MILBRIDGE — The sign on the door of the Milbridge House Restaurant says it opens at 6 a.m.
But, by 5:25 a.m. on a recent Tuesday, several cars were already in the parking lot. When Manager Jessica Leighton unlocked the door five minutes later, a handful of regulars walked in.
Fishermen Tee Trundy, David Leach and Russell Leach, all of Steuben, sat in one booth.
Their friends Billy Phinney and Toodie Dinsmore, both of Milbridge, sat in a booth across the aisle. Dinsmore is also a fisherman. Phinney is a lobster dealer.
Kevin McKenna of Steuben, another fisherman, sat in a booth behind Phinney and Dismore.
As soon as they sat down, the conversation became lively, punctuated with laughter.
“That one never stops talking,” said Leighton with a chuckle as she gestured toward David Leach.
Some get breakfast. Some just get coffee and talk.
“My wife’s still in bed, so I just come in here,” said David Leach.
In coastal Maine, where many restaurants make most of their money in the summer and close up in the late fall, Milbridge House is among the eating establishments that stay open year-round for the local community and provide a welcoming place for friends and neighbors to catch up over the long winter.
Plus, Milbridge House offers good, modestly priced meals. And, the menu caters to varied tastes. The light lunch fare ranges from a spinach salad with apple, sliced red onion, crumbled blue cheese and candied pecans to a chicken Caesar wrap. Heartier menu offerings also are diverse from a crabmeat stew to a mate’s platter complete with friend clams, shrimp, haddock and scallops.
“I come in for the food,” said Dinsmore, who ordered a bowl of oatmeal and an English muffin. “There’s no other place to eat at this time in the morning.”
McKenna ordered his regular, French toast with a side of bacon.
Russell Leach, also known as “Kingpin,” said he didn’t plan to have anything besides coffee.
“I had a pretty big supper,” he said.
“It’s a nice place,” Trundy said.
Although they all come in for breakfast regularly, they don’t make it in as often during the summer because they’re out fishing as early as 4 a.m., said Russell Leach, who is David Leach’s brother.
“Fishermen are usually pretty tight with one another,” he said. “Everybody’s always real good around here.”
The men all said they enjoy their conversations the most.
“Everybody’s friends down here,” said McKenna. “We all know each other.”
When two more people came in and sat down, they joined in the conversation, which covered topics from fishing regulations to the use of bicycle helmets.
The conversation wound down by 6:30. The last to leave were Trundy and David Leach, who left at about 6:45. Though they always come in at the same time, when they leave varies from day to day, said Leighton. Sometimes they stay until 8 or 8:30 a.m.
“It depends on what they’ve got going on that day and how much they have to talk about,” she said.
On any given day, a mix of regulars and others will wander in periodically until the restaurant closes at 2 p.m.
Among the regulars is Fred Olday of Columbia, who came in at 8:30 and sat at the counter.
“The usual?” Leighton asked.
While waiting for his single egg sunny-side-up, home fries and bacon, Olday took advantage of time to socialize.
“I visit with the barflies,” said Olday, adding he comes in two or three times a week. “Typically speaking, there’s always someone I know here at the front.”
As his food arrived, a group sitting in the back room finished and began to leave. One of them, Bill Mathews of Cherryfield, called to Olday as he walked toward the door. “Who put you in the corner?” he said.
“I think that’s my rightful place,” Olday quipped.
Mathews said he comes for breakfast every day with a group of other regulars. Although they eat big meals, he has been ordering oatmeal because he’s trying to cut back on calories.
As Leighton walked by, Mathews said, “We’re looking to get better waitresses.”
“Good luck with that,” she said.
Leighton and owner Kristen Nabarrete rarely work together so that a manager is always on duty. Nabarette’s father, Harold Leighton, actually ran the restaurant in the 1990s. He sold it to a new owner, who eventually closed it. Nabarrete, who has a degree in fine art photography, closed her photography business in Colorado in 2009 and returned home to Milbridge with beau John. The pair reopened the restaurant that year and married a year later. John serves as one of the cooks.
Nabarrete described the food as homestyle.
“It’s straight to the point,” she said. “There’s not a lot of frills.”
Homemade corned beef hash and homemade pancakes are breakfast specialties. At lunch, served from mid-morning until closing, the menu includes fresh local seafood.
As long as she has owned the restaurant, Nabarrete said, 6 a.m. has been the official opening time. She began unlocking the door earlier and earlier after seeing people outside waiting. But, she said, 5:30 a.m. is as early as she’s going to go. The fishermen will just have to wait until then.