As chef Ryan McCaskey prepared to fly to Maine last month, he found himself answering a lot of questions from the young sous chefs he planned to bring with him from Acadia, his two-Michelin-starred restaurant in Chicago.

Is there Uber on Deer Isle, they asked. Um, no, McCaskey replied. Are there cabs? No. Can we get pizza at 2 in the morning? No. Where’s the closest bar? Blue Hill or Ellsworth, McCaskey replied, trying to buffer the culture shock these city chefs were likely to feel when they landed midweek in Stonington, a lobstering and fishing community with a population of just over 1,000. McCaskey was looking forward to introducing them to life in the slow lane known as Down East Maine, where internet and cellphone connections are sketchy, and where he is preparing to open a seasonal restaurant called Acadia House Provisions. He told his staff that when they have some down time, they’ll just have to grab a beer from the fridge and find a view.

“Sitting on a porch drinking coffee and watching the ocean go by, that’s really great for me,” he said.

Chef Ryan McCaskey, owner of the two Michelin-starred Acadia restaurant in Chicago, considers Stonington his second home. Photo courtesy of Acadia

McCaskey, 45, is believed to be the first Michelin-starred chef to open a restaurant in Maine, and he’s doing it not in the food paradise of Portland but in the place he spent many summers as a child. Stars awarded by the Michelin Guide are a coveted emblem of quality fine dining. The Paris-based company (the same one that makes tires) started publishing its European guide in 1900 to encourage people to get on the road. The guide included anonymous reviews of restaurants.

Michelin inspectors look at five criteria when rating restaurants: the quality of the products used; mastery of flavor and cooking techniques; the personality of the chef represented in the dining experience; value for the money; and consistency.

Michelin inspectors have only awarded stars to restaurants in the United States since 2005. Acadia was awarded its first Michelin star in 2011, followed by a two-star rating in 2015. Just 75 restaurants around the world, most of them in large cities, have two stars.

McCaskey’s new restaurant at 27 Main St. in Stonington is scheduled to open this month and remain open into October. McCaskey and his crew were in Maine last month to work on all kinds of chores, from painting and building the bar to gathering the restaurant’s furniture and plate ware.

Acadia House Provisions will be the more casual little sister of Acadia in Chicago, with a more accessible menu and a price point designed to lure locals. While a tasting menu at Acadia costs $185  – plus another $125 per person for wine pairings – McCaskey expects diners at Acadia House Provisions will be able to eat a burger-and-a-beer lunch for about $20 and enjoy a dinner that includes lobster for around $30. Acadia House Provisions will have no “tweezered food,” McCaskey said.

Acadia House Provisions 2

More casual dishes like this roasted chicken will be on the menu at Acadia House Provisions. Photo by Anthony Tahlier

“What I’m doing is the exact opposite,” he said. “Well-executed food, done in a very simple and kind of pretty way. At the end of the day, one dish is a roasted chicken with vegetables and a delicious sauce.”

The restaurant will have 27 seats in the dining room, a dozen bar seats and 72 seats outside, so diners can enjoy the ocean view. Scott Tyree, a wine consultant and Freeport resident who recently became Maine’s first master sommelier, is putting together the wine program.

McCaskey has strong ties to Maine and likes to joke that he’s dated all of the local fishermen’s daughters. He was born in Vietnam at the time of the fall of Saigon and came to America through Operation Babylift, the mass evacuation of children from South Vietnam in April 1975. He was adopted by an American couple who raised him in the northwest suburbs of Chicago. When he was around 6 years old, the family started vacationing at Goose Cove Lodge on Deer Isle.

“We fell in love with it,” McCaskey recalled. “We went for a week, then two weeks, and then started staying about a month in the summer.”

Eventually, McCaskey’s parents bought a home on Crockett Cove, where they have summered ever since. (McCaskey bought his own home in the area about five years ago.)

Greens from Yellow Birch Farm will be on the menu at Acadia House Provisions, a restaurant that a two-starred Michelin chef is opening in Stonington this month. Photo by Anthony Tahlier

McCaskey recalls helping out as a kid around Goose Cove Lodge, toting luggage and setting up fires in the cottages. When he was half-finished with culinary school, the lodge offered him a job as sous chef and pastry chef. “I just knew the place,” he said, “so it seemed easy and natural to work there when I got old enough.”

For McCaskey, his youth is inexorably tied to Deer Isle. It’s where he learned to drive a car. He drank his first beer there, and it’s where he kissed a girl for the first time.

The chef also has ties to Portland. He apprenticed at Hugo’s and considered buying the restaurant when then chef/owner Rob Evans decided to sell. He remembers doing Jell-O shots with the Hugo’s staff at Sangillo’s, the dive bar (now Tomaso’s) across the street, and he ate “some of the best seafood I ever had” at the tiny Food Factory Miyake on Spring Street, the first restaurant opened by acclaimed Portland chef Masa Miyake. He fondly recalls dinners at Five Fifty-Five and the now-shuttered Bresca. And he still likes to have a beer at LFK whenever he’s in town.

