The Maine Course Part One: Cleonice

Updated 2 years ago

For ten years now, Cleonice has been serving up their food Mediterranean-style here in downtown Ellsworth. “We found this place which we thought was really beautiful and it has a lot of potential.”When Chef Rich Hanson and his wife were looking for the perfect location, this spot seemed to have everything they were looking for.”We knew that we wanted to be open year round, so it was important to us even though it does slow down here in the fall and winter, we’re still open and we’re still a vital town that people come to.”The eatery’s namesake comes from one of Hanson’s biggest influences.”Cleonice is my mother’s name, Cleonice Rinsetti. She was the first in her Italian immigrant family that was born in America. She was, as I was, born in the Bronx in New York. My father was a photographer during WWII, so there’s a lot of fashion photography shots of her. Being the son of an Italian mom, that was a big influence on how I dealt with food. Every other Sunday the whole family would show up and they would have a big feast. We always had homemade food at home and the connection of always eating together was a big part of family life.”Hanson is creating dishes he thinks Mainers deserve to be eating. “After working for years in Boston and New York, you kind of get the idea the stuff is grown in the truck that delivers it. Here you can get a really good connection with the farms, the fishermen, the crafts people, and for a chef, it’s really a great benefit.”Hanson says the farm-to-table approach is what really takes his menu to the next level.”We try to use the flavor palette from the Mediterranean, which is a lot of fresh vegetables: a lot of seafood, farm-raised meats, olive oil and garlic are a big part of it. Herbs and spices, but we do stuff from Spain, France, Italy, Greece, the Middle East, and North Africa.”Dishes you don’t have to travel around the world to get.”The one that I love was baba ghanoush and I’ve had baba ghanoush in the Middle East. I’ve traveled to Oman, I’ve traveled to Qatar. I’ve never had baba ghanoush as good as this. This was off the hook. It was really good.”The food, paired with a true family atmosphere, may be the reason people keep coming through the door.”One of the great things about Cleonice, and about working here is we have people that have been with us since we opened ten years ago. We have other people that started out, we were their first job in high school and they were dishwashers or hostesses, and they worked their way up to managers, to being chefs. I’ve joked that now I’m a grand-chef three times over, because we’ve had several babies born from people that have met from working here.””I had to start working here to afford my dining here habit, and after four years, I still come in on my days off with my son, who also loves it.””We’ve been coming here for about eight years: we always make two or three trips to Cleonice when we visit here.””We love their olives, their olives are terrific. I’m having the beet salad today and it’s one of the best I’ve had.””I’m having the hero sandwich. It’s fantastic.””We love it here. The food is probably the best in town.”Continued success means expansion.”The big news for Cleonice is that we’re going to be leaving our building that we’ve been in for ten and a half years, but we’re just moving up the street.”Taking over management at the Maine Grind proved to be a wise move. Next year, it will be coffee by day and dinner by night, with plans to give Cleonice its own space on the bottom level of the building. The final course at the current location will be served on Valentine’s Day.Log on to cleonice.com for more information.


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