The Village Inn in Belgrade Lakes has been known for its duck dinners for decades. But the inn’s restaurant surprised us with its extensive and creative menu. It’s not just all about duck!

Linda

It’s been years since we’ve been to the Village Inn. Now, after going back recently, I’m wondering what took us so long. This is a great restaurant just down the road from our house and only 12 minutes away!

The last time we were here — probably 20 years ago — you could see Belgrade Stream from the windows. Now, time has marched on and an incredible willow tree has matured. (But I imagine the stream is still back there.)

During our visit a couple of weeks ago, the restaurant was very busy — bustling with local people and those we assume have summer places nearby. I noticed many parties of six or more, clearly marking this as a place to gather for great food. People feel comfortable here. Many lingered, taking their time to enjoy a delicious meal and visit with one another.

Dinner is served from 5 to 9 p.m., and when we arrived around 6 p.m., people seemed to all enter at once, and the large main dining room quickly filled. Part of the crowd went downstairs where a wedding rehearsal dinner was taking place.

The Grovers bought this restaurant as a retirement adventure, and now, nine years later, are still enjoying the experience. Susan stopped by to talk to us a few times, and we found out that she used to be in the kitchen but now just makes the desserts. She is a hands-on owner, at ease visiting with patrons throughout the dinner service.

We started off with a sampling of four appetizers, and I have to say the cooking was extraordinary. Small portions of each selection came out, as we requested, and they even split the cup of soup into two half-cups. The selection of appetizers was impressive, so it was nice to get a sampling.

The Beggar’s Purse, porcini mushrooms wrapped in house-made pasta, was my favorite. It included fresh tomatoes and spinach, portabella mushrooms with a little garlic and white wine. Heavenly. Another pasta sampling was the butternut squash ravioli — also very good. They make their own pasta here — an important sign of a good restaurant.

That night’s menu featured Duck and Apple Soup that was so delicious it’s hard to describe. Unbelievably smooth, rich broth contained tender pieces of duck and apple. It was perfect for a starter on a chilly evening. This would make an awesome potpie. Note to the owners: If this suggestion ever goes on the menu, please call me and I’ll be right over!

I ordered something I’ve never seen on a menu — Pork Porterhouse. A cut of strip loin was grilled as a steak and served with apple cranberry chutney. It was moist, very tender and seasoned perfectly. This made a perfect fall dinner accompanied with mashed red potatoes and squash.

The executive chef, David Jordan, is talented. He knows where the line is on saltiness — just enough to make it flavorful, but not too salty. Even the soup broth wasn’t salty, a common mistake in many places. He’s creative and versatile as well. The menu is five pages long if you include the specials and dessert menus!

At one point, Susan stopped by and suggested that I try the petite pot de crème, (apparently knowing my tendency for decadent chocolate). After her description, I made sure I saved room — believe me.
Out came the cutest cup of chocolate custard topped with whipped cream. It’s rich, with a smooth texture that literally melts in your mouth. Some might be surprised at the size, but actually it’s a perfect portion and makes a very special ending to a very special meal. I told Susan on the way out, “I declare it the best dessert ever!”

George

Of course, I had to have the duck. So we started with Duck and Apple Soup. I could have stopped right there. It was that good. The wonderful aroma grabbed me first, but the initial dip of my spoon delivered a mouthful of flavor. The creamy sauce, crunchy apple and tender pieces of duck assured that we’ll be back to the Village Inn soon. Got to have more of that duck soup!

I was impressed to discover that the inn is participating in the effort to promote five underutilized fish species (a project led by the Gulf of Maine Research Institute and five Portland chefs that has now spread to more than 100 chefs and restaurants).

Our server, Michael Tardiff, works here only two nights a week, as his primary job is communications for his dad’s company, J.S. McCarthy in Augusta. Michael was exceptionally knowledgeable and enthusiastic about the food.

I was pleased when Tardiff told me that patrons love the inn’s Pan-Seared Hake (one of those underutilized species), and it sells out every time it appears on the menu. I was tempted to order it, but that night I was there for the duck.

Before I can get to it, we’ve got to sample a bunch of starters. Their list is amazing, from escargot to gnocchi to Oysters Rockefeller. We chose three others. My favorite was the Crab-Stuffed Mushrooms — a tasty crab stuffing accompanied by a delicious creamy sauce. We both liked the Butternut Squash Ravioli with sweet sage butter sauce, and agreed it could be a dessert.

Finally, I got the duck. But it’s not that easy. You’ve got a choice of a half or a quarter roasted duckling — and nine sauces! Of course, I selected half a roast duckling and what Michael described as the most savory sauce: Madagascar with Green Peppercorn.

This was one huge duck, if my portion was only a half. Michael assured me the duck didn’t come from Belgrade Stream. “We don’t kill ’em and grill ’em,” he exclaimed.

This is a very hearty meal, lots of perfectly done dark meat with crispy skin — just the way I love it. And my chosen sauce was very flavorful. The accompanying mashed potatoes and squash were also good, but the duck is clearly the star of the show.

Alas, while Lin had a large portion of her Pork Porterhouse to bring home, my duck was just a pile of bones at the end of the meal. It’s a pity I couldn’t lap up the remaining sauce.

I left quite a bit of my Pumpkin Cheese Cake on the plate, but not because it wasn’t delicious. Wow! What a meal!

The inn offers eight rooms, two of which are suites, and conference facilities both downstairs and upstairs, where a really nice living room setting allows for a before-dinner gathering place.

Generations of diners have made this place their own, including one grandmother who always sits at the table where she dined with her own grandmother over 60 years ago. There is a certain timelessness about the inn.

No one is in a hurry for you to order, eat or leave. In fact, they seem delighted that you are lingering. If the charm of this historic inn doesn’t keep bringing you back, the food definitely will.

IF YOU GO . . .

WHERE: The Village Inn
ADDRESS: 157 Main St., Belgrade Lakes
PHONE: 495-3553
ON THE WEB: www.villageinnduck.com
On Friday, Oct. 26, the inn hosts an evening for the Family Violence Project, including music by Bill Cameron. A percentage of your dinner check will go to the Family Violence Project and the Grovers will also match all donations that evening. Be there!

Visit George’s website: www.george
smithmaine.com for travel tips, book reviews, outdoor news and more.