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Sunday, January 16, 1994 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Roadkill Cafe Serves Jokes, Fun In Maine

AP

GREENVILLE, Maine - On the way to Maine's North Woods, where every few minutes a rumbling logging truck hits critters that don't move fast enough, there's a little restaurant that makes no bones about cooking what gets left behind.

Instead of a grilled chicken sandwich, the Roadkill Cafe in Greenville serves up Chicken That Didn't Make It Across the Road. A basic Bye-Bye Bambi Burger comes with tomato, onion, mayo and "what appears to be either a pickle or a very old tadpole."

Don't take the menu literally. The cafe's vittles aren't scraped off the local highway.

It's basic restaurant fare - including hamburgers, chicken sandwiches and salads - dished up with a sprinkle of humor to give patrons what owners Mariette Sinclair and Leigh Turner like to call "a memorable dining experience."

For a sample of what they mean by memorable, ask for some cream in your coffee, and the waiter might toss a few plastic containers of non-dairy creamer into your cup.

Or wonder aloud whether the venison is real.

"As opposed to the fake wax stuff they sell in most restaurants?" asks Greydon Turner, a waiter.

Back-talking waiters and waitresses, an irreverent menu, kitchen dramatics and decor of road memorabilia are the ingredients that have made Roadkill a top tourist attraction in this town of 1,400.

Thousands of visitors drop by every year. One man flew in from Dallas on a private jet for lunch - and then flew home again.

Inside the restaurant on the shore of Moosehead Lake, a winding gray strip of highway is painted on the floor, construction lights hang from the ceiling, chairs are made out of old school-bus seats, and hubcaps and license plates adorn the walls.

At the Roadkill, everyone on the staff gets into the act. When orders are ready, someone in the kitchen might ring a cow bell or blow a horn that sounds like a goose, a moose or a crow. Each server is assigned a different noise.

Feathers fly out of the kitchen

A cook named Freddy is fond of yelling "down boy, down boy" as he pounds on chicken breasts before grilling them. When he's done, he might throw handfuls of feathers out the kitchen door.

Management encourages as much creativity as possible.

"What we tell servers who come to work for us is you may do anything you like in the service of your guests quantified only by two restrictions: You can't offend anybody, and we want to hear laughter coming out of your tables," Leigh Turner says.

"We try very hard to lampoon the pretensions of fine dining."

One waiter specializes in impressions. Waitress Robin Mank is an unashamed flirt. "I personally love single men on vacation," she says.

Greydon Turner's technique is "abuse." He holds nothing back when the thousandth customer offers to go back and bring in that raccoon he just drove by.

"We say, `That's very damn funny. We're sick of that joke,' " he says. "And it makes you feel a little better."

And then there are the Roadkill performances that are a team effort.

Mayhem broke out one night when a waiter offered a dollar to anyone who could hit another server from behind with a spitball.

"The place erupted with spitball fights. . . . They ended up putting him down on the floor and spraying shaving cream all over his head after he attacked them with whipped cream," Turner says.

Staff has the most fun

Often, the staff seems to have more fun than the guests.

"We're amazed when we get vegetarians. We say in a loud voice, `Why are you here? Didn't you read the sign?' " Turner says.

On a recent evening, someone called to make reservations for 13 people who planned to drop in for dinner after a funeral. The first thing the waitress wanted to know was this: How far could she go?

"This is a killer. These people . . . come to the Roadkill after a funeral," Mank says. "I'd really like to play with this, you know, but I just don't how sensitive they are."

Just in case, she's ready.

She quickly rehearses a couple of deadpan lines: "Well, it's been dead today. . . . Sorry it's so dead tonight."

Copyright (c) 1994 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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