George

Don’t get me wrong. Given my choice of Portland or Stratton, for pretty much everything I enjoy in Maine, you’d find me in Stratton every time. And now, the only thing missing for me in some rural Maine areas is available there: fabulous food.

Plus it doesn’t take us any longer to drive to Stratton than to Portland, and the views traveling north are outstanding. So get in your car sometime soon, enjoy the ride and dine at the Coplin Dinner House.

Heidi Donovan and Tony Rossi have turned an old farmhouse into an amazing restaurant. Sitting in their very comfortable chairs (secured from an old barn in New Hampshire), gazing out the window at Heidi’s beautiful flowers, then turning my head to enjoy one of the stunning photos of John Orcutt on the wall and listening to Tony tell us about the food, I am in restaurant heaven.

Heidi and Tony are very personable, enthusiastic and welcoming, and have put a great deal of thought into every detail of their restaurant, from the silverware to the layout of tables (Heidi gives the staff credit for this). There is a nice variety of seating, from a private space for a dozen guests, to tucked-away tables for couples, to the very popular bar in the back, to outside seating in the summer and fall.

Last winter we wrote about brunch here and were pleased, when we arrived this time, to hear that four ladies who had read that column had driven up from Waterville to enjoy brunch the previous weekend, taking the scenic route through Rangeley on the way home. This would make a great day for anyone from central Maine.

Since our brunch there, we’ve been hankering to return for dinner, and that opportunity finally arrived on the Fourth of July. What a way to celebrate the fourth!

Of the nine appetizers, I focused on the Grilled Asian Style Pork Belly ($11.99).

“That’s too filling, too much fat,” Linda proclaimed.

So I ended up with fried Brussells sprouts. With the first bite, I forgot all about the pork belly. Probably because the dish included pancetta, which Linda kindly informed me, “It’s meat. Italian bacon.” No wonder I loved it! Actually, the candied pecans provided a nice crunch and the sweet soy made this very tasty.

Because Linda whips up wonderful salads every night from her extensive gardens, we passed on the four choices of salads and focused on entrees. This was a very tough decision. The dozen entrees all sounded terrific, from the Rack of Lamb and Roast Duckling to the Red Thai Curry, Prosciutto Wrapped Cod and Hanger Steak.

As we discussed each entree with Tony, and got to the Pan-Seared North Atlantic Halibut, we got into an extensive discussion about this fish — my favorite. And of course, I had to tell him about my Alaskan fishing trip in which we caught halibut up to 280 pounds.

Halfway down the list of entrees, my eyes settled on Grilled Meatloaf ($18.99). Tony said it’s a very popular dish — and indeed, we spied several plates of it going by our table to other guests. The pork comes from Tony and Heidi’s own pigs. He adds some local ground beef and gorgonzola, and includes whipped potatoes and a mushroom demi-glace. Oh, oh, oh, I wanted it.

But I went with the advice of our server, Steve White, (a guy who started his career at Sugarloaf in 1965 and is a very entertaining story teller), and picked my second choice, Shrimp Putanesca. I now owe Steve big time for his advice. It was very tasty with capers, kalamata olives, aged parmesan and a red sauce over perfectly cooked fettuccini. Adding taste and crunch were lightly cooked snow peas and a carrot. When Lin tried it, she figured it out immediately, exclaiming, “It tastes like Italy. All the flavors of Italy.”

And then she looked up at me and said, “I think you have a piece of food on your cheek. It looks like a mole and I know you don’t have a mole there.” It’s helpful to have a wife who knows what you look like. And yes, the food was so delicious I was wearing it.

We enjoyed glasses of Renacer Punto Final Malbec, 2012, from Medoza, Argentina ($9/glass). Heidi recently toured several wineries in the Rockland area to add Maine wines to her already impressive list. Many diners were enjoying Heidi’s special drinks ($8 each). And they had three of my favorite Maine beers on tap: Shipyard’s Summer Ale, Baxter’s IPA and Geary’s Pale Ale — all for just $4.

Linda

After a fantastic brunch last winter at the Coplin Dinner House, we could hardly wait to go back for dinner. The atmosphere is perfect — an old farmhouse renovated into intimate dining rooms, each set with white tablecloths and fresh flowers.

Heidi has beautiful flower gardens out front which were visible from our table. She’s also got some vegetable gardens growing, runs the bar at the restaurant and has a young daughter. How she balances everything I don’t know, but her smile and ease with conversation puts her guests right at home.

We’d reread our first column about the restaurant before we visited this time. And that’s when I remembered the incredible tomatillo soup we’d fallen in love with. “It would probably be wrong to have the tomatillo soup again,” I stated on the drive up. “Well I’m having it if it’s on the menu,” was George’s quick reply. We didn’t have to repeat as it was not on the menu at this time of year.

But I figured if Tony could make soup like that I’d better try today’s version. Two Cool Summer Soups were offered. One was Local Spring Pea and Mint soup. The chilled cup of fresh green pea puree held all kinds of flavor and was accented with fresh mint. What a great combination! It was eye-rolling good.

The other cup was Watermelon Tomato Basil. Now there is no way in my mind that watermelon and tomato should work together but believe me, it does. Tony had thickened the soup a bit with breadcrumbs to prevent it from being watery. The basil in this made it sing. I deem him a soup genius! The soups came with a nice green salad with strawberries and made a perfectly light starter.

Choosing an entree was a bit harder, but I settled on the Statler Chicken Breast. Steve told us it is a version of what used to be served on airlines. The moist chicken had a crispy exterior and was topped with an apricot glaze and goat cheese crumbles. The sweet of the fruit and the salty seasoning turned this into an outstanding chicken dish. With side servings of fluffy whipped potatoes and bright green snow peas, this entree was as pretty as it was yummy.

A couple with two young children were dining nearby. They were raising some very adventurous eaters. The kids tried the raw oysters and steamed edamame (fresh soy beans in the pod) just for the warm up. You’ve got to love seeing kids giving new foods a try and being able to talk about food. The little girl declared the Creme Brulee “the best thing I’ve ever eaten in my entire life!”

At one point, Heidi pointed out a deer walking toward us in the road. Coming to dine in Heidi’s vegetable garden, I thought.

I knew George was counting on dessert, since I didn’t allow him to order it with brunch last time. He wanted the heaviest thing on the menu — a Chocolate Bailey’s Brownie Bread Pudding with Chocolate Chip Ice Cream — but I convinced him to split the Raspberry Peach Cobbler. It was plenty big enough to share and came with caramel swirl ice cream. The hot-cold of the fruit and the ice cream along with the sweet and tart of the crumble and the fruit made a perfect balance.

It took us an hour and ten minutes from our house to the Coplin Dinner House. It is one of those very special places that is well worth the drive.

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.


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