George

You don’t even have to leave this lodge for great adventures. They have a hot tub, pool, volleyball and basketball courts, indoor game and exercise rooms, and more, right on the premises. But the nearby Kennebec and Dead Rivers, and the vast forests, offer outdoor action that will thrill you, including rafting trips with Northern.

Owners Suzie Hockmeyer, Russell Walters and Jim Yearwood are a great team — very experienced in the tourism business. I first rafted the Kennebec Gorge 35 years ago and Suzie was my guide. It was a trip I have never forgotten. I guess I made it sound too exciting, because it took more than 30 years before I could convince Linda to try it!

This trip we got a cabin at the very top of the hill, nestled into the woods, cozy, cool and comfortable. I was a bit concerned when I heard the name of the cabin — “Widowmaker.” But it turned out there was nothing to be worried about. Our cabin had a very comfortable bed (all rooms and cabins got new mattresses recently), a small kitchen and a full bath. They offer rooms in the lodge and a separate building, plus lots of various-sized cabins.

Best of all, you can walk from any of these to the bar/lounge and restaurant. They’ve been brewing their own beers for 20 years and recently began selling them in growlers — very popular with guests and local folks. All their stout — a personal favorite — was headed to a Boston festival that weekend, so I stuck with their Magic Hole IPA and Sledhead Red, both very good. Linda enjoyed their Summer Ale.

Our fishing adventure on Saturday morning in the Kennebec Gorge, with Mike Pilsbury of Kennebec River Angler, was spectacular. We hit the river at 6 a.m. and caught landlocked salmon and brook trout for five hours, with a break for snacks on a beautiful sand bar, and still got back to Northern for a delicious late lunch. It was a day we shall never forget. We have fished in the past with Mike’s partner, Chris Russell, and these guys are the best.

Chef Seth Gavit arrived at Northern a year ago, after cooking in some great restaurants in Portland and elsewhere, and he created a new pub menu with his own dips, sauces and marinades. Russell and Suzie joined us for dinner on Friday night, and I will be forever indebted to Russ for suggesting the chicken tenders, marinated in their Deer in the Headlight Lager, with Buffalo IPA sauce. Seth has mastered the art of a crunchy crust over moist and tender meat. It was super delicious.

My favorite entree was similar, beer-battered fish (haddock) and chips. It was so good I stuck with it the next day for lunch, enjoying their Fishwich, Deer in the Headlight beer-battered haddock with the same amazing tartar sauce. And of course, more of their IPA. It went very well with their awesome fried pickles with a spicy sriracha aioli. We sat out on the deck, luxuriating in the sun, wishing we could stay longer. You will, too.

Linda

We really couldn’t believe that it had been four years since we last visited Northern Outdoors. In 2011, we tried to fit in everything, including one of Northern’s rafting trips. This time I saw the same joy on the faces of returning rafters that I had felt when we completed our trip down the Kennebec.

Our fishing guide Mike Pilsbury knows that river like the back of his hand. He maneuvered our raft expertly, almost as if he’d measured the distance between the rocks so we would drift through perfectly. Picture whitewater rapids in some spots and calm waters in other spots until they let the water go at about 10 a.m. from Wyman Dam for rafters. The water rises rapidly when that happens, and the fishing techniques also change at that point. Luckily, we’d had hours of great fishing before the water came down.

Mike is a blessedly patient man, and it seems that I gave him lots to do. Turns out I am a high-maintenance fisherwoman. He untangled my lines, advised me about which side and where I was to cast, and retrieved things for me. He said he’d never seen a reel fall off the rod into the water before. He even had to reach way down into the river and get his shirt wet to retrieve that one! And when George requested a picture with one of the brook trout I caught, I was true entertainment for the whole boat. The poor fish popped out of my hands and landed in the boat three times!

The beauty of that river and the ability to enjoy it on such a perfect day will remain in my memory as one of the highlights of my summer, I’m sure.

We were truly impressed with the new fare being served here. New chef Seth has created incredible recipes, many using the beer brewed here. Susie and Russell are both excited about the new menu and urged us to try some special appetizers and entrees.

The deep-fried sliced jalapenos and the deep-fried pickles were super. Russell insisted on the Boneless Crunchers — a version of chicken tenders. The chef marinates them in beer batter that holds in the moisture. The crust is crunchy perfection, and they come with a choice of eight sauces made here. I tried a bite the first night, then ordered them as my lunch the next day. Holy moly, they were good! My two favorite sauces were Buffalo IPA and Bacon Maple Bourbon.

Since we’d had some appetizers, I went with a Chipotle Chicken sandwich for dinner. Plates here are ample, and a giant brioche bun was filled with grilled chicken, mango salsa and chipotle mayo, mixed greens and tomato. The flavors ranged from sweet to mildly spicy in this great sandwich. And the sweet potato fries were as wonderful as I had remembered.

So was our cabin, the friendly staff, and the outdoor adventures. Enjoy your own adventure 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.