ROCKLAND, Maine --Sometimes a couple just need to get away and spend a little time alone together. With a baby due in February, those opportunities are about to become scarcer for my wife and me. Which is why Kim kept gently reminding me how nice a quick trip to Maine would be while we still had the chance.
Where in Maine was left up to me, but with her in mind I zeroed in on Rockland, the self-proclaimed gateway to Penobscot Bay. The Farnsworth Art Museum there maintains one of the better collections of Wyeth family paintings in the country, and Kim, I knew, has cherished the dark, earth-toned landscapes of Andrew Wyeth since viewing an exhibition of his work toward the end of the five years she spent living in Japan. A framed poster of Wyeth's ''Lawn Chair" hangs in the guest room destined to become our baby's nursery, and Kim still rues having left a handful of inexpensive Wyeth reproductions on her walls in Tokyo on the erroneous assumption that they could be easily replaced back in the States.
What I did not realize when I phoned for a room was that tiny Rockland, population 8,000, is home to some excellent restaurants. If there is anything Kim returned from Japan more passionate about than Wyeth, it is good food. When Elizabeth Henkel at Captain Lindsey House Inn told me about Primo and offered to make us a reservation, I was certain we were headed to the right place.
We arrived midafternoon the Monday before Columbus Day, and repaired to our room to rest and plot the next day's activities. I thought a drive up to Camden, eight miles to the north, might be worth making for lunch. It didn't seem right to come to Maine, even for just one night, without eating some lobster.
Further reading revealed that the little food shack we had passed in Wiscasset on the drive up, with its clump of a half-dozen or more patrons lined up at 2:30 on a chilly weekday afternoon, offers some of the best lobster rolls in the state. Maybe the thing to do would be to skip Camden and grab a couple of lobster rolls from Red's Eats for a light supper on the drive home.
We got our answer that night at Primo. Co-owner and pastry chef Price Kushner greeted us inside the clapboard Victorian and led us to one of its several cozy dining rooms. The star here is Melissa Kelly, winner of the 1999 James Beard Foundation award as best chef in the Northeast for her work at the Old Chatham Sheepherding Company Inn in New York's Hudson Valley. She and the constantly updated seasonal menu of locally raised fish, meat, and produce, much of the latter from the restaurant's adjoining garden and greenhouse. (Kelly is Primo's other co-owner, and Kushner's fiancee.)
Our waiter approached. Bill Paradis moved back home to Rockland in 1985 from Beverly, Mass., and has been working at Primo since the day it opened -- three years, four months, and nine days ago, he told us. He had met Kushner and Kelly serving them dinner at another, now defunct restaurant, when they were in town scouting potential locations.
We settled on my ordering the pheasant, served on a bed of farotto (a grain) with leeks, hen-of-the-woods mushrooms, and thyme, and accompanied by baby Brussels sprouts. Kim chose a pasta dish of locally foraged wild-mushroom linguine with braised leeks and shaved caciocavallo cheese. She also sampled my pheasant as much as she dared to, infatuated by that exquisite faratto and those homegrown baby sprouts.
As we ate, we kept sounding Paradis on the local dining scene. He agreed that Amalfi, in Rockland, is very good, and recommended we try to get a seat at the bar at Cafe Miranda for the view of chef-owner Kerry Altiero working his magic at the stove. In Camden, Paradis likes the unpretentious, off-the-beaten-path Francine Bistro Cafe.
Paradis highly recommended the lobster rolls at Red's Eats, noting that The New York Times's roving gourmand R.W. Apple Jr. had helped put Red's on the map with a passing mention in a story on Maine cuisine. After breakfast the next morning, we hurried to the former Methodist church housing the Farnsworth's five-year-old Wyeth Center. That day the third floor was devoted to an exhibition focused on pirates. N.C. Wyeth shouldered the heaviest load, with numerous full-size paintings that illustrated such books as Robert Louis Stevenson's ''Treasure Island" and ''Kidnapped."
N.C.'s son Andrew's and grandson Jamie's contributions had more oblique ties to piracy. Among Andrew Wyeth's works was his ''Dr. Syn," in which a nautically attired skeleton sits gazing out the window of a fighting ship. The skeleton was said to be painted from an X-ray of Wyeth himself, and the tongue-in-cheek ''self-portrait" was a tribute to his father and Howard Pyle, several of whose paintings were also on display.