McCaskey ultimately decided to return to Chicago, where he apprenticed with famed chefs Grant Achatz and Rick Tramonto, to build his career and open his own restaurant. Acadia may be located in the Windy City, but it is a love letter to Maine. The menu is filled with Blue Hill mussels, Penobscot Bay scallops (served with trout roe, asparagus and squab consommé), oysters from Long Cove and the Bagaduce River, peekytoe crab and, of course, lobster. The vases on the tables came from an antique shop in Stonington, and the coasters are made of Deer Isle granite. The entrance to the kitchen is surrounded by Maine pine, and the dining room features a “living wall” filled with Maine plants.

“Basically, I wanted the lichens and the moss and all that stuff that grows in my backyard in Deer Isle there,” McCaskey said.

When it comes to summer dining, Chicago is the opposite of Maine. The restaurant business slows down in Chicago in summer, when everyone’s attention turns to festivals and concerts, McCaskey said. He shuts Acadia down for two weeks every summer and brings about 25 members of his staff to Maine to school them in seafood and proper sourcing of ingredients.

“We go lobstering and oystering, and pull scallops out of the ocean and visit farms,” McCaskey said. “We’ve developed great, great relationships with a lot of local farmers.”

The group visits Yellow Birch Farm on Deer Isle and tours Four Season Farm in Brooksville, with organic farming guru Eliot Coleman as their guide. Also in Brooksville, they watch cheese being made at Sunset Acres Farm, and they stop by Tinder Hearth bakery to take in the wood-fired bread and pastries. They stop to eat at Bagaduce Lunch.

Sue Buxton, a fifth-generation Deer Islander who has spent 20 years in the seafood business running Buxton’s Day Boat Fresh and Ingrid Bengis Seafood, helps organize these outings for McCaskey. “It’s going to be a different thing for (his staff) to come and stay here for the summer,” she said, echoing McCaskey’s suggestion that the chefs will have to “make their own entertainment.”

Buxton sells Maine seafood not only to McCaskey’s Chicago restaurant, but to world-famous chefs such as Thomas Keller, Wolfgang Puck and Jean-Georges Vongerichten. She and her husband, a local wooden boatbuilder who has a charter business, also own vacation rental property in the area.

Buxton, a member of the town’s economic development committee, said Acadia House Provisions is “very much anticipated” in the community. She said people expect that McCaskey’s reputation will bring visitors to the island who have never been there, and it will also be good for locals.

“We’ve been through a very long, dry spell of not enough restaurants here in Deer Isle and Stonington, with a lot of them closing,” Buxton said. The biggest loss was the Whale’s Rib Tavern at the Pilgrim’s Inn, she said. “We felt that, when that closed,” she said. “A lot of my guests would go there.” Another restaurant, she added, was recently transformed into three rental apartments.

Other restaurants in the area have made big changes this year. The Aragosta, a fine dining restaurant from chef Devin Finigan that was once located in the Acadia House Provisions location, has moved to Goose Cove Lodge and been renamed Aragosta at Goose Cove. The Cockatoo, a Portuguese restaurant that was in the Aragosta space at Goose Cove, has moved back to its original location in the Stonington village of Oceanville, Buxton said.

There are also some newcomers. A chef from Texas is opening a restaurant called Stonington Provisions at 25 Seabreeze Ave., the former home of Factory Tavern. A food truck serving Asian dishes will be spending the summer on the island.

“Just across the bridge in Brooklin is the Brooklin Inn,” Buxton said. “That has new, young owners, so we’ve got new, young blood coming in. They’re doing renovations and their own spin on the Brooklin Inn,” which includes a pub and restaurant.

Dan Landrigan, president of the Deer Isle-Stonington Chamber of Commerce, joked that the region is going to need a new motto: “Welcome to Deer Isle. You’re going to need bigger pants.”

Landrigan said the restaurant scene on Deer Isle has been slowly building over the past few years. McCaskey’s new project? “It’s all anybody’s been talking about for weeks,” Landrigan said. “I think everyone’s been waiting to get on the waiting list.”

McCaskey, Buxton said, “gets the island vibe and isn’t going too expensive with things, which a lot of people would not be able to do on a regular basis. I think he’s trying to cater to the locals as well as the tourists.”

Housing costs on Deer Isle have risen dramatically, McCaskey said, so he’s rented a five- to six-bedroom house for the seven or eight members of his staff that he’s bringing with him from Chicago. The chef already spends long periods of the summer in Stonington, but once he gets the new restaurant up and running he will be flying back and forth between Maine and Chicago.

Now all he has to do is convince his staff they can live without their cellphones glued to their ears 24-7, so they can learn how to “chill out here. You don’t have to get into bar fights to hang out with locals.”

“I think they’re all freaking out a little bit,” he said.

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