Traveling north on Route 1 in Kittery, just past rows of outlet malls dotted with fried seafood shacks, sits Misto!, a bright and lively Italian-inspired cafe and bistro. Open since July 2014, Misto! has quickly gained traction, garnering recognition as a 2015 Best of Taste top 30 restaurant. In Italian, misto means mixed, and Chef-Owner Suzanne Schepis-Gray’s menu mixes Sicilian, Californian, and New England cuisines, using indigenous ingredients, many grown in the bistro’s backyard organic heirloom seed gardens.
“My passion is creating healthy meals without sacrificing taste,” says Schepis-Gray, a petite, energetic woman with sapphire blue eyes and long curly white hair. “There’s no deep fryer, no microwave, no heat lamp, no shortcuts.
”Schepis-Gray returned to her Seacoast roots seven years ago by way of Los Angeles, where she spent 25 years raising four children with her husband Rich, catering, and selling jars of her Sicilian grandmother’s secret gravy recipe to Whole Foods and specialty food stores.
Upon entering the bright, open kitchen area, you’ll see two options for lunch. The carry-out cafe menu is chalked on blackboards suspended above the register, advertising smoothies, salads, soups like New England Clam Chowder or Old World Minestrone, and sandwiches including the classic BLT or the reimagined Char-Grilled Steak and Cheese, with strips of angus sirloin, creamy herbed boursin cheese, caramelized onions, and roasted peppers piled high on a crusty ciabatta roll. Instead of potato chips or fries, order a side of the Sweet Potato Fries, crispy oven baked wedges served with assorted dipping sauces.
For a more leisurely dining option, take a seat in the cozy 42-seat bistro, with a rustic, reclaimed wood bar, cork floors, and murals of Rome and Taormina, Sicily. “This represents my family,” Schepis-Gray says, pointing to the murals and holding her hand over her heart.
Start with a glass of wine, draught beer, or a specialty cocktail like the California Sunset, a sweet and fizzy peach-colored vodka concoction created by bartender and son Oliver Gray as an ode to his native state. Or, try the Maine Kelp Frozen Margarita, a verdant super food smoothie in alcohol form, with Patrón, baby spinach, baby kale (picked from their garden), pineapple, banana, Maine-based Ocean Approved kelp, and organic coconut milk.
The menu reads like a greatest hits album of Schepis-Gray’s life experiences. Italian food is in her culinary comfort zone—her Sicilian Nona taught her how to cook—so it’s hard not to head straight for the Italian Turkey Meatball Sub, a generous order of tender turkey meatballs cloaked in Nona’s cinnamon-infused secret recipe tomato gravy, stuffed into a crusty roll and topped with gooey melted provolone cheese.
But the influence of a few decades in sunny California means her dishes are mostly light and flavorful and feature fresh produce, like the Farmhouse Salad, with peppery arugula and baby spinach tossed with bacon, blue cheese, and ripe pears and a drizzle of maple balsamic vinaigrette. Or the Caesar Salad, crispy romaine tossed with house-made dressing, crunchy croutons, and shaved Parmesan. Add char-grilled flat iron steak, seared salmon, or sautéed tofu to make it a heartier meal.
In a nod to her New England roots, Schepis-Gray features the Blackened Haddock Reuben. It’s served on grilled marble rye and topped with tangy slaw and smoky Thousand Island dressing. Ask for it with a few slices of crisp bacon for a delicious twist. Or try the Misto! Fish Tacos, also with blackened haddock, this time wrapped in flour tortillas and topped with green and red cabbage slaw and grated cheddar jack cheese, with a side of pico de gallo.
For a sweet finale, try Misto!’s impossibly creamy Crème Brulée with flecks of real vanilla bean, or the Lemon Tart, a crisp shell filled with tart house-made curd topped with fresh blueberries. “We’re mixing it up,” says Schepis-Gray with a smile, “serving healthy, organic, non-GMO food cooked entirely to order.”
436 US Route 1