Downstairs another special exhibit of Andrew Wyeth's work was underway. ''Andrew Wyeth: Ericksons" featured portraits of his neighbors Siri and George Erickson in nearby Cushing, which he began painting after Christina Olson, subject of his renowned ''Christina's World," died in 1968. The series of nudes Wyeth painted of the teenage Siri were precursors to his famed Helga nudes, and this exhibit showed Wyeth building toward such portraits as ''The Virgin" and ''Black Water."
Over lunch at Market on Main, Kim recalled how she had wept as she moved from painting to painting when she viewed Wyeth's landscapes in Japan. ''That was when I realized it was time to move back," she said. ''They don't have anything that looks like that over there."
We had just enough time after lunch to drive to Olson House and catch Dudley Rockwell's daily 2 'clock lecture. Rockwell is Andrew Wyeth's brother-in-law, and at 90 he remains quite the raconteur. Rockwell seasoned his history of the place, the Olson family, and how Wyeth had come to paint here, with a series of entertaining tidbits. One involved Wyeth hoodwinking Christina's notoriously reluctant brother, Alvaro, into sitting for a rare portrait by feigning interest in the object Alvaro sat beneath as he read a newspaper.
''Sit there and read your damn paper," Wyeth supposedly told him. ''I'm going to paint that lamp."
Wyeth had painted ''Christina's World" in a room upstairs, flicking eggshells out the window for recycling by the chickens patrolling below (egg yolks being tempera's main ingredient). We went up to see it when Rockwell's talk was done, and the rooms that produced such works as ''Wind from the Sea" and ''End of Olsons." Then we walked the hundred yards or so to the family plot overlooking the bay. Christina and Alvaro share a headstone, where someone had recently left flowers.
We stopped and ate lobster rolls from Red's in the car on the way home They were awfully good.
Bill Beuttler is a freelance writer living in Swampscott.
How to get there
From Boston, Rockland is about a four-hour drive. Take Interstate 95 north to Brunswick, Maine, exit 9, and follow Highway 1 as it wends its way north all the way into Rockport. Or puddle-hop the 45 minutes by plane from Boston to Knox County Regional Airport, 3 miles from town.
What to do
Farnsworth Art Museum
& Wyeth Center
16 Museum St.
''Pirates: From the Golden Anniversary of American Illustration" and ''Andrew Wyeth: Ericksons" run through Nov. 9 and Nov. 16, respectively. ''Clara Neptune Keezer: A Legacy of Passamaquoddy Basket Making," continues through Feb. 15. Forthcoming exhibitions include ''Winslow Homer The Illustrator: His Wood Engravings, 1857-1888," Nov. 9-Dec. 28. Hours 10 a.m.-5 p.m., closed Sundays and Mondays. $9.
Hathorne Point Road, Cushing
Closes for season after Columbus Day, but the drive to it is pretty and one can stroll the grounds year round, checking out the field on which ''Christina's World" is set, the house itself, and the Olson family gravesite.
Owls Head TransportationMuseum
Route 73, 3 miles south of Rockland
A wide array of planes, automobiles, bicycles, motorcycles, and combustion engines. $6. Open daily year round, with hours vary by season.
Where to stay
Captain Lindsey House Inn
5 Lindsey St.
207-596-7950 or 800-523-2145
Pretty rooms, helpful staff, and a free continental breakfast. A couple of blocks from the Farnsworth. In-season rates, $120 to $175. Off-season packages available.
Berry Manor Inn
81 Talbot Ave.
207-596-7696 or 800-774-5692
The lone AAA, four-diamond-rated historic B&B on Maine's central coast, recommended by both locals and the Primo website. $85 to $215.
96 Limerock St.
207-594-2257 or 800-546-3762
Cambridge transplant Pam Maus runs LimeRock after stints at Fromaggio Kitchen, Biba, and her own Magnolia Catering & Culinary Consulting. $100 to $195.
184 Lakeview Drive (Route 17)
207-594-4209 or 866-540-8800
Offering special ''Ladies' Spa Weekends" -- at $579 per lady for two nights' accommodations, breakfasts, and dinners -- from mid-October through June.
Where to Eat
2 South Main St., Route 73
Pasta and main courses, $19 to $32; salads, appetizers, and wood-fired pizzas, $7-$16. Closed Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Reservations required.
421 Main St.
Mediterranean cuisine served up in a charming storefront bistro. Entrees, $12 to $19.50; closed Sundays and Mondays.
15 Oak St.
A standout dinner spot a block from the Farnsworth with an eclectic menu featuring Indian, Chinese, Mexican, and Italian cuisine. Entrees, $15-$20; closed Mondays.
41 Water St. and Route 1
Roadside stand serves some of the best lobster rolls in Maine, but, like Olson House, closes for the season after Columbus Day.