George

Linda and I love discovering special places like Forks in the Air in Rangeley — a casual, comfortable and elegant place. Checking out online reviews of the restaurant before we arrived, I was amused by one that described it as “a gem in the middle of nowhere.” That’s not how I’d describe Rangeley!

Owner Michael Kupstar first came here at the age of 6 with his dad, who sold boats and sporting goods. He’s been coming to Rangeley ever since. His son took his first steps here. Michael has an impressive resume in the restaurant business, from Kentucky to Florida, including management of 1,000 Long John Silver stores and 18-plus years growing Panera from 52 to 1,700 stores.

He has two restaurants in St. Louis, where he lives when he’s not in Rangeley. Forks in the Air is a real family project. His son and his son’s wife helped design the interior, which is beautiful, including hardwood floors and a tin ceiling. His daughter and her husband handle the social media and Michael’s wife manages the finances. Michael and his brother are also chefs and even co-authored a cookbook.

Chef Payson Farrar is a Mainer and a very talented and creative guy, as is sous chef Stone Walter, another Mainer. I’d read one online review by a fellow who loved the braised pork belly appetizer ($11) so much that he also ordered it for dessert. So of course, I started my meal with that. They braise the pork for six hours and it was fantastic, but Linda wouldn’t allow me to order it again for dessert.

Our server, Angie, who also is one of the bartenders, was helpful, as was Michael, who loves to roam the restaurant and talk with guests. This is a friendly place. We even had a nice visit with a couple at the next table who were enjoying their honeymoon. I was pleased to see that the restaurant features beers brewed in Farmington by Tumbledown Brewery, one of my favorites.

My entree of pan-seared scallops ($29) was superb, perfectly grilled outside and tender inside, and the barley risotto was good, too — lots of flavor and a nice texture. With cream, butter, and cheese, well, what’s not to like?

Linda

Forks in the Air is an unexpected name for a restaurant, so I asked Michael where the name came from. He told us the entertaining story of a friend’s grandmother delivering food to the kids table at Thanksgiving. Apparently when the meal was ready to be placed on the table she would exclaim, “Forks in the air!” so there would be room for all the food.

The space was once a hardware store and has been beautifully remodeled. They were able to keep the original hardwood floor. It has been impeccably refinished, and one would never know how much use it has had over the years.

There is a nice bar area with high-top tables for two along one wall, and two comfortable corner booths near the window in the original hardware storefront. They installed a tin punched ceiling similar to one that had been there.

Another room of seating connects to this. Here, the walls are pale green with windows all along one wall. Some tables have a view of the water. The lighting throughout the restaurant is very nice. It is cozy and welcoming with soft music playing in the background. Michael says they were aiming to offer fine dining in a mountain bistro atmosphere.

The menu has soups and salads ($5-$8) and offers small plates as well. Ron at Pleasant Street B&B raved about the mussels and the flatbread small plates, but they had just switched over to a fall menu when we visited.

I ordered the fried green tomato small plate ($9) — a dish of three tomatoes in a panko and herbed crust arrived with a drizzle of dill aioli. These were so crispy outside, yet creamy and tart inside. They were right up there with the best fried tomatoes I’ve ever had. I could only eat two, but George polished off the last one after eating his appetizer.

We also had a taste of the spicy sausage and kale soup made with potatoes and a touch of cream. Wow, was that good. I was only going to try a couple of spoonfuls, but I polished it off.

My entree was the pappardelle with organic Maine mushrooms ($19), a dish that Michael had just tried the night before. He loved it, and so did I. The combination of oyster, shiitake and other mushrooms lent a great depth of flavor. Chef Payson makes his own vegetable stock and uses it in the white wine butter sage sauce. The addition of fresh spinach and shaved Parmesan cheese to the al dente pasta made this the most memorable pasta dish I’ve had in a long time.

The white and dark chocolate bread pudding is famous here. The warm vanilla-scented pudding was perfection. When the chef found out we had ordered the “classic” dessert, he wanted us to try one of the “new” desserts. His creation of pumpkin cheesecake was so light for a cheesecake and the bourbon sour cream topping made this a delight.

Forks in the Air is a real find in “the middle of nowhere.”

Visit George’s website — georgesmithmaine.com — for book reviews, outdoor news and all Travelin’ Maine(rs) columns, found listed by town in the “Best of Maine” section.


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