The concept behind Café Mio is simple: local comfort food. Chef owner Mike Bernardo says, “We want to make people feel happy and at home. So we have something for everyone—for the foodies, the vegetarians, the big meat eaters. We’re not a greasy spoon, but you don’t need to wear a tux. It’s just a relaxed comfortable environment where people can get some yummy food. Food is supposed to be fun.”
The restaurant is a modest one-room eatery with an open kitchen. Café Mio shares the Gardiner Gables complex with a branch of the Walden Savings Bank, a real estate office, and some other small businesses. But despite its modest size and unassuming location, the line out the door every Saturday and Sunday morning bespeaks the quality of Mike’s cooking.
|Mike Bernardo at Café Mio in Gardiner. Photo by Marie Doyon.
“My parents had a catering and chocolate company. From a kid, I was catering with them. I always wanted to cook.” But he was sure he didn’t want the stress of owning his own restaurant. Luckily he grew out of that. “[My wife] and I had just got married. I had decided I wanted to venture out myself. The location popped up, we looked at it and it kind of just worked out.” Yes, yes it did.
Mike changes the menu seasonally, striving to keep his offerings simple, fresh, and local whenever possible. “In the winter it’s hard, but we still have some local greens, potatoes, some dairy and cheeses, apples and pears. And most of the meat is local—chicken, beef, eggs. All the fruit. Everything I can get really.” In summer when regional farms are bountiful, Mike estimates that 80 to 90 percent of the menu items are made with local ingredients.
“I think I’m part of a trend. People are knowledgeable about what they eat, where it comes from, who is making it. I am benefitting from a culture of people who seem to be educating themselves more about taking care of your body.”
The fresh, flavorful ingredients are masterfully swirled into popular favorites like corn beef hash, huevos rancheros, a kick-butt BLT, and your classic burger. You’re lucky to get a table any Sunday. But whether you nab one or you elbow your way in at the bar, the ambience is superb. There is a buzz about as caffeinated parties chatter to one another, with the line cooks calling orders to each other, and silverware clinks against cleaned plates.
Mike says, “The open kitchen makes the kitchen staff and wait staff work better. People are more accountable when they’re seen. When you’re serving food and the customer sees you, if you give them a pile of slop they know who cooked it. There is less of a divide between front and back, which means everyone is helping everyone.”
He adds, “I’m behind there every single day. If it gets a lot bigger, you can’t have your hand in everything. I oversee everything that goes out. And if it’s not up to my standards I stop it.”
And if you can’t make it out to Gardiner (though really it’s worth it), fret not. Mike also offers catering services. So the next time you want to spruce up a business lunch, call up Café Mio.