The blend of old (traditional) and new (creative) makes the Anchor Inn Restaurant in Round Pond a very special place, a delight to guests who return year after year as well as first timers like us. Rick Hirsch and Jean Kerrigan are the husband and wife team who met in culinary school, bought the restaurant 25 years ago, and have left just the right traditional features — including the weathered exterior — to satisfy their regular customers. And inside — well, once you open the menu, you’ll know immediately that this is much more than the traditional fried-fish place!

George

After enjoying a fantastic meal at Rick and Jean’s other restaurant, the Damariscotta River Grill, we quickly put the Anchor Inn Restaurant on our must-visit list. But when we turned into the dusty gravel parking lot and saw the one-story, weathered-shingles building, I was astonished. I’d been expecting an elegant inn — one of the upscale coastal places that caters to tourists for a few months in the summer, then closes up.

This is not that place. And the local people who filled it that night know it. Jean gave us a greeting that made us feel like members of her family and escorted us to a corner table for two on the screened-in porch — the place we strongly recommend for the breeze and the gorgeous view of the harbor.
Given that it was 90 degrees and Lin had made me walk around Round Pond for an hour before dinner, I quickly ordered a thirst-quenching Pemaquid Scottish Ale. They’ve got a limited but good selection of Maine brews.

But it’s their wine list that really shines. I like the way they organize the list, with an entire selection offered for $19.96 a bottle or $6.45 a glass. Of course, there are other wines too, including the  “Anchor Over Achievers.”  The Schramsberg Mirabelle Brut, at $33.88, was an impressive find at a great price in tiny, out-of-the-way Round Pond.

Feeling fishy that close to the ocean, I started out with a cup of clam chowder from the “Maine Starts”  list. It was rich, creamy, with lots of not-too-finely-chopped clams — very traditional and very tasty.
Then, it was on to the “Cool As A Salad” list where my choice of the Chevre Delight combined two of my favorite things by encrusting goat cheese with warmed pistachio. Toss in mesclun greens, dates and dried apricots, and this was creative cuisine at its best. I ordered the small portion and it was the size of a normal salad in most restaurants.

Looking around the room, I pointed out to Lin the guys in shorts — she’d forced me to dress up for dinner. There is no dress code here, but I had to admit many customers did dress up — probably to match the fine dining experience. Most of them were Mainers, so I know it wasn’t to show off.
When it came time to order an entrée, the lengthy menu got the best of me. Something from the “We Cha Cha Charred,”  section perhaps? Maybe from the “I’m Royally Broiled?”

I was leaning toward the Sea Bake — Gulf shrimp and scallops baked with crabmeat in light buttery crumbs — until our server, Jessica, recited the entrée specials. Fresh Canadian halibut — my favorite fish — jumped out at me. Ever since I caught and ate halibut in Alaska, I’ve been a big fan — as long as it is fresh.

The presentation included a mustard and dill sauce that sounded superb, but by the time we got around to ordering, no sauce was left. Jessica checked with the chef, who came up with a very creative replacement that included — believe it or not — both strawberries and crabmeat on top of the halibut. I took the bait.

I was so glad I did. I told Jessica later that the chef could have sent out the perfectly cooked halibut, with a bit of butter sauce. It didn’t need the strawberries and crabmeat — although I did enjoy those, too. Along with it came a really good baked potato — and I am very picky about baked potatoes, having been served many that were awful —    and a great selection of crispy veggies.

With dinner, Lin and I each enjoyed a glass of Bodega Malbec, a favorite of ours from Argentina.
As the sun sank and the harbor grew dark, Jessica rattled off an unbelievable list of desserts, all of which are made by Rick except for the pies. They’re baked by a local lady. Alas, I was too full to try anything. But next time I’ll save room!

Jean reported that customers told her, in the first year of Rick and Jean’s ownership, that they’d only eat fried food. Nevertheless she purchased $2,000 worth of broiler equipment from our friend Vic Caprara in East Winthrop and never looked back.

When she took off the very old curtains and added nicer tablecloths, local folks started saying she had, “fancied up  the place.” Don’t worry, it’s none too fancy.

After Labor Day, the Anchor Inn is open Wednesday through Sunday until Columbus Day weekend, when they close the doors on that Sunday — and put all of their energy into the Damariscotta River Grill, open year round.

It’s a good thing, because we’ve quickly grown attached to their food, friendly service and enthusiasm for giving their guests the very best dining experience.

Linda

Jean meets us with a bit of alarm, as we discover that we have worn dresses with the same color scheme. “Oh thank goodness,”  Jean says.  “I thought we were wearing the same dress when I looked over here!” This is just an example of Jean’s personable approach. She floats around the packed restaurant, in 90-degree heat, with ease. Most of us would be highly stressed and wilting under those conditions.

When it comes to the restaurant, looks can be deceiving. From the outside, it looks small. But as we are led to the porch, we pass through the bar area and a very large main dining room.

The minute I open their menu I can see why this is such a popular place. The large menu offers a wide variety of choices that are sure to please. You’ll find any kind and form of seafood you could imagine. But there are plenty of meat and vegetarian options as well. I started with the crab cake appetizer. They make all their sauces right here, and the remoulade sauce made a flavorful accompaniment to the moist crab cakes.

The Anchor Inn owners have figured out that not all of us want enormous servings of salads and entrees, and offer a small option in both. I loved the Nutty Greens salad, filled with fresh greens , candied almonds and pistachios. They certainly don’t skimp on ingredients. Adding blue cheese and a pear vinaigrette made this perfection.

I discovered that Jessica, our waitress, was also a first grade teacher, which I’m sure was why she needed to be checking on 10 things at once and appeared unfazed by it all.

The Pasta Pizzaz intrigued me — linguine with roasted vegetables, Greek olives and feta cheese in a sherried tomato sauce. It was so delicious. The herbs and spices really made this dish shine. Thank goodness I ordered the smaller portion! I still brought leftovers home, much to George’s delight.

I F YOU GO . . .

Anchor Inn Restaurant
Round Pond Harbor
529-5584
anchorinnrestaurant.com

Visit George’s website: www.george
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