Once you enter Back in Thyme Kitchen & Herb Farm, in a cozy little cottage in Hopkinton, and catch a whiff of spice, you know that you’re in for a unique dining experience. Owner, chef, waitress, and “entertainer,” Maryanne “Marne” McNamara patters around the kitchen in water socks and tights, flourishing a cast iron skillet and carrying on about food with the enthusiasm of a zealot, her comments always punctuated with an infectious laugh.
Maybe it was the Moroccan Spiced Chili I smelled when I opened the door to Marne’s place. This scrumptious, hearty concoction that I ate with a fork left a subtle aftertaste of spicy heat. Despite my persistence, Marne wouldn’t disclose any ingredients beyond the tender beef, peppers, onions, chickpeas, and garden-fresh butternut squash. “I don’t even tell my daughter,” she says with a laugh. “She has a big mouth!”
The menu includes lunch, dinner, and all-day breakfast either in the 10-seat kitchen or for takeout, popular with many regulars. Seasonal outdoor seating is also available. Chicken, beef, pork, veggie, and pasta dishes are offered daily, with savory sides like garlic sautéed broccoli rabe, cabbage apple slaw with mustard vinaigrette, and tangy, thin-sliced pickled beets. Daily specials depend upon whatever Marne finds fresh, and many choices, like the thick butternut, apple-pear puree are vegan. “We’re in the boonies, so nothing is ever for sure,” she says. But, one thing is certain: The handwritten sign on the front door, “nutritious and delicious,” proved to be true.
Food is displayed in Pyrex casseroles and ceramic platters ready for reheating, and if you don’t like your food tepid, request more heating time. Herbs from her garden play a featured role in most dishes and salt is used sparingly. “I’m a kosher salter,” she says, miming sprinkling in the air. “I feel it through my fingers and that’s how I know how much I need.” Her slightly tart iced herbal tea was pink and brewed with mullein, pineapple sage, and raspberries.
Shepherd’s Pie, one of my favorites, was the special one night – a heap of mashed potatoes nearly concealed by a rich, brown beef gravy colored with carrots, corn, and peas. Interesting texture and flavors. Simply delicious. Back in Thyme is also the go-to for awesome meatloaf. Again, Marne wouldn’t disclose all the ingredients, except the mirepoix, her version of the classic French flavor base of finely diced carrots, onions, and celery slow-cooked in butter or olive oil. Her husband Mike says it’s just “beef and love.” He helps with dishwashing and makes big vegan Hiker’s Cookies, a not-too-sweet confection with nuts, seeds, and fruit – chewy in the center and crunchy on the outside – and a potent energy boost for a winter hike at Hopkinton’s nearby Grills Sanctuary or Pelloni Preserve.
“I’ve been cooking since I was a baby,” Marne says, laughing. “I used to pull all the clothes out of my bureau drawers, pretend they were ovens, and cook for my stuffed animals.” She’s still cooking for a devoted clientele, who emerge from this little hideaway like stuffed humans.
Back in Thyme’s location, a former post office near the Connecticut border and Route 95, also attracts a lot of travelers. Long Islanders Lisa and Steve were visiting family nearby and stopped in for takeout. “We come here every time we visit,” says Lisa. “The food is fantastic and she always has great stuff. We love it!”
Back in Thyme Kitchen and Herb Garden
493 Main Street, Hopkinton • 644-4967