For lovers of deeply flavored, complex, spicy Indian curries, navigating life in Midcoast Maine can present something of a problem. Look, it’s not the worst problem in the world to have; after all, most of the rest of the country has a “freshly-caught steamed lobster or fried haddock sandwiches that cost a nickel” problem, that we’ve got 100% solved.
Still, when the urge for a comforting crock of saag paneer strikes, or the burning desire for a fiery lamb vindaloo comes knocking across your flavor-stem, residents of Knox County have just a handful of options. A drive to Brunswick yields a few reliable sit-down or takeout options for scratching your Indian food itch, though it’s not exactly convenient enough for a last-minute, impromptu craving. The selection of Indian-inspired frozen dinners available in our local supermarkets seems to be expanding, with some options that will do in a curry emergency. Otherwise, you have to plan your week around the few spots in town that offer a regular weekly Indian option, including Rockland’s own Main Street Markets, and now, the Pik Kwik gas station in neighboring Thomaston.
Skrrrrrrrrrrrrrt! Was that the sound of a record skipping in your brain? You’re not alone. For somewhere north of fifty years, the corner convenience store was known mostly among my circle of friends for four things, and not one of them included “totally decent Indian food.” Depending on what stage of your life you were in, Pick Qwik was a tremendous place to: 1) buy tobacco products if you were underage, 2) buy pressure-fried chicken and seasoned frozen “potato logs” from the (supposedly) hot bar of prepared food 3) get a photograph of yourself posted on the wall for bouncing a check, or 4) eat a no-bake cookie that bore no markings or clues as to origin or ingredients.
Under new Indian-born Pick Qwik owner Ken, that is all changing. On Thursday and Friday afternoons, the kitchen in this tiny gas station has been reinvigorated with the smells of bubbly simmering curries, cooked in huge pots and served in gigantic portions to waiting customers. On Thursdays, you can expect to find dry-brined and roasted chicken, lovingly rubbed with exotic Indian spice blends, and each Friday, this nondescript New England gas station is pumping out some seriously spicy stewed curry chicken, complete with a side of steamed rice, for just $8.99.
What this Styrofoam clamshell of captivating curry may lack in presentation (this is gas station food, after all), it more than makes up for with powerful pops of complex curry spice, and to my surprise, plenty of chile heat. In a town where it seems many of our ethnic offerings have their seasoning blends and heat levels dialed way down, it was a relief and a joy to find Ken pulling no punches in the flavor department.
Is the chicken curry from Pick Qwik likely to receive a James Beard nomination for their innovative presentations and genre-redefining culinary creations? Probably not. But this IS a solid plate of food from a surprising source, and one we’re likely to regularly revisit often as part of our weekday Friday routines.
Pick Qwik: 138 Main St, Thomaston, ME 04861; (207) 354-8223