HARPSWELL — This is the time of year when things get cooking in the tiny fishing village of Cundy’s Harbor. This year, summer came early with the wave of excitement caused by the re-opening of The Block & Tackle Restaurant, a harbor institution for 35 years.

With a bit of a hiatus under its belt, the family-owned restaurant is up and running again with Pam Bichrest, daughter-in-law of original owner “Grammie” Dawn Bichrest, now at the helm.

Pam has taken the dive into the deep end, making Dawn’s longtime dream of passing The Block & Tackle to the next generation a reality.

Pam and many of the staff members, including her own daughters, have experience working with the family matriarch as a rite of passage beginning when they were teens, often returning over the years to give Grammie a hand when needed.

On “B&T’s” opening day, while Pam busied herself in the kitchen cooking and directing traffic, Dawn, who is now in her 80s, was stationed at the table nearest the door. There were lots of hugs and shouts of delight as customers came in not only to be fed good, straight-forward Maine food, but to soak up the celebratory energy of a family pulling together to bring Cundy’s Harbor something very much needed: A place to gather.

It’s apparent that The Block & Tackle has been missed. Over the past few weeks, friends from the old days, as well as new customers who want to see what all the fuss is about, are popping in for the chowder, seafood baskets and old-time specialties that this little restaurant has always been known for.

Shrimpster Stew, Famous Onion Rings, Seafood Pie and homemade biscuits are all on the menu and according to longtime customer, George Swallow, “Everything tastes just like it used to.”

Hearty breakfasts are served on the weekends, including Eggs Benedict with lobster or crabmeat, and Fisherman’s Benedict — made with fish hash. Grammie Dawn’s Omelet, waffles, blueberry pancakes round out the menu.

There’s a special list for “minnows” (children under 12) and desserts that include peanut butter pie, strawberry shortcake, brownie sundaes and seasonal desserts added to the daily specials board.

Steak tips, grilled chicken and Lazy Lobster are just a few new offerings, but Pam knows what B & T customers like. The tradition of turkey dinner on Tuesdays remains and corned hake is served on Fridays. (If you don’t know what this B&T staple is, you have to come find out).

Good food isn’t all you’ll find at this unassuming eatery on the way down to the harbor. There’s camaraderie and there are stories.

For example, while Hope Bichrest attempted to beat her mother-in-law at a hand of cribbage, she recalled how she was the one who opened up the restaurant that very first day back in 1982, beginning her stint as both line cook and waitress.

“It was 4:30 in the morning and I was 21 years old.” Back then, she explained, it was Dawn’s mission to feed the fishermen before they went out for the day. “Her youngest son, Troy (who later married Pam) had just graduated from high school and she needed something to do.”

The story goes that word got out and in no time, Dawn was feeding more than just the fishermen. People from near and far were piling in and within just a few years of that original opening day, an addition was put on the building to accommodate Grammie Dawn’s fans.

She explained, “I couldn’t stand it when people were waiting … I really wanted to make everyone happy.”

And she did; for over 33 years, with the assistance of just about every member of the large, tight-knit Bichrest family and all the helpers she “adopted” along the way.

Now as Pam fulfills her mother-in-law’s legacy, Dawn plans to take a back-seat and allow Pam to get her sea legs under her.

“I’ll do whatever she asks, but I AM retired,” she said, her blue eyes twinkling. “Oh … I’ll help out by mixing up an occasional batch of biscuits and making a pie now and again.”

Pam, who takes time out of the kitchen when she can to sit a spell and talk to her customers, just as her mother-in-law has always done, is embracing “her time.”

She said, “I’m very excited and happy.”

And of course, she’s depending on Dawn’s helpful hints. She added, “I’m always asking her what worked for her. She did run the place for nearly 35 years.”

The Block & Tackle, located at 843 Cundy’s Harbor Road, is open Tuesday through Friday from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m., Saturdays from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m., and on Sundays from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. Weekend breakfasts are served until 11 a.m. Take-out is available. Call 725-5690.

Karen Schneider is a Coastal Journal contributing writer. She can be reached at: [email protected].