January 24, 2013

TRAVELIN' MAINE(RS): For a great meal, HEAD TO NORWAY and enjoy yourself at 76 Pleasant Street

George and Linda Smith

We've been trying to get to 76 Pleasant Street since last July, when we first heard about it from our friends Ben Tucker and Margo Pullen. People who love food often plan for upcoming meals, and while dining together at Wing's Hill Inn in Belgrade Lakes last summer, we made plans with Ben and Margo to meet again in Norway.

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Additional Photos Below

Cooking up books at Merrill’s Bookshop

While daughter Hilary was home for Christmas
, we took her to John Merrill’s Bookshop at 134 Water St. in Hallowell. She was interested in browsing the cookbook section for old cookbooks. My mother loved reading cookbooks and so do I. And apparently I have passed this trait on to my daughter as well.

There’s nothing like browsing cookbooks to inspire the creative side of your cooking.
I was happy to visit the bookstore, but I have so many cookbooks that I had no intention of getting another. Then I spotted “Recipes From the Root Cellar: 270 Ways to Enjoy Winter Vegetables,” by Andrea Chesman (published in 2010 by Storey Publishing).  I showed it to Hilary and she agreed it was a keeper and put it in her pile. Unfortunately for her, I got up early one morning, read it and found it fascinating. So she went off to D.C. without the cookbook, though she took pictures with her phone of many recipes.

Good chefs have become creative with seasonal vegetables. Why use something frozen if something fresh is at hand? I grew up eating preserved garden vegetables, but I did grow tired of them because they were always served the same way — boiled. I have decided that using one recipe from this book every week will keep me creating great winter meals. — Linda

While Linda and Hilary were gathering cookbook
s at Merrill’s amazing bookstore (where you can find 500 years of books, and where I could spend 500 years rooting around in the stacks), I spent my time checking out mystery and crime novels — emerging with a stack to purchase, as I always do. — George

Linda

We've been trying to get to 76 Pleasant Street since last July, when we first heard about it from our friends Ben Tucker and Margo Pullen. People who love food often plan for upcoming meals, and while dining together at Wing's Hill Inn in Belgrade Lakes last summer, we made plans with Ben and Margo to meet again in Norway.

Six months later, we met and enjoyed another spectacular meal. The two restaurants are similar in that they are old houses turned into intimate dining spaces where elegant food is served.

Owners Bret and Amy Baker offer two rooms for seating. Ours was full on a Saturday evening with our table of four, a table of six and a table of two. The copper-topped tables look very elegant with candlelight, joined by a big chandelier in the center of the room and a fire in the fireplace. The wall color, drapes and artwork create an ambiance you simply can't replicate in a larger restaurant.

There is a great variety in the food offered here. Starters include seafood chowder, three creative salads, flatbread and heartier dishes of Salmon Gravlax, Moroccan lamb and gnocchi. The food will hook you, starting with the incredible baguettes they serve.

I ordered the roasted beet salad and now proclaim it the best I've ever had. What makes this one different is the variety of textures and tastes that sit atop the roasted beet chunks. Beautifully topped with mixed greens, it's the red cabbage ribbons, thinly sliced onions and scallions, fried leek strips and curlicues of raw beet that set it apart. A small round of crusted warm goat cheese and the brandy vinaigrette complete this dish. It's a "celebration of winter" salad.

For my entrée, I selected the pink-peppered filet of beef. Perfectly seasoned and perfectly cooked, the filet was amazingly tender. It was served with whipped cannellini beans and roasted mushrooms and garlic. The beef had fried ribbons of parsnips as a topping that added a wonderful crunch.

I started noticing that the chef included seasonal root vegetables in most of his dishes. They try to get local and seasonal food whenever possible. Margo didn't think she liked beets until she tasted my roasted beet salad. This chef is creative and will probably make a vegetable lover out of you, if you aren't one already.

Amy Baker is the face of 76 Pleasant Street. She has such a likable personality, you might feel as if you've known her for a while by the end of your meal. She effortlessly floats in and out, serving all of the guests. I noticed that she sweetly presented the young lady at a nearby table with a piece of cake while singing "Happy Birthday!" Amy and Bret have been in the food business for 40 years, yet this is the first restaurant that they have owned. They are naturals.

Though Norway may seem a long way off -- it was only an hour from our house, the same time it takes for a trip to Brunswick where we often dine. Venture out this winter. I guarantee it's worth the drive if you appreciate great food.

George

Built in 1896, this mansion comes with a delightful history that was conveyed to us during dinner by Ben, a native of the area. During a notorious 1938 murder trail, the jury was sequestered here -- in the judge's house.

(Continued on page 2)

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Additional Photos

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Charcoal Duck Breast

Contributed photo

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Pink-Peppered Filer of Beef

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Bret and Amy Baker with Chef Jeremy Donovan, right.

Contributed photo



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