Coplin Dinner House is just the kind of place we hoped to find when we started this column three years ago.
Our weekend at Sugarloaf ended with a short detour and beautiful drive north to Stratton to enjoy Sunday brunch at the Coplin Dinner House. We first learned about this restaurant the best way one can — hearing two different people rave about what a special place this is. Now that we’ve been there, we are ready to be this brand new restaurant’s cheerleaders as well.
Heidi Donovan and Tony Rossi had the vision to turn this old farmhouse into a spectacular dining spot. I have always had a soft spot for nice restaurants in lovely old homes. For me, the charm and intimacy of small, tastefully decorated dining rooms, the owners on site and an attentive staff add a great deal to the dining experience. I also admire anyone’s ability to look at an old house and see “new restaurant”.
Tony is the chef, but clearly that is not his only area of creativity. He searched for everything secondhand, going on Craig’s List to find beautiful chairs stored in a barn in New Hampshire and others from the Waterville Country Club. With lots of dedication and elbow grease (and a keen eye to appreciate something old), he restored the chairs to beautiful works of art. I overheard folks at two tables remark what comfy chairs they were.
They repurposed the porch to create the dining spot we sat in, and turned the kitchen and living room into two more dining rooms. The restaurant’s kitchen is in what used to be the garage. Hardwood floors and a gorgeous tin ceiling meld with pastel-colored walls and white trim. They’ve tastefully decorated while letting the beautiful old house shine.
This is a Dinner House, and a glance at some sample menus convinced us that we need to get back here soon for dinner! We came for brunch, but what we really ended up having was lunch, then breakfast, then lunch again. Katie, our server, kindly brought out each item separately so we could share.
First up was the most unexpected surprise: Roasted Tomatillo Soup. Some people might think, “Soup? So what?” But believe me, this was unbelievably different. You could taste the char of the tangy tomatillos, along with the mild jalapeno and garlic accents. It was served with sour cream ice cream (yes, it was frozen) and tortilla strips.
I have a new goal when I am buried with tomatillos from the garden next summer — try to duplicate that soup! Tony came out for a chat and when I raved about the soup, he talked me through the process. The good news for all of us is that this dish is a mainstay even though menus change daily.
We are suckers for Eggs Benedict and the Coplin House version didn’t disappoint. Crispy English muffins held perfectly poached eggs and Canadian bacon, and were finished with hollandaise. Yum. The home fries were soft, coated with paprika and packed with flavor. Paired with a great cup of Carrabasset Bad Dog Blend coffee, breakfast doesn’t get better than this.
Our final dish was the Bison Burger, something new for me. The brioche bun made it even more special. The char-grilled taste comes through loud and clear. Topped with tomato and lettuce, this was so good it didn’t need mustard, ketchup or anything else. I did put a few pickle slices, served on the side, on the burger. George ate his pickles plain, which produced quite a reaction of “pickle pucker”. He professed to love them, however.
The Coplin Dinner House has only been open since Dec. 20. To say this is a gem is a pitiful understatement. Their very reasonable brunch prices ranged from $6 (a salad) to $14 (fried clam roll), with most prices hovering around $9 or $10. Dinner entrees average about $24.
This is just the kind of wonderful, out-of-the-way, rural Maine place Linda and I hoped to find and tell you about when we started this column three years ago.
I felt bad tracking snow into this elegant restaurant, dirtying the gorgeous wood floors. Anticipating a diner, I was stunned by the beauty of this place — a white-tablecloth, linen-napkin, real-silverware kind of restaurant.
Tony (who grew up in Gardiner) and Heidi have created a special place here. They’ve done it the Maine way, completely renovating an 1898 farmhouse and searching New England to obtain second-hand kitchen equipment and furnishings. John Orcutt’s large and stunning photos adorn the walls. He owns the Schoolhouse Gallery in Kingfield.
I thought Tony and Heidi, who worked together at Sugarloaf’s Shipyard Brew Haus, were especially brave to leave their jobs and open this new place shortly after having their first child. They deserve great success here.
Our server, Katie, was very friendly and attentive, and we felt right at home as soon as we were seated. Most surprising to me, the Roasted Tomatillo Soup was my favorite dish of the day. It has a nice pop, with thinly sliced tortillas for dipping.
From the brioche bun for the bison burger to the perfectly poached eggs and house-made hollandaise sauce served with the eggs Benedict, everything here is thoughtful and creative, very tasty and perfectly prepared.
Although Chef Ashley Wiencek’s homemade desserts were very enticing — particularly the Chocolate Dipped Cream Puff and Blueberry Pie with Cinnamon Ice Cream — Lin calmly explained that we don’t have dessert with breakfast. Rats!
I’ve had a love for bison burgers since the first time I tried one. Linda, our friend Charlie Smith and I were returning from a wedding in Montana, and had decided to travel through Yellowstone National Park, up through the mountains and over Bear Tooth pass. After starting up the pass, we got into a blizzard. With no traction in the VW van — and no guardrails to stop us from plunging off the road and down into mile-deep valleys — the drive was frightening.
When we finally got down the other side of the mountain, the road up on that side had been gated closed because of the storm. We stopped in nearby Red Lodge for a beer and my first bison burger. I’ve never forgotten that drive, or that burger.
The drive to Stratton is not as difficult, and Coplin Dinner House is within easy reach of the Kingfield, Sugarloaf and Rangeley areas. We’ve already made plans to enjoy a dinner here.
The dinner menu — which changes nearly every night — is very creative and enticing, starting with the appetizers of Steamed Edamame, Asian Style Pork Belly, Fresh Spring Rolls and lots more, to the lengthy list of entrees including Red Thai Curry, Sweet Chili Rainbow Trout and Wet-Aged Veal Sirloin. And yes, there’s the Bison Meatloaf that is already calling my name.
Visit George’s website — georgesmithmaine.com — for book reviews, outdoor news and all Travelin’ Maine(rs) columns, found listed in the “Best of Maine” section.