Skowhegan Prison’s legendary cookie legend inspires new restaurant menu
SKOWHEGAN – Former Skowhegan Town Manager Dale Watson likes to tell the story of a man in the 1940s who did odd jobs around the old rail yard near his father’s flour mill in downtown, where Variety Drug is now located.
The guy, Alley Perry, was a bit of a âbum,â Watson said.
When the weather started to get cold, Perry got locked up so he could spend the winter at the County Jail across from the Spaulding and Watson Grain Mill.
âWhen he went to jail he became the cook. He had a whole kitchen in the prison cellar, âWatson, 82, said. âHe would make these cookies, very big and pretty soft cookies that he would take to the mill, and we would put molasses on them to feed the inmates in the prison.
A flour mill cafe has been renovated and expanded, and will open on Friday as a new restaurant and bar called The miller’s table at Maine Grains, featuring a revival of Perry’s famous âhoboâ cookies.
The restaurant will offer food and drinks from local farms and grain products from the flour mill. There will be wood-burning ovens, indoor and patio seating, and an outdoor courtyard and gardens, all of which can accommodate 80-100 people and employ around 20 people seven days a week.
Amber Lambke, owner of Somerset Grist Mill, which opened in 2009 inside the old prison, also loves the history of cookies.
The story of Perry’s prison cookies is a fun one, Lambke said, as part of the new restaurant and a future wine bar is in the kitchen of the old prison where Perry made his famous hobo cookies. She said Dale Watson’s family operated the last functioning flour mill in Skowhegan before opening her own.
âPerry was known in town, and they let him bake cookies here in jail,â Lambke said. âDale shared this story with me as a historical relationship the factory used to have with the prison. We’re going to revive the Perry cookies on the menu here and serve them with molasses and butter.
Lambke, president of Maine Grains, is a co-founder and one of the five investors of The Miller’s Table. The founding group includes Jon Kimbell and David James. About 90 percent of the grain used in restaurant meals and in brewing craft beers comes from Maine, Lambke said. In 2016, the flour mill doubled its production to reach around 700 tonnes of wheat, oats, rye, cornmeal, buckwheat and spelled.
The old 1897 steel and stone County Jail is also home to the Skowhegan Farmer’s Market in the summer, marking the location’s identity as a hub for local food businesses. The Somerset Grist Mill, which started grinding in 2012, has expanded into the old cell blocks to include a yarn store, a radio station, a grain retail store, a computer instruction room called the Tech Spot and a coffee. The factory itself employs 11 people.
Kimbell said his background in producing and running a restaurant at the North Shore Music Theater in Massachusetts gives him and James a good foundation for “avoiding some of the pitfalls of a new business.” He said James’ background is in marketing and business.
âMy expertise is in dealing with clients and trying to make them happy,â Kimbell said.
Erin Savage, of Skowhegan, is the restaurant’s general manager and will run the bar. She brings her own sales and restaurant management experience, Lambke said.
Two chefs will animate the kitchens. Lucas Cates, of Bingham, cooked for whitewater rafting companies on the Kennebec River and learned the craft of baking sourdough bread with stone-ground whole grains at Petrillo’s Restaurant in Freeport. The other chef, Matthew Crate, of Waterville, is a graduate of Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts and will lead the baking program at The Miller’s Table.
Lana Swett, culinary director of Somerset Career and Technical Center at Skowhegan Area High School, will be working part-time throughout the summer.
âWe have a strong team hired for the back of the house and the front of the house, because in this iteration of the cafe we ââactually have the baking station here near the wood-fired oven and the baking station in the. cooking, so it takes a lot of people, âsaid Lambke.
Once all the renovations and expansion are complete, the restaurant will accommodate 167 people. The covered courtyard – once the inmate recreation area – will feature a long, family-style communal dining table – the Miller’s Table.
Restaurant opening hours will be 7:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. Monday to Saturday with dinner served Thursday, Friday and Saturday until 10:00 p.m. and Sunday brunch from 9:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m.
The menu will include homemade bread, pastries and English muffins for breakfast, all made from grains ground on site. There will also be omelets, pancakes, breakfast sandwiches and cookies. Lunch will consist of sandwiches from the take-out market, wood-fired pizzas, smoothies, salads and homemade dips.
Dinners will include wood-fired pizza, tourtiÃ¨re, lobster bisque, chicken and meatballs, homemade baked beans and cornbread, and âJailhouseâ beef stew.
Lambke, co-founder of Maine Grains and the Kneading Conference, said the menu will focus on affordable prices ranging from âat home, great scratchy foodâ to occasional specials to showcase the chef’s craft.
âI think people will find us to be an everyday, relaxed and affordable place to be part of their weekly routine,â she said.
Lambke said the new restaurant builds on the success of The Pickup Cafe, which operated at the same location over the weekend from 2012 to 2016.
Doug Harlow – 612-2367