A touch of French elegance in a beautiful historic Maine building make the Youngtown Inn unique, stunning and popular.

George

The Lincolnville Book Festival gave us our first opportunity to write about the town, and the minute we saw a photo of the Youngtown Inn, we knew that it was the place for us. It didn’t hurt that people rave about the inn’s French restaurant.

We love old historic inns, but this one surprised us. In the Young family for about 180 years, it was purchased by a nonfamily member and converted to an inn in the early 1980s. Manuel and MaryAnn Mercier purchased it in 1991, turning it into the place they raised their three boys, a welcoming inn and an amazing restaurant.

MaryAnn is very friendly and we shared stories throughout our stay. I loved her story about the boys, who objected to the move to Maine from New Jersey, but thanked her when they got older. We’ll be thanking her for a long time to come for giving us such a wonderful experience, a combination of the best of Maine and the best of France.

You’ll see this combination everywhere, from the dining room curtains (purchased on one of many of Manuel and MaryAnn’s visits to France) to the wide pine boards throughout the inn. Enjoying an early-morning cup of coffee in the second-floor sitting room, I spotted two books: “Memories of Camden,” and “Provence — The Beautiful Cookbook.”

After my Friday afternoon book talk at Beyond the Sea — Nanette Gionfriddo’s wonderful shop full of books and art, clothes and dishes and lots more — we crossed the street to enjoy the ocean view from Lincolnville’s beach, very busy on this hot summer day. I noticed a new pub opened by the folks at Andrew’s Brewing Company — a particular favorite of mine. Alas, we had no opportunity to eat there.

So we drove the five miles to the inn, tucked just outside Camden State Park. A gorgeous male cardinal welcomed us in the parking lot.

We had no idea the state park stretched this far from its entrance on U.S. Route 1 in Camden. Nor did we know there are so many great trails into the park from this side of it. MaryAnn suggested a predinner hike to Maiden Cliff that started right at the inn and ended on top of a hill with an astonishing view and a huge crop of wild blueberries. They were sooo sweet, but I was glad we didn’t bring a bucket, because Linda would have been up there picking berries for hours.

Right now I am writing this column on the huge deck outside our second-floor room: the early morning sun is warm and welcoming, birds are singing, the coffee is hot, breakfast is coming soon and I am thinking I could live here! I am also wondering what Manuel’s breakfasts are like.

Breakfast begins with MaryAnn escorting us to a table already set with fruit, sticky buns and fresh flowers. Manuel prepared a wonderful dish — scrambled eggs on a toasted muffin and topped with smoked salmon. Yum! We lingered, laughed and visited with a young couple at the next table.

While the breakfast was terrific, it’s Friday night’s dinner that I will never forget. With guidance from our experienced and friendly server, Michael, who has been working here since the Mercier’s purchased the inn (while pursuing two college degrees), I chose Pate de Foie de Candard for an appetizer: Duck Mousse and Port Pate, Cornichons and toast points ($10).

Michael explained the dish to me after I told him, “I am entirely incapable of describing this.” The texture and taste of the smooth pate was superb, and sharp, sour pickles added additional flavor. Michael told me it was aspic along the side of the pate — something I’d never seen before.

Stymied by the entree selections, I was leaning toward a duck breast dish with green peppercorn, brandy and cream (making it a “ducky” night), but Michael talked me into Chef Manuel’s “signature dish,” Carre d’Agneau aux Herbes de Provence, Roast Rack of Lamb.

It was not only a work of art, but the perfectly prepared and very tender lamb (flavored with rosemary) and the from-scratch sauce, was a dining delight. I also enjoyed the potato cake, crispy green beans in a buttery sauce and carrots. “What do you taste in the carrot?” asked Linda. “Vanilla,” I answered. “Holy cow, I think you got it,” she exclaimed. Well, almost. Michael said it was maple.

Linda

The Youngtown Inn is charming and just up the road from Cellar Door Winery in Lincolnville. It is only a few miles from downtown Camden, but with a much different ambiance — calm and peaceful with a sense of history behind it. Our room was light and cheerful with a hint of European style.

We felt immediately welcomed after a short visit with MaryAnn. You can see just how much she and Manuel love their home and the business they have built together. They appreciate the specialness of Maine people and the area they now call home.

One of the great reasons to visit here is the inn’s award- winning restaurant. Manuel is a French chef and has stayed true to his roots by offering stunning dishes that are not intimidating. MaryAnn calls him a “classically trained saucier. “It’s all about the sauces in French cooking,” she says. He makes each sauce individually when the dish is ordered.

I started my meal with Gazpacho Soup, and impressive it was — served in a distinctive square bowl and topped with fresh crabmeat which certainly elevated this simple soup. It had a kick from chilies, but you could still taste the cucumber, green pepper and tomatoes — perfection when paired with the crunchy French rolls and small bottle of olive oil on the table.

Though the interior dining room is gorgeous, it was the porch seats that were most popular this night, and that’s where we sat. White tablecloths, fresh flowers and pale walls accented with white woodwork create a space you want to relax in.

My entree of Filet of Beef was embellished with caramelized onions and Roquefort cheese. The rich demi-glace served with my perfectly prepared filet makes one have the uncivilized urge to lick the plate. Using all my willpower, I did resist that urge.

I’d read that the Creme Brule was a signature dessert here, so I didn’t even really listen to the list recited by Michael. It was served at room temperature, not chilled like others I have had. And its texture was creamy, not as solid as others I’d eaten before. With its crunchy sugar topping and distinctive vanilla flavor, this is a very memorable dessert. Save room for it even if it is only to share one, as we did.

The common room of this beautiful inn is on the second floor. Wainscoting and beautiful molding accent the beige-on-white color scheme. You’ll find a desk, two chairs and a couch for leisurely visiting. French artwork decorates the walls, and you can choose your form of entertainment from DVDs and games to books and brochures about of the area. It is an inviting space, and I’m certain that I am not the first guest to spot the cookies sitting next to the coffeemaker right off.

Breakfast is served from 8 to 9 a.m., so I came out early to have a cup of coffee. It was a style of coffee maker I’d never seen, so I’m sure I must have looked pretty funny trying to figure out how the coffee pouches with a round plastic top fit into that machine. Luckily the instructions were in both French and English and had little pictures to guide me. I was rewarded with a great cup of coffee at the end, though.

Breakfast here is very special as well. It’s a country inn picture as you enter to find tables elegantly set, awaiting overnight guests. Start off with coffee, juice and fresh fruit (that morning a stunning presentation of cantaloupe shows just what attention to detail is involved here). I do not eat sweet pastry in the morning, but after nibbling just a bite I discovered it was warm and fresh and indulged in several more bites.

The entree was creamy scrambled eggs served atop a spectacular potato cake with roasted peppers on the side. The bready texture and chives made a lovely savory dish. I opted not to have the smoked salmon that topped George’s dish.

Hospitality, elegance and fantastic food in a comfortable relaxing setting — the Youngtown Inn is a very special place.

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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