We are very lucky that Amy and Bret Baker chose Maine as the place to open their own restaurant after an impressive career managing and cooking in restaurants in other states. They were flying to Vermont when a nearby passenger heard of their plans and urged them to visit Maine.
They did and ended up purchasing a historic home built in 1896 in Norway, a vibrant Maine community, creating one of our state’s best restaurants. And that is no exaggeration. Since opening six years ago, their business has grown every year.
From the two gorgeous dining rooms, to Bret’s creative and tasty food, to Amy’s wonderful hospitality and service, once you’ve dined here, you’ll be eager to return. We dined here in January of 2013 and have been trying to return ever since.
Bret does all of the cooking, and Amy handles everything in the dining room. She also works during the day helping Bret with food preparation tasks. They have intentionally limited the restaurant to 24 seats in order to give guests the best experiences.
And boy, did we have that. We both enjoyed visiting with Amy, talking about everything from children and grandchildren to favorite Maine restaurants. You won’t find a friendlier person in any Maine restaurant.
My appetizer of Lump Crab Cakes ($12) included a tasty cucumber salad, but it was the soft melt-in-your-mouth crab cakes, covered in an acidy and bright chili lime remoulade, that sent me to dining heaven.
I guess I’m in a rut here, because I ordered the same entree I had four years ago. I’m so happy it is still on the menu. The roast duck ($24) includes a crispy duck leg and a meaty filet with morello cherry demi, root vegetable gratinee and greens.
I would have purchased a large bag of the sweet potato spirals that decorated this colorful dish. How did Bret make those? The sauce was nicely spiced and the portion was large, but I ate it all.
There is nothing quite as intimate as dining in a historic home which has been turned into a restaurant. The dining rooms are usually small with limited seating capacity. Norway’s 76 Pleasant St. is one of these gems.
From the moment you enter the elaborate hall to check in, you feel as if you are being welcomed into a dear friend’s house. You will quickly notice the cozy atmosphere carefully prepared before you arrive. The fire is lit, the copper-topped tables are beautifully set with linen napkins, and candles are glowing. Both of the dining rooms are beautifully decorated.
We sat in the first dining room with ecru-colored walls and white crown molding and trim. A whimsical copper chandelier with glass pendants casts lots of light and makes this room cheery. The fireplace mantel was accented with hearts as Valentine’s Day approached, and the warmth of the fire was a welcome respite from the cold.
We both ordered a glass of Gran Passione Barbara from Italy. Amy delivers it in individual carafes and refills your glass as needed. The service is wonderful. Amy is personable and is sure to make you feel comfortable and well-cared for.
The crusty baguette arrives warm, and it takes great restraint on my part not to eat the whole thing. I ordered the Roasted Beet Salad as my appetizer. This was a salad of mixed greens, delectable spiced walnuts, creamy blue cheese chunks and roasted beets, all drizzled with fig dressing. Chef Bret creates stunning dishes, and this one is no exception. Atop the salad were spiral-cut raw beets which added to both the presentation and crunch of this dish. The other thing I noticed was how nicely chilled the roasted beets and cheese were. It was equally as tasty as it was beautiful.
There is a nice choice of entrees on the menu. I was torn between the Roasted Pork Tenderloin and the Beef Filet. I ended up choosing The Pink Peppered Filet of Beef and was extremely happy I did. Chef Bret had prepared the filet with great care. The crust was packed with flavor of salt and pepper without being overpowering. The crusty outside encased melt-in-your-mouth tender beef.
There was a sweetness to the dish through sauteed leeks and crunchy fried slivers of parsnip which topped the plate. Whipped cannellini beans were a nice substitution for potatoes, for they were even creamier. Sauteed mushrooms and a demi glace finished this to perfection.
Chef Bret has a gift for elevating vegetables to new heights. His vegetables hold their own place on the plates. They are never just an afterthought.
Alas, we were too full to entertain dessert. But with jazz instrumentals playing in the background, a nice visit with Amy, and incredibly delicious food in a very special place, it was the perfect evening.
Visit George’s website — georgesmithmaine.com — for book reviews, outdoor news and all Travelin’ Maine(rs) columns, found listed by town in the “Best of Maine” section.