow and everything else that can and should happen in a place where I suspect everybody knows at least some of the people’s names.
As for the rest of the menu, it all speaks to me, from the handmade burgers to the hot pastrami, Reuben, BLT and other classics. Tory Hill Cafe also serves breakfast all day, and don’t think for a moment I was tempted to have eggs, bacon and toast for lunch. But who can resist the power of shepherd’s pie? Not this gal with something of a basic palate whose first thought when I walked into Tory Hill Cafe, looked around and then saw the menu was, “These are my people, this is my food.”
WHERE: 15 Pinkham Drive, Buxton; (207) 929-5665. On Facebook.
HOURS: 6 a.m. to 2 p.m. daily
WAIT: About 5 minutes
PARKING: Private lot
WHEELCHAIR ACCESS: Yes