South Portland — Everything old is new again at the hottest eatery in Maine, including abhorrent conditions that instantly transport any foodie back to a simpler, much filthier time.
The Red Rooster Inn has table space for 20 diners, and is lit only by oil lamp and candles. The owner, Chadwick Kennedy, asked the power company not to hook him to the grid. Instead, authentic ‘Nantucket’ whale oil keeps the lights on.
“Unfortunately we are required by law to have electricity and a telephone in case of emergency, but the telephone is hand-cranked and you have to yell pretty loudly, just like in the old days,” he said as a rat scurried along the baseboard in the kitchen.
All the cooking is done in an old wooden cookstove, as authentic as the smiles on patrons’ faces when they taste a bowl of Kennedy’s famous gruel.
“We serve what would have been food of the lower and working classes,” Kennedy said.
“However, we price it far out of reach of modern working class people.”
“Our lack of cleanliness reflects something that crossed class barriers. Most places were absolutely riddled with vermin at a level modern humans just don’t know about.”
“People have forgotten what it’s like to have a crust of bread snatched out of your hands by a ravenous rat.”
Instead of ‘filth,’ Kennedy prefers to call it ‘heirloom cleanliness.’
“Times have changed and at some point, I feel like we lost our way.” Which is why no one working at The Red Rooster is required to wash their hands, to maintain that old fashioned authenticity Kennedy thinks is gone.
“We have a deal with the state worked out where we registered as a living museum,” he said.
Cabbages, potatoes, and other low-effort, high-calorie produce sits collecting flies next to an enormous pot where the dishes are soaked in scalding hot, extremely disgusting water.
“See that fire?” Kennedy asked with a smile. “That’s coal. It’s from the Earth, so it’s good.”
Reservations can only be made by courier, but the 8-12 month wait is worth it for the $600 authentic dining experience.
“A lot of people just assume they’ll never get cholera, which is why they love coming here. It’s just one surprise after another.”