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May 9, 2013

TRAVELIN' MAINE(RS): Oxford House Inn is a new favorite getaway

George and Linda Smith

What do you get when you combine a stunning view of Maine's western mountains, a historic lovingly restored house and delicious creative cuisine? You get Fryeburg's Oxford House Inn. And you should get there soon.

George

We needed some help to discover the Oxford House Inn. There aren't a lot of places to stay in the Fryeburg-Brownfield, western Maine area where we absolutely love the Stone Mountain Arts Center and its musical performances. So we asked Stone Mountain's owner, Carol Noonan, for a few recommendations. She was effusive in her praise of the Oxford House Inn for both lodging and food.

Carol did not overstate the case. The inn is now on our list of favorite places for Maine getaways. Jonathon and Natalie Spak are the friendliest hosts you could ever ask for, and we felt at home from the moment Natalie greeted us upon arrival.

The house was designed and built in 1913 by John Calvin Stevens for the Fox family, on the site of an old hotel. The exposed granite walls downstairs remain from the 100-room hotel that burned in 1906. The inn was a doctor's office with some rooms closed off with partitions when the Spaks arrived in 2007. They tore the building apart -- discovering beautiful original wood walls and other special features -- and completely restored it. Inside and out, it's absolutely gorgeous.

But despite the beauty inside, it's the outside of the inn that will really astonish you. The back dining room overlooks the family-owned Weston's Farm and the mountains beyond. We claimed a table there for dinner and breakfast, captivated by the view. I imagine the Adirondack chairs and fire pit on the back lawn are full on many summer evenings, as guests enjoy stunning sunsets and s'mores.

The inn gets much of its fresh produce from Weston's Farm and Market, and we all get Cold River vodka. Yes, this is the place that grows the potatoes that have made Cold River vodka an international hit. Guests at the inn can put together a picnic and walk through the farm fields to a private beach on the nearby Saco River -- yet another reason for you to schedule a summer visit here.

We do recommend making a reservation soon. The inn has just four guest rooms. But even if you can't get a room here, the large restaurant with three first-floor rooms and a downstairs bar gives you an opportunity to enjoy very fine dining when you're in the area. You may be one of the many Mainers who are in that area to shop in North Conway, just 12 minutes from the inn. Ah yes, another reason to visit!

Jonathon is the chef here, and his creativity is impressive. My dinner was unforgettable starting with Crispy Four Cheese Stuffed Risotto Croquettes -- one of the best appetizers I've ever had. The warm tomato jam that accompanied this was unique and really good. When I spotted fresh halibut on the menu -- my favorite fish -- I looked no further for an entrée.

The large portions of halibut -- crispy outside and moist inside -- were paired with pieces of lobster in a sauce, deep-fried and salted leeks and accompanied by an escarole and crispy corn polenta. The halibut was topped with porcini dust. It was like opening a present stuffed with surprises every bite. First, a forkful of halibut, then a bit of escarole or leaks, add some lobster or polenta -- wow! It was a smorgasbord in the mouth.

And yes, you will find this amazing but after all this food, I had room for Irish Coffee Cream Puffs -- Bailey's Irish Cream marscapone, espresso hot fudge and caramel sauce. OMG.

Linda

As soon as you step into the Oxford House Inn you will notice its luxury. A beautiful reception area provides comfortable seating for conversation or reading. Large beams and dark cyprus woodwork are featured in the dining rooms, set off with painted walls in a stunning muted teal color. A spiral staircase leads to the four guest rooms upstairs.

Natalie and Jonathon have been steadily updating the décor of the inn -- while keeping its historical style -- since they moved here in 2007. They have a good eye for design, and this inn is simply elegant.

Our room was tastefully decorated. Antique picture-fabric adorns the headboard and valances. A granite- topped sink sits in an old cabinet. Two very comfortable chairs provide a place to enjoy your morning coffee while enjoying a stunning view.

Oh, and there's a gourmet restaurant downstairs. The Spaks are only the fifth owners of this property and the second innkeepers. The Oxford House has three dining rooms. Two feel a little more formal with the dark woodwork and beautiful lighting. The one with the porch-like feel overlooking the New Hampshire mountains is where you should sit if you arrive to dine before dark. The view is peaceful with large cornfields (birds swooping here and there), and the chain of mountains in this distance. A labeled drawing helps guests figure out the names of the mountains.

Fresh flowers and white tablecloths are very inviting. Soon after you sit, warm homemade foccacia bread arrives. Pleasant music plays in the background, low enough to allow conversation. You will not want to rush through a meal here as the view is breathtaking -- and so is the food.

My appetizer was a delicious roasted pear and cambazola cheese tart: caramelized onions and pine nuts, a little arugula and served in great crust. Whoa! So good.

I am immediately drawn to homemade pasta, and that night their's was a basil fettuccini. Their Bolognese had chