November 28, 2013

TRAVELIN’ MAINE(RS): Water Street Cafe

A famous chef is cooking in Gardiner

George And Linda Smith

Walter Loeman is the chef at the Water Street Cafe

A famous Maine chef is cooking at Gardiner’s Water Street Cafe — and we bet you don’t even know it!


When we ran into Patrick Wright on Gardiner’s now-bustling Main Street, and learned that Walter Loeman is now the chef at the Water Street Cafe, we immediately made plans to dine there. Wright is executive director of the city’s Main Street Program and an enthusiastic ambassador for the street’s businesses and events.

Loeman was the owner and 5-star chef of two of our all-time favorite Portland restaurants, Walter’s and Profetto’s, gems that sat on opposite sides of a street in the Old Port. We’ve had memorable meals in each restaurant over the years.

Honestly, without doubting Wright’s veracity, I had trouble believing his news. But when we entered the Water Street Cafe on a Friday night, Walter was in the kitchen. Turns out he moved to Augusta, is getting a Masters degree at USM, and took on the cafe as a project while he’s up here. He seemed to be having a lot of fun and told me he might stay, raving about the local farms where he gets his meat and produce.

A husband and wife team — Robert Lash and Amy Rees — owns the restaurant and opened in the fall of 2011. Their son, John Sawyer, serves as sous chef. The night we visited, Loeman’s son Joe was our server. He comes up from Portland occasionally to help his Dad.

Before I got to the food, I was drawn to the beautiful artwork by Helene Farrar. Two pieces had “sold” stickers on them. Food and art do go well together! And we appreciate the restaurants and inns that feature and sell work of local artists.

We began with bread and a delicious sweet dipping oil. Before you know it, the first page of Lin’s notes was covered in oil. I wondered if those notes would be edible when we got home.

I began with a bowl of lobster bisque, very creamy and buttery, with a good amount of fresh lobster meat. It was a perfect start to the meal. I sopped up the final drips in my bowl with a bit of bread. Mmm, good.

After conferring with Joe, I went for the most popular entree, Chicken and Prosciutto Capellini. This is also the entree that’s been on the menu the longest. Now I know why.

With shallots, lemon zest and garlic, and served in a parmesan cream sauce, this was very tasty. A tower of meat and peas covered the capellini, and I wondered how Walter does a cream sauce that doesn’t flow all over the plate, while thoroughly covering the meat and capellini.

A gorgeous salmon dish went by our table while I was eating, giving me an immediate need to return soon for another dinner.

It was a special treat to see Thaxter and Linda Trafton there. I’ve known Thaxter for decades, from his work in the Bangor business community and his service in Gov. Baldacci’s administration, but I hadn’t seen him in a long time. He’s now the executive director of the Maine Sports Hall of Fame — a dream job in my book!

The Traftons are gourmet diners, very familiar with all of our state’s best restaurants, so the fact they were dining here — and seemed as impressed as we were — was confirmation that Walter is once again hitting a home run with this restaurant.


Downtown Gardiner has yet another great choice for diners. The Water Street Cafe is located at the corner of Water and Bridge Streets. Large windows offer lots of light, while the beautiful brick walls make this a cozy, informal dining spot. Warm globe lights and track lighting combine with a high ceiling to give this space a modern industrial feel. It is really charming at night.

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Additional Photos

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Housemade bread with seasoned dipping oil

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Lobster bisque

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Chicken and prisciutto capellini


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