Waterville's Soulful Eatery to Close
For almost 11 years, James and Janice Swinton have cultivated the Freedom Café, a beloved local restaurant that specializes in an eclectic range of Southern cuisine. The Freedom Café has dished out a variety of exotic flavors-primarily Creole, Cajun and Caribbean-to satisfy the eager palates of those heeding the restaurant's unofficial motto: "Come sit at our table."
Yet many local residents are saddened by news that the restaurant plans to serve its last dish on May 29. The Swintons recently came to the difficult decision to retire from the restaurant business and return to the region that originally inspired their unique offerings.
"We will be returning to the South to get reacquainted with family and see what God has for the next leg of the journey. It's been a life-changing experience, and we have enjoyed serving [the community]," the Swintons said in an announcement on the restaurant's website.
In 1996, the Swintons moved to Maine from Lawrence, Kansas. The pair opened the Freedom Café three years later at its original location on Silver Street. Seeing as Mr. Swinton and Mrs. Swinton were raised in Arkansas and Mississippi, respectively, they brought a sense of Southern hospitality and cooking to Waterville.
Since its opening in 1999, the Freedom Café has moved from its original brick shop on Silver Street to the restaurant's current and final location, a cozy wooden venue on College Avenue. The change in location did not impact business, though; the magic in the kitchen made regulars eager to follow the Swintons and attracted many new patrons. Mrs. Swinton, who grew to love cooking when helping her mother as a child, describes her style of cuisine as "eclectic with an emphasis on Southern-Creole."
Such varied cooking has manifested itself in an array of favorite dishes such as Cuban pork chops with Cuban rice and cranberry wine sauce, stuffed chicken breasts with an apricot glaze, and duck sausage, chicken and andouille sausage jambalaya.
Because the restaurant is open only Thursday through Saturday from 5-9 p.m., many of these dishes are not offered every day. Due to the popularity of the Freedom Café and to its small, intimate dining room, it is wise to make a reservation in advance.
If one wishes to know what is being served, one should call after 3 p.m. the day of his or her reservation. Rest-assured, however, all food is prepared daily from fresh ingredients, with all dishes "homemade for your enjoyment."
In addition to owning the Freedom Café, the Swintons are both ordained ministers. They operate Breaking Free Ministries, an organization that provides the local community with Bible-study literature for those "seeking freedom in spirit and soul." While religion plays an important role in the lives of the Swintons, one should not worry that this priority is imposed upon guests who eat at the Freedom Caf'. The owners' mission is simple: to provide an exceptional homemade meal "in a peaceful environment combined with genuine Southern hospitality."
Modest and true of heart, the Swintons have provided the Waterville community with a dose of Southern comfort and tastes that seem exotic in central Maine. Their return to the South will leave a void in the culinary scene of Waterville and the memories formed over shared dishes-the kind that make you unbutton your pants in satisfaction-will last forever.