The Cafe Miranda in Rockland. Credit: Gabor Degre / BDN

Rockland’s landmark restaurant Cafe Miranda is coming back for the summer season with a gourmet hot dog cart, drink cart and limited series of dinners.

Prior to the pandemic, Cafe Miranda was open seven days a week, using creative, farm-to-table ingredients to create innovative, fun food. Known for its global menu and eclectic vibe, it served everything from handmade pasta to Asian-inspired fare. Co-founder and owner Kerry Altiero isn’t quite ready to share all the wild ideas he has for the reopening, but he’s excited about his immediate plans for the restaurant and its legacy.

The Excellent Dog, which is named for his own former excellent dog, Miloh, will be a new age hot dog cart featuring quality bread, hot dogs and interesting toppings.

“We’re thinking here’s a family visiting Rockland wanting a decent lunch … you’ll be able to get really great handmade food, beer, wine, cappuccio [for an affordable price],” Altiero said Tuesday.

Its sister venture is Vespa Jubilee, which will feature soft drinks, craft and regular beers, sangria, wine, prosecco and more.

“It’s going to be like a full experience,” Altiero said. “You can sit outside on the patio or take it down the street.”

The Excellent Dog and Vespa Jubilee will be open from Friday to Sunday. Sundays will also feature brunch dogs. He likens the hot dog and drink experience to the carnival he hosted outside the restaurant during the pandemic.

The attraction to hot dogs, he said, is one that values good homemade food without pretense.

“I don’t need your ego on the plate, I want your heart,” Altiero said.

While Cafe Miranda was named after ex-wife Evelyn Donnelly’s dog Miranda, Vespa Jubilee is named for Miranda’s sister, Jubilee.

Altiero also plans “a very limited series of dinners” at Cafe Miranda. Although he hasn’t set a price point for them yet, he says it will be in the $250 per person range and be limited to 20 people for each one.

The dinners will help Altiero keep the Cafe Miranda space and pay workers at least $30 per hour. They will also have a charitable component helping causes long championed by the restaurant such as homelessness, food insecurity and addiction recovery.

“Bring your take-home containers [because] I am going to feed you until you can’t stand it,” Altiero said of the dinners.

There will also likely be an art component to the dinners such as music, audience participation art or something else. Altiero says he wants to “break the mold.”

When landmark Rockland restaurant Cafe Miranda closed last year after 30 years, it reverberated in the community, a sign of the impact of the labor shortage and the economic challenges of the pandemic on the restaurant industry. At the time, Altiero was unable to hire enough staff to open more than three days a week and the business was constantly losing money. He called it the hardest professional thing he’s had to do.

“It’s like the beating heart of Rockland had a heart attack,” Altiero said.

As he embarks on this next chapter for the restaurant, he is focused on how he can make it worthwhile for the people doing the work. For the public, it will mean Miranda’s food and a charitable component. For the staff, it will mean getting paid really well. And the

As for the reopening of Cafe Miranda, it’s not entirely off the table. Altiero said it’s possible the restaurant could reopen next summer if he’s able to get financial backing and hire others to run the place.

“I love Miranda and I love cooking and I love the public and I love all the staff we’ve had,” Altiero said Tuesday while driving through Texas en route to Ozarks National Park for some motorcycle riding.

Sarah Walker Caron

Sarah Walker Caron is the senior editor, features, for the Bangor Daily News and the editor of Bangor Metro magazine. She’s the author of “Classic Diners of Maine,” and five cookbooks including “Easy...