Linda

About a year and a half ago Boyne Resorts took over the food operations at Sugarloaf which had previously been run by a concession company. Chef Rob Keen and his staff at this mountain resort complex have been working hard to change the percentage of purchased product versus food made from scratch. Where once 80 percent of the resort-wide food was purchased, now 80 percent is made from scratch.

If you have visited Sugarloaf, you know that encompasses a lot of eateries. Another goal was to purchase ingredients grown in Maine. Any potatoes eaten here on the mountain are Maine grown.

The Base Lodge presents a special challenge. It is cafeteria style and now 80 percent of the food must be made from scratch. The Base Lodge chef, John Caron, has been making this happen. He comes with great training — he was the chef at the Bates College cafeteria. We stopped in for breakfast there and ordered an omelette.

When I asked about the choices of ingredients I was told, “Probably most anything you can think of!” An amazing omelette of bacon, mushrooms and cheddar cheese was quickly prepared, along with a side of with whole-wheat toast.

45 North, the restaurant located in the Sugarloaf Mountain Hotel, is the choice for those looking for a very special dining experience. This is the crown jewel of the dining spots on the mountain. They try hard to avoid using any out-of-season products here and aim for high customer satisfaction.

Entering this restaurant, you will find two choices. Turn right and you will be in the busy bar dining area. This is the social spot, for sure. We noticed many people standing at the bar enjoying an after-ski visit. But, of course, you can still order all of the superb food this restaurant offers while at the bar, and there is a fair amount of seating here.

Turn left, and you enter the large dining area meant to offer a quieter and more special experience. Beautifully lit with candles mounted on pine walls and oil lanterns at your table, it is noticeably darker, creating a lovely ambiance. There are many tables for larger parties, and we saw many groups enjoying an evening of fine food and conversation.

I chose Marinated Beets and Ginger to start my meal. Ice cold beets and slivered ginger sit in a ginger vinaigrette and are topped with a pistachio pesto. Holey Schmoley. If you love ginger, and I do, this is heavenly. It surely wakes up your palette. George declared it, “one of the best appetizers ever,” and he wouldn’t let our server take away the bowl when I was finished. He continued to enjoy it with his entree. It was a light, super fresh appetizer and just might make a beet lover out of the harshest beet critic.

I love chicken and serve it at home often. But I have to confess that I always felt guilty ordering it at a restaurant. I got over that guilt this year. I have figured out that if you are at a very nice restaurant and they have roasted chicken on their menu, it is probably pretty darned special. I asked our server Dana, who just happened to be Chef Keen’s wife, if she could recommend the chicken. “Oh yes, she says. He brines it, then cooks it in duck fat. It’s really good.” Sold.

I have never heard of anyone brining chicken, but plenty of people brine turkey. The brining made the chicken melt-in-your-mouth tender and extraordinary. It was served au jus (made out of veal stock) with an onion jam. My char-roasted Brussels sprouts arrived with the delicious aroma of maple bacon, and the side of potato puree was fluffy perfection. This chef knows what he is doing! My entree was $19 and that spectacular plate of food will stay in my memory for a long time.

The couple next to us had figured out we were highly interested in the food, what with taking pictures and jotting notes and all. They amicably let us check out their food as it arrived. Every plate that went by was tempting.

We decided to sample one of the desserts a little later by taking it back to the room. Watching the Olympics was a whole lot more special when accompanied by Maine Blueberry Buckle — a cake served with a lemon curd sauce and whipped cream.

George

We were seated at a table for two in the far corner of the restaurant, a romantic — and very dark — spot. Unfortunately, it was so dark that I had trouble reading the menu. Linda didn’t point out the pork belly and bean appetizer until Dana had taken my order for mussels. She knew I’d have ordered those beans. After all, it was Saturday night!

No problem, though, because the Acadia Mussels ($13) in a delicious smoked haddock chowder broth was fabulous. And yes, I even drank the broth. It included chunks of potato and came with crostini. The portion was huge and I made quite a mess, driveling sauce all over the table. I didn’t write this in my notes, but Linda says her notes report that when Dana arrived at our table, she glanced my way and said, “I’ll clean up that mess for you.” Unfortunately, that offer did not include my shirt.

A fan of this travel column had come to our table shortly after we were seated to recommend the mussels, and I will always be grateful to her. Definitely one of the best presentations I’ve ever enjoyed.

We’d ordered a bottle of our favorite Chianti Classico from Rocca Delle Macie, a winery we visited in Italy. At $38, it was reasonably priced.

I had a real problem deciding on an entree. Linda helped by saying, in a firm voice, “How can you order a steak now? Those mussels were enough for a dinner!”

Undeterred — and longingly eyeing the Delmonico Ribeye being enjoyed by the young fellow at the next table — I ordered it ($34). I absolutely loved the Carrabassett Coffee spice. Local red potatoes were hidden under the steak which was marinated in Cabernet and topped with Stilton cheese. I couldn’t come close to eating it all, but it made a great supper when we arrived home the next day.

And I’ve got to say that those marinated beets that Lin had, with pistachio-parsley pesto, were amazing. Advertised as “modern Maine comfort food,” I think they are underselling the creativity and tastes offered here.

Carrying that Blueberry Buckle like a trophy up to our room, I couldn’t actually imagine having room to eat it. But we did! I especially liked the lemon curd filling.

Dana was tremendously helpful as we made our menu choices and moved through the dining experience, and we really enjoyed visiting with her (she knows a lot about the chef!). Without question, they have created a very special place and a wonderful dining experience at 45 North.

 

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.