Snow-covered Mount Katahdin is hard to ignore, right there across Millinocket Lake from our perch in the River Driver’s Pub. There’s no prettier dining spot in Maine.

The restaurant is at Twin Pine Camps, part of Matt and Wendy Polstein’s New England Outdoor Center, a North Woods destination offering a range of accommodations and great food. Combining amazing outdoor adventures in all seasons with fine dining and luxurious accommodations, Matt and Wendy have created the type of facility you would more commonly associate with Maine’s thriving coastal tourism industry.

The only difference is that they have created their dream destination 10 miles west of Millinocket — the perfect location if you enjoy the outdoors as much as we do.

George

I used to think Matt Polstein was crazy — trying to create a world-class destination on the edge of Maine’s 10-million acre northern forest. But he and Wendy have done it.
I’ve visited great lodges in Montana, Alaska and Quebec on fishing adventures  — and Twin Pines ranks right up there with the best — at a fraction of the cost.

Sitting one morning in one of the six new environmentally-friendly cabins scattered along the shore of Millinocket Lake, I am reminded of a presentation by a national environmental group a few years ago, reporting that tourists seek amenity-filled accommodations on the edge of the wilderness where they can recreate each day before returning to their luxurious cabins and a fine dinner. Bingo. That’s the very definition of Twin Pines.

We arrived in the early afternoon in time to snowshoe from our cabin to Hammond Ridge, following the tracks of two coyotes on the upper trail, enjoying stunning views of Millinocket Lake and Mount Katahdin, and getting two hours of solid exercise.

We needed that in preparation for a wonderful dinner. River Drivers used to be east of Millinocket, and moved just last September to this new location where it continues to be the best restaurant in the region. I’ve eaten at River Driver’s Pub quite a few times over the years, so this assessment is not based only on this recent visit.

Consistently good food, well-prepared and creative, at reasonable prices  — that was how I rated the restaurant in its old location. In its new location at Twin Pines, with two-story windows offering jaw-dropping views of Mount Katahdin, the restaurant now gets all the stars I can award.

A creature of habit, I ordered the Haddock Roulade for our first dinner, my favorite entrée at the old location. It is soooo good, with fresh haddock with Maine crab stuffing and covered in a lobster cream sauce.

For our second dinner, I found a new favorite, the Pork Osso Bucco, cut-with-a-fork, falling-off-the-bone pork on top of creamy mashed potatoes covered in pan jus. Fantastic!

On both nights, Lin and I enjoyed the unique River Driver Salad with two dressings and warm mushrooms.  The first night we shared a crab cake, continuing our search for the best in Maine, and this presentation is near the top — mostly fresh crabmeat in the cake, with a very tasty roasted tomato pesto aioli. It’s good to know they can get fresh seafood way up here.

For our second dinner, we saved room for dessert, a decadent (we deserve it!) creamy chocolate torte with ice cream and caramel/chocolate sauce, and fresh raspberries on the side. Spectacular!

Linda

I’ve been looking forward to a stay at Twin Pine Camps ever since last summer when we took a brief tour around their facility. Visitors were housed in the smaller camps on the lake, and in the huge new cabins up in the wooded area. People were bustling about, some off for an adventure like hiking, fishing, visiting Baxter Park or a paddle on the water.

Fast forward six months and again I see people bustling about getting ready for an outdoor adventure. The scenery has changed a bit, but is now breathtakingly beautiful with its covering of snow. Snowmobilers are prominent, but cross-country skiers and snowshoe enthusiasts are taking advantage of the top-notch trails as well.

Our Coveside cabin is not what I think of as a cabin, and is the complete opposite of our modest camp 20 miles north of here. These cabins are very large, two-story structures with every modern convenience you could ask for. Ours had three bedrooms and two baths, a sitting room, living room, a fully equipped spacious kitchen, radiant heat floors, flat-screened TV (with a satellite dish), electric fireplace and a gas grill on an outside patio area! 

Spruce and birch stands are viewed from the two story windows that face the lake. This is not roughing it! These new cabins sleep eight to 10 people and are perfect for a large group of family or friends to share. You won’t find a more comfortable place to stay that is so close to Baxter Park, for sure.

And the food at River Driver’s matches the amazing setting. They serve breakfast, lunch and dinner every day. Breakfasts offer a variety of egg dishes, pancakes, three-potato homefries and great coffee. Lunch offers a variety of appetizers, soups, salads and light fare like burgers and sandwiches. Dinner offers all of this and several choices of tempting entrees.

The River Driver’s salad is spectacular — mixed greens, walnuts, warm mushrooms and goat cheese with a roasted garlic sauce and a balsamic vinaigrette. It’s a salad that is big enough to split. At dinner, our well-informed and friendly server, Carol, told us the baked half-chicken was like a Thanksgiving dinner. The lemon and herbed chicken was slow roasted to perfection.

I thought of Angelo (a Top Chef contestant), who won a round on that show with the same type of chicken dish — his came from his grandma. I’m thinking that the chef at River Driver’s knows Angelo’s grandma. Their dish includes roasted vegetables and a stuffing with apples in it. If I could make chicken this good, we might be switching our Thanksgiving menu.

Conclusion

There’s a lot to love at Twin Pine Camps. Eagles soaring overhead. The artwork of Marsha Donahue (North Light Gallery) and Mark Picard photography. The wilderness adventures (“I’ve never been to a place where I didn’t need shoes,” noted Lin, who wore her snow sneakers all the time).

Then there are the meals at River Driver’s. And the deals on the cabins — lots of specials, some of which include a cabin, dinner and a snowmobile!

There was good and bad news on our final morning there. The bad news — Mount Katahdin was obscured by clouds. The good news — it was cloudy with a prediction of snow.

They’ve got plenty of snow, plenty of room, plenty of food and plenty of adventure waiting for you. What are you waiting for?

 

NEW ENGLAND OUTDOOR CENTER
www.neoc.com
800-766-7238.
10 miles west of Millinocket on the Golden Road.
Check out the webcams on their excellent website.

 
PHOTOGRAPHY WORKSHOP
March 23-25 at Twin Pines
with Maine’s best wildlife
photographer, Mark Picard
www.markpicard.com
Check him out. His photos will astonish you!

GREAT FOOD
Orvietto, a small Italian market on Prospect Street in Millinocket, should not be missed.
Open only on weekdays until 2 p.m., the sandwiches here are unbelievable.
They also sell wine, cheese and other products for an Italian feast.
We grabbed two sandwiches to go and ate them after arriving at Twin Pines. Yummy!

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

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