George

Hang a left in Ellsworth, instead of driving straight ahead to Mount Desert Island, if you want to see the best part of Acadia National Park. Schoodic Peninsula is the park’s hidden gem — a 2,000-acre peninsula just beyond Winter Harbor —and it doesn’t get the millions of visitors to Acadia’s park adjacent to Bar Harbor.

The 6-mile Schoodic park road offers stunning ocean views and many places where you can roam the shore, have a picnic or take a short hike. The cobblestone beaches are a wonderful place to spend the day. It’s also a great place to bird watch.

The old Naval base there has been redeveloped into the Schoodic Education and Research Center, hosting conferences and a variety of science, research and education programs, including a three-day residential program for fifth through seventh graders. Mainer Mark Berry is the President and CEO of the Center and it’s an impressive place.

As you pull into Winter Harbor, you will notice Ravens Nest restaurant on your left. It includes a visitor’s center with lots of information. The building and restaurant are owned by Roxanne Quimby, the famous founder of Burt’s Bees, who has been known to stand outside the restaurant at the wood-fired oven, baking hundreds of pizzas on the weekend. I thought this was a pizza place, but boy, were we surprised.

The first surprise came when we entered the building to see the stunning photography of one of Maine’s best outdoor photographers, Marc Picard, of Millinocket. Marc and his wife, Anita Mueller, are both outstanding photographers, and their shop and gallery in Millinocket are a major attraction in that area of the state. Near the Ravens Nest entrance, I noticed Marc’s famous photo of a black bear peeking out between colorful bushes and trees. I once wrote a story about that photo. Marc sat patiently in that location for a week, and had about 30 seconds to get the photo before the bear moved on.

The next surprise was when our server, Kitty, who lives in Ellsworth and works here on weekends, told us that Cary and Rich Hanson were now here. Rich is one of our favorite chefs and he and Cary owned the well-regarded Cleonice restaurant in Ellsworth until closing it earlier this year. Roxanne Quimby loved the restaurant, as did Linda and I, and she happened to be there the night before the restaurant closed and quickly and wisely lined up Cary and Rich to work for her at Ravens Nest.

It was good to taste Rich’s great food again. And that was the third surprise. This is not a pizza pub! You can get wood-fired pizzas in the evening from Thursday through Sunday, and we heard that they are very popular, but the creative menu offers so much more. Because we had a major dinner scheduled that evening, I decided to eat lightly, ordering the haddock chowder. The bowl was huge and dipping Rich’s homebaked sourdough bread into the broth was heavenly. The bacon bits, potatoes and chunks of haddock were wonderful, but the light broth really made this chowder special for me. With the chowder I enjoyed Atlantic Brewing Company’s Coal Porter, one of my favorite local brews.

From our table, we could see the ocean and we lingered long enough to see Roxanne and her son Lucas come in, giving us a chance to have a great visit with them. It was 3 p.m. before we left the restaurant, heading back to the Asticou Inn in Northeast Harbor. And we quickly made a plan to return to Ravens Nest and Schoodic Peninsula later this month.

Linda

I probably have driven by the sign for Schoodic Peninsula dozens of times, but up until now have never explored it. We took the one-way loop drive that leads to Schoodic Point where we found many families enjoying a picnic out on the perfectly flat rocks. And what a picnic spot it is! It was noticeably cooler than the scorching hot day we’d left just up the road due to the fog that was hanging a bit off from the point.

We found maps for the peninsula at Schoodic Point, which helped us identify the coves and landmarks as we drove back along the shore to Winter Harbor for lunch at Ravens Nest. At the back of the restaurant I discovered a rack of beautiful children’s clothes at bargain prices. I stocked up on adorable things for our 16-month-old granddaughter, Ada, and filled a bag for gifts now and in the future as she grows. Later, when I spoke with Roxanne, I asked if I should check out the new items she had just brought in. She explained that these were the remnants of a boutique and consignment shop she once owned and that these items were about the end of it. My timing was impeccable!

The view from this restaurant is the real Maine, overlooking Henry Cove dotted with fishing boats. The first thing I noted when we entered was the smell of freshly baked bread. They make their sourdough baguettes and boules every day. I purchased a baguette to go, before I had even had lunch.

For lunch I had the Prosciutto Americano, featuring heirloom tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, basil and olive oil on a baguette. It was a great sandwich with tasty coleslaw on the side. The sandwich reminded me of Italy, but I was also reminded of Maine’s perfection as I looked out the window. The best of both worlds!

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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