George

Our annual Mother’s Day birding adventure weekend on Monhegan Island was over and the Barstow’s ferry (Monhegan Boat Line) was taking us back to Port Clyde and the mainland on a beautiful Sunday afternoon. There we struck up a conversation with Michael Brassard and Jaye Morency on the upper deck.

Turns out they’d just purchased the Island Inn, and after a great talk while we enjoyed the day and the voyage, they invited us back to the island to stay at their inn. It didn’t take long for us to say yes.

We decided we’d like to be there in the fall, as the birds headed south, so we contacted Michael in early September to request a stay the last weekend of the month. We were astonished to discover that the inn’s rooms were completely booked that weekend. And we were lucky when we got the last available room for the previous weekend. This is a popular and busy place!

And now we know why. It’s a great place to stay and an even better place to dine.

Michael was concerned that our room was small, with twin beds and a sink with a shared bathroom across the hall. But we’re Mainers, and we make do. The ocean view from our second story room was spectacular and the room was plenty comfortable. We actually spent very little time in it.

We enjoyed all the first floor public rooms, including one with a fireplace that warmed us after a cool afternoon of birding around the island. On Sunday morning, I spent a couple of hours enjoying a rocking chair on the deck overlooking the open ocean, while Linda (yes, she is obsessive about this) did more birding.

The inn is stunning, sitting atop the hill above the waterfront and boat landing, and the staff is super friendly. So were the guests — including an Audubon tour group from all over the Northeast, here to see the fall migration of birds.

When we are on Monhegan in the spring, most places are not yet open, and it was fun to see the island bustling in September. We especially enjoyed lunch at Barnacles, and a microbrew at the island’s fabulous brewery, Monhegan Brewing Company. Winter Works, featuring the work of local year-round artists and crafts people, is spectacular, and we enjoyed visiting with Cynthia Charles who was minding the store that day. Cynthia grew up in Wayne, and we discovered we have several friends in common.

It was a windy and rough trip to the island on the ferry. Despite the rain and wind, we sat outside on the upper deck, where the air helped us avoid sea sickness. Seeing pilot Andy Barstow as we disembarked, I told him, “I’m calling this Andy Barstow’s wild ride.”

We spent all of Saturday afternoon, which was drizzly and cold, checking out the island’s birds. And we were very surprised to find a fellow who we’d seen and talked with in Big Bend National Park in Texas the previous spring. He’s from Massachusetts and spends his vacation time in amazing places taking photographs of birds and scenery. When we saw him there, we knew we were in the right place.

The inn’s dining room is elegant, decorated with spectacular art, with seating for 60 diners. We quickly claimed a table by the window with an ocean view. Tables are close enough together that you can visit with others, if you wish, and we did. We all laughed when we noticed that at each of the four tables in our section, the man had claimed the inside seating, a nice bench with pillows.

Our server, Ashley, was very good and helped us with our dinner selections. At my request, she brought a taste (about half a regular serving) of New England-style clam chowder, which was very good with lots of chunks of clams and a salty, creamy broth. With remarkable restraint, I did not eat all of the awesome bread that came with our appetizers.

The bacon-wrapped scallops were not only beautifully presented — making a great photograph — but each scallop was perfectly seared and wrapped in a crispy delicious piece of bacon. The maple glaze was tasty, and the sweet roasted corn made for a nice combination of flavors and textures. My only problem with this appetizer was that Linda loved it, so I didn’t get to eat it all.

It’s BYOB here, so we’d purchased a bottle of Stemmari Nero D’Avola for just $10 at the island’s small grocery store, L. Brackett & Son.

I was intrigued by chef Martha MacDonald, a native of the small fishing village of Antigonish, Nova Scotia. She earned a culinary degree at Nova Scotia Community College Strait Campus, winning the 2011 USA Pears Pear Excellence Canadian competition in Montreal. She lived and worked in Portland before coming to the Island Inn.

MacDonald’s list of entrees was impressive, making my choice especially difficult. Seafood Pappardelle, Prosciutto Wrapped Seared Scottish Salmon, filet mignon, maybe the Monhegan Seafood Stew? Oh, what a tough decision!

I opted for the evening special of grilled halibut (my favorite fish) with pineapple salsa. The pineapple added a nice bit of taste to the moist halibut, with just a tiny bit of fresh lemon squeezed over the top.

Linda had pork medallions, pepper-crusted tenderloin served with a rhubarb chipotle sauce with roasted potatoes and squash. She said the sauce really picked up the entree. “It tastes and looks like fall,” she said.

She also really enjoyed the chocolate flourless torte, nuts, rich chocolate, raspberry drizzle, with fresh strawberries and blueberries and whipped cream on the side. And yes, it was as delicious as it sounds.

At 7 p.m., part way through our meal, the sun set and the island was shrouded in darkness outside our window. Conversations were flowing all over the restaurant about lodging, food, the brewery, famous people that spend time here and birds (of course). Wherever we went on the island, people had cameras, binoculars or both.

All of the couples we enjoyed speaking with at nearby tables were from away. One had visited Acadia National Park before spending three days on Monhegan.

“We were researching classic Maine islands,” said the young lady.

Two tables down, an older lady exclaimed, “We love the offseason here.” They were on the island for two weeks, renting a cottage.

I should not have had dessert, but I was intrigued by MacDonald’s Chocolate Carrageen traditional firm pudding, made using her grandmother’s recipe with seaweed she gathers from Monhegan’s Lobster Cove. It was unique, for sure, with lots of chocolate chips, blueberries and whipped cream, along with a raspberry sauce and was, fortunately, nice and light. I was very full.

We opted for the 12:30 p.m. ferry on Sunday, to enjoy the inn’s popular Sunday brunch, and a couple of hours on the island on what turned out to be a gorgeous sunny day. In addition to buffet items, which Linda focused on — including a wonderful blueberry-stuffed French toast — I ordered lobster scrambled eggs. Yum! Bacon, sausage, muffins and biscuits and, oh yeah, healthy fruit and three kinds of juice, plus coffee and I could barely make it from the table to the porch, where I spent two hours reading and waiting for the ferry.

The ride back was in wonderful, calm waters, hot sun and we luxuriated. And now, we dream of returning in the spring.

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.

Farmington Featuring Fabulous Art Show

Sometime between now and March 22, you’ve got to get to the Emery Community Arts Center at the University of Maine in Farmington, where a stunning multi-media exhibit features the work of 34 artists, 14 poets, 11 authors and even a plant designer.

Curated by our friends Dona Seegars and Mary McFarland, along with Mardy Bogar, Mary Beth Morrison and Jan Royall, the show is an amazing collection. Bogar’s “Twisted Bittersweet” ladder grabs you right at the entrance.

Jeff Lind’s cherry high-back rocking chair looked so inviting. It’s a good thing they placed a blue cord across the front to make sure guests don’t sit in it. You will spend a lot of time admiring Janalee Welch’s flowers of recycled plastic, painted a gorgeous shade of blue and draped down the wall on fishing line.

Save time to dance on the video of paint spilled on water, broadcast onto the floor, and to stand in the alcove to admire the shadows cast by Dona Seegars’ Chaya Sanskrit display. Lots of media are represented here. There’s even an interesting piece created entirely with masking tape by Tom Jessen. And kids are loving the opportunity to create something by raking in a zen garden.

The show is titled “Transcendence: Beyond the Ordinary.” It is all of that and more. And it’s free! The arts center is open every day from11 a.m. to 6 p.m., and you’ll find more information at www2.umf.maine.edu/emeryarts/. It is located on 111 South St., and the phone number is 778-7000.

We were entranced by Liz Farmer’s rocks, spelling out “This isn’t a contest but the doorway into thanks,” from Mary Garland’s poem, “Thirst.” You will feel thankful as you leave this remarkable show.


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.