George

It takes a brave soul to tackle the restoration of a historic inn, and Travis Ferland is a brave soul. He also has the credentials and work ethic to do it. Travis bought the Rangeley Inn two years ago at a foreclosure auction and has been working tirelessly ever since to bring this landmark on Rangeley’s Main Street back to its glory years.

So far, so good. We stayed in the renovated section of the inn, and were impressed with how Travis has retained the historic aspects while modernizing the building. The inn is full of old photos, memorabilia and furniture, as well as mounts of moose and bear. My friend Bill Pierce, executive director of the Rangeley Outdoor Sporting Heritage Museum in Oquossic, loaned the inn some amazing photos from the museum’s collection. The common rooms at the entrance are particularly beautiful.

The first building on this site was a cottage constructed in 1860, and by 1870 the village’s first hotel was here. But in 1876, 30 buildings on Rangeley’s Main Street burned, including the inn. The present building was constructed sometime between then and 1908. The inn includes a separate building on Hadley Pond, where folks were ice skating when we arrived despite the fact that the wind chill made it about 25 below zero. Brrr! In the summer they have kayaks and canoes there for their guests.

Travis grew up in Ogunquit, where his parents owned a popular inn, so you might say innkeeping is in his blood. He does it all here: working the front desk, handling the accounting and advertising, planning the improvements, doing the gardening and, on the night we were here, washing dishes in the tavern. Because it was school vacation week, the tavern was open every night, making it tough to fully staff the place.

I tried to waltz downstairs to dinner in my slippers, but Linda made me put on some shoes. Nevertheless, I noted that the tavern is an informal place, with a variety of seating, including some awesome new stools that Travis bought for the bar.

We were seated next to the beautiful wood fire in the center of the tavern, and noted that one of Travis’ duties is feeding logs into the fire. Our server, Susanne, did an amazing job taking care of all the diners that night, and we were surprised to see chef Jim Fargo busing tables. All three of them delivered food to their guests. As Susanne explained, they are a team and everyone is part of the Rangeley Inn family.

Chef Fargo has a lot of experience — mostly in upscale restaurants in the Ogunquit area — but accepted Travis’ invitation to take over at the tavern. Rangeley is a place where his family spent a lot of time when he was a kid and he wanted to get back here on a permanent basis. Can’t blame him there!

Monday night’s menu features seafood, something you might not expect this far inland. But Jim gets it fresh and is creative in his cooking. Susanne raved about his haddock chowder, priced at just $8, and said she thought hers was great until she tasted Jim’s. I have to agree with her. It was unusual and the best I’ve ever had.

The chowder is creamy, with bits of bacon and fennel seed that spiced it up a bit. Jim said he bakes the haddock with Old Bay seasoning, and it sure does deliver a fantastic chowder. With the chowder I enjoyed my glass of Baxter Window Seat Porter for $4, a real bargain. It has a coconut flavor.

From a nice list of six seafood specials, I opted for the fish and chips for $15, partly because the batter includes one of my favorite Allagash beers. The fries were nice and crispy, and there was such a pile that I couldn’t eat them all. But I did manage to consume all three of my perfectly crusted, very moist and tender haddock pieces. And I ordered up an extra portion of their homemade tartar sauce, which was tasty. Given that we were close to Carrabassett Valley, I enjoyed a Carrabasset Pale Ale with the fish and chips.

There were a lot of kids in the tavern, where a kids’ menu features everything from burgers to quesadillas for $6-$8. The kids’ menu includes a section for coloring, and the paper tablecloths also give kids a chance to keep busy coloring. A good strategy.

We noticed a family with three kids at a nearby table was passing around all their dishes, from mussels to a lobster roll to ramen noodles to macaroni and cheese, dining (well, of course) family-style. When chef Jim delivered their desserts, we were taken by the presentation of the chocolate torte with raspberry drizzle. We were stuffed by that time, but took the torte back to our room and ate it about an hour later. Delicious.

Throughout the evening, we noticed folks arriving by snowmobile. I guess temps below zero don’t keep them from motoring on over to the tavern. And despite the fact that the tavern was packed on a Monday night, with minimal staffing, the service was fast. Yes, this is a championship team!

Linda

Many Mainers give up, wanting to stay home during the sub-zero days of deep winter. But my eyes were opened when we took an excursion to Rangeley during February break. On one of the coldest days we’ve had, with the wind whipping snow everywhere, I could not believe how many people were out and about.

When we arrived at the inn, we were told that the Saddleback ski area was closed because of the extreme wind. Not the cold, mind you. I was pretty happy to settle in to one of the new suites. With a click of the thermostat, and a fireplace complete with a heater, I was instantly comfy.

I was feeling only a little guilt as I looked out the window to see a convoy of snowmobilers enjoying the trails as if it were a perfect winter day. Clearly they are a hardier breed than I.

Travis has done a major renovation of this wing, creating suites that are modern and elegant, yet still fit the Rangeley style and atmosphere. Two rooms and a bath area provide plenty of space and are adorned with wood floors, classic-styled wooden furniture, comfortable couches and chairs, two TVs and luxurious bedding topped with a quilt. It is wonderful that the inn is getting the attention it needs to keep providing the area with great lodging. It is truly a beautiful and historic place.

Travis told us that they offer a Ski & Stay package that includes five weekends during the winter. Participants pre-pay by the end of November, then choose when they want to come. Sounds pretty awesome.

Dinners are served in the tavern, offering a menu that includes tempting starters and small plates as well as a nice variety of entrees. Their regular menu includes steak, chicken and pork, and on Monday night the specials menu features all kinds of seafood. I was particularly impressed with the ramen noodle bowl on the menu. Chef Jim makes the noodles here. Impressive, and apparently delicious. The family dining near us said they order it nearly every time they come.

I chose their interesting version of a beet salad for an appetizer. A tower of chilled beet cubes with a layer of goat cheese mousse arrived, topped with mixed greens and walnuts. It looked like it was drizzled with chocolate. Turns out it was a balsamic reduction and it was amazingly good. This is an appetizer that can easily feed two.

I was in the mood for a great burger and the tavern certainly delivered. Oh, what a burger. It was huge and really well seasoned, and held an amazing smoky flavor. I’d chosen smoked cheddar and decided that all cheeseburgers should come with that choice after just one bite. The thinly sliced pickles and radicchio with greens made for a great topping as well. The fries were perfectly crispy.

As I looked across to George happily enjoying fish and chips and eating everything with his fingers, I realized that we were having a “tavern experience.”

The inn closes from April 5 to Memorial Day, so get up there soon — or put it in your summer getaway plan.

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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