George

The new owners of the Village Inn and Tavern in Belgrade Lakes are vivacious, ambitious and eager to please their customers. Throughout our dinner there, they were both all over the dining room, visiting with customers and assisting the staff.

Kate Beales and Heather Pena are determined to improve on what was already a good restaurant. They have renovated the upstairs dining room and downstairs tavern and, along with chefs Dave Jordan and Sam Nutting, have added outstanding items to the menu that was already famous for its duck dishes.

But that’s just the start of their ambitious plans which include Sunday brunch and outside dining this summer, when they’ll expand to seven days a week. They’ve bought custom picnic tables, made by Mainely Woodcrafts, with umbrellas. I wouldn’t wait for those though, because this place is likely to be packed this summer.

Rene, our server, worked at a Portland restaurant before starting at the Village Inn five years ago. Her experience and advice really made our meal special. For starters, she talked me into a wine I’d never had, a pinot noir from Monterey, California. It paired very well with my duck. The inn offers a good selection of wine and Maine microbrews, including Belgrade Lakes Pale Ale, brewed for them by Shipyard Brewing Co.

I will be forever grateful to Rene for recommending the Oysters Rock ($11) — Maine Spinney Creek oysters, spinach, bacon, butter and breadcrumbs. She said some guests have a glass of wine and two orders of these for dinner. I can believe it. The three oysters were tart and tasty, with a bit of crunch. The bacon added saltiness.

A creature of habit, I wanted to see if the new chefs could match the delicious duck that made the Village Inn famous, so I ordered the 12-Hour Roast Duck with whipped potatoes and roasted vegetables. You get a choice of one half ($26) or one quarter ($18) duck. I had the half, but a quarter would have been plenty. There are lots choices of sauces, and I recommend the Madagascar.

Halfway through the duck, I discovered stuffing. “It’s your lucky day,” exclaimed Linda. And she was right. That’s when she asked me how I was going to describe the sauce. “I like it,” is about all I could come up with. “Where does it hit you in the mouth,” she asked? When I explained, she told me the sauce was acidy, spicy and included chilies. Good to know!

A lady at the next table told her server, “That was the best duck I’ve ever had.” Me too!

Linda

Kate and Heather are the young and enthusiastic new owners who have come with new ideas to make The Village Inn even better. They want the place to be comfortable yet fun. Picture big, comfy chairs and couches, big-screen TV and table and bar seating at the tavern. The calming wall colors and new chairs and rugs show how busy the new owners have been this winter creating a lovely atmosphere in the big open dining room as well.

There’s an array of soups, salads, table snacks and appetizers to begin your meal. Kate mentioned that the spring fennel and orange salad with avocado is pretty awesome. Since it had already sounded like an interesting combination to me, I ordered that as my starter. It was love at first bite. All my favorites were here in a fresh herb vinaigrette. The combination of textures, (creamy avocado to crunchy fennel) and flavors (anise of fennel and tart blood oranges) was superb!

George was drooling over the duck, so there was an unmentioned hint that I shouldn’t order that as my entree. With a choice of everything from butternut squash ravioli to scallops to braised short ribs, the entree choice wasn’t easy. I ended up ordering the Statler Chicken (a boneless breast of chicken with the small wing bone attached.) I still think the true test of a restaurant is if they can cook chicken well.

Well, the Village Inn certainly can. My roasted chicken was served with a garlic pan gravy, whipped potatoes and minted spring peas. Truthfully, when I saw the words “minted spring peas” I thought: anything to convince me spring really is here! But this was indeed spring on a plate. The chicken was nicely seasoned with crispy skin and great gravy. Add mashed potatoes and peas and I have my perfect comfort food. I would order it again in a heartbeat.

This is a relaxed setting where you don’t feel rushed. Diners came and went, but we lingered. The dining room really is lovely. The view from the window-side tables is still great, and I always look forward to the peaceful stream meandering nearby.

It was the Meyer Lemon Tart that jumped out at us for dessert. The desserts are made right here. That flaky crust was so good, and the lemon custard had the perfect balance of sweet and tart. It was a light ending to our meal. Even lighter because we split the dessert, much to George’s disappointment. You won’t be disappointed if you dine here soon.

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.