Hours: Monday through Saturday 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Closed Sunday. Prices: Dinner for two with appetizers, drinks and desserts costs $40 to $50, including tax and tip. Cards: American Express, Diners Club, MasterCard, Visa.
One of the pleasures of discovering Mike's (20 minutes from Old Town) is simply learning that there's a real restaurant on this stretch of Rte. 1.
After driving for miles down the highway, you may start to wonder if there's an ordinance that forbids anything but fast food. But then you find Mike's, a cozy little place with its odd, peaked roof and long, proud awning. Inside, it feels like a modest inn, with whitewashed plaster and white bricks and starched white tableclothes and pseudo-chalet beams. (So who minds the scruffy red carpets?)
The restaurant has a warm, lived-in feeling, as if it belongs to a neighborhood -- with pictures of community soccer teams and a photo of House Speaker Thomas P. (Tip) O'Neill (D-Mass.) smiling and grasping the owner's hand.
Expect competent cooking at Mike's: occasionally an unusually good dish, never a great or bad one. You begin to appreciate the small, careful touches with the pastas (which, although the menu doesn't say it, you can order in half-portions as an appetizer). Spaghetti carbonara, for instance, can be greasy at many restaurants. But at Mike's it's delightful, scattered with browned onion chunks and lots of quality bacon, with each strand barely coated with cheese and egg.
We've had more linguini with clam sauce soaked in oil than we care to remember. But here the broth is subtle and clear, flecked with parsley and red pepper, and the noodles are heaped with tiny, tender (although canned) baby clams. The menu offers a dozen seafood dishes, more than half of them featuring shrimp. And the shrimp have been excellent -- large and fresh and cooked so they're barely crunchy -- although scallops at a recent dinner were overcooked.
Don't neglect the handful of chicken dishes, especially cacciatore, in a wine sauce with lots of pepper.
The heart of the menu, though, is veal -- scaloppine al marsala, pale white like pools of milk, or piccata with artichokes and lemony butter. Mike's seems taken with a style of veal that we're frankly not crazy about: veal heaped with layers of ham or cheese or mushrooms or eggplant or olives or various combinations, toppings that only hide the veal, not highlight it -- which is too bad, especially when the veal is decent, as it is here.
But given all that, Mike's pulls it off better than most restaurants that we've tried. A dish like veal filippe sounds and looks about as delicate as a cement block, with ham and fried eggplants and tomato sauce and cheese -- but actually it's light and likable. Veal cutlet parmigiana is just as good, covered with melted cheese.
Our main complaint with Mike's is with the sauces -- the textures are strange. They're thickened to the point where they start to congeal.
Another weak point is desserts. The waiter brings around pastries -- not made at Mike's -- that look plastic, and most are better left alone. But don't neglect the wine list. We've had an especially fine Chianti at Mike's.