You might miss it as you’re driving down Center Street in Auburn: Tucked toward the back of Center Street Plaza (at 245 Center St.), you will find KP’s Place, a small — yet spacious — casual restaurant that specializes in seafood and chicken.
KP’s Place opened in July. Owner Keith Genest said it is based exactly on his brother’s eating establishment in Farmingdale called Mike’s Place. Like his brother, Genest’s focus is on serving freshly purchased and prepared seafood and fried chicken. (Watch out, Colonel. You have some competition from this new kid in town.)
Genest comes from a long line of restaurant owners, starting with his grandfather who owned Bolley’s Famous Franks in Waterville. Genest’s dad opened Don’s Famous Franks in Augusta, now owned by brother Troy.
He takes much pride in the freshness of the food he serves. "Rarely is anything previously frozen," Genest said. "And nothing is pre-breaded. That makes a big difference. You truly are eating a fresh product."
With Genest’s advice, I ordered the “snack- sized” chicken meal (which included fries) and, as it turned out, it was quite ample for lunch. Baskets could easily serve two people, and range in price from $9.65 for the boneless white chicken to $14.95 for mixed seafood, often his best-seller.
Genest safeguards a few trade secrets, and won’t share his bread coating recipe with anyone.
The most he would say is it involves “several different breading mixtures.” He laughingly advises an Internet search if you need help, saying you can Google breading recipes all day long — there are so many variations for you to try out at home. He has chosen to stay away from a traditional beer batter because he believes it is more commonplace and — perhaps — over-used in the seafood industry.
A large focus at KP’s Place is on family dining. “By far the best deal,” he said, is KP’s Family Meal for $21.95. There’s enough chicken, fries, dinner rolls, cole slaw and fountain drinks to serve four people.
Because the first thing I noticed about my fried meal at KP’s Place was actually the lack of something — excess grease! — Genest and I spoke at length about frying and his strict standards of quality control.
Knowing that many people try to limit or cut back on fried foods, Genest insists on using a top-quality oil, with zero trans fat. Referring to it as both high grade and high performance, he said, “There are two reasons why I do this: One, because of the taste – the taste from (that oil) is very good — and two, because it holds up. I need an oil that doesn’t break down. And we do a lot to take care of that oil, too.”
With his concern for high quality and fresh flavors, he said he drains and filters his four frialators every day, and replaces the oil every six days, which he said can be quite expensive.
For those customers less inclined to eat fried foods, KP’s Place also offers a host of non-fried food choices, such as the grilled chicken or haddock sandwiches. With no breading, they could work for gluten-free diets, too — just request yours without bread, served on a bed of lettuce with some tomato. (At www.sunjournal.com, you can see Genest fix up the grilled haddock along with the fried fish fillet.)
KP’s sandwiches, which are served on either a Kaiser roll or your choice of white or wheat bread, range in price from $4.65 for a basic burger up to $11.95 for the lobster roll.
To let people know he offers more than just chicken and seafood, Genest shared his personal recipe for corn chowder — a winter staple, of sorts —and the KP’s version of coleslaw, in which he embellishes a bottled dressing.
For the vegetarian who doesn’t mind a bit of fried food every now and then, I would highly recommend the veggie plate — a mix of freshly breaded and fried cauliflower, zucchini, mushrooms, onion and green pepper rings. I’ve never tried a fried green pepper before, and found it a delicious surprise. For $4.85, this side order is a fun alternative to fries. KP’s onion rings are freshly hand-cut and breaded to order.
One of his most popular menu items is his seafood stew, Genest said, which he makes fresh nearly every day, year-round. Another highly-guarded recipe, he said the stew includes lots of lobster, haddock, shrimp and scallops. Buy a bowl for $6.95 or a full quart for $21.95 — a slightly fancier take-out meal if you’re not in the mood to cook.
His seasonal chowders include home-made haddock, clam or corn. Chowders are packaged up cold for you to reheat at home. Genest suggested approximately 3 minutes in the microwave, with a quick stir half-way through.
After spending many years after college working in corporate America (from which he gained much business know-how) Genest said he’d always wanted to own his own business. After denying it for a long time, he said, he finally admitted the restaurant business was “in my genes.”
Genest likes his location on Center Street, noting that “parking is critical. People want easy access in, and easy access out.” Genest said nearly 60 percent of his business is take-out. With only a seven-minute warning by phone, Genest said he can have your meal made-to-order and waiting for you by the time you drive in.
KP’s Place is open Monday through Saturday. Winter hours are from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., switching back to regular hours of 10:30 a.m. until 8 p.m. after March 9. For more information, visit www.facebook.com/kpsplace or call 207-376-4295.
Frying tips from KP’s Place:
The best way to reheat your fried leftovers? Bake your leftover chicken or seafood at a high temp. Genest recommends an oven preheated to 450 degrees. Check after 5 to 7 minutes. You want to keep the outside crisp and the inside moist and flavorful, without drying it out. Might not have good luck with french fries.
Fried chicken leftovers? “I love my chicken cold!” Genest said. Slice it up and use it on top of things — most popular method is on a salad. Also great for picnics, lunch at work the next day, on quesadillas or pizza.
Most surprising advice: If you want to fry something up at home, use a small fryer such as the Presto Fry Daddy, or the smaller-portioned Fry Baby. “They surprisingly do a great job!” he said.
He likes to heat the oil up to 350 to 375 degrees. He considers 400 degrees too high because your item may overcook on the outside.
Best oil to use at home? “Peanut oil has a good taste,” he said, which some people will like.
Canola and soybean oil work well too. He also mentioned you can buy restaurant-quality oils in the restaurant supply sections of wholesale clubs such as Sam’s or BJ’s. The quality of the oil used at home is less critical than at a restaurant because you might only use it that one time, he said.
We use these recipes at our home and variations of them at our restaurant. They make approximately four servings. The coleslaw uses a purchased dressing as the base.
KP’s Cole Slaw:
5 cups shredded cabbage
1/4 cup shredded carrots
1/4 cup shredded purple cabbage
1/4 cup Kraft bottled coleslaw dressing
2 tablespoons sugar
1/3 cup vinegar
Place cabbage and carrots in a large bowl. Combine the coleslaw dressing, sugar and vinegar. Toss until well mixed. Refrigerate 24 hours before serving.
Keith Genest’s Creamy Corn Chowder:
2 to 3 medium potatoes (cubed)
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1/4 cup Cabot butter
1/4 cup chopped onion
1 (12-ounce) can whole kernel corn (drained)
2 (13-ounce) cans evaporated milk
Cook potatoes in boiling, salted water until fork tender. Drain well, but reserve water. Dice the potatoes (makes 2 cups). In a large saucepan, melt butter. Stir in onions. Sautee until tender.
Add drained corn, potatoes, salt and pepper. Cover. Heat for 10 minutes. Add evaporated milk, then add reserved potato water, approximately 1 and 2/3 cups. Heat to serving temperature without boiling. Serve in warm soup bowls. Enjoy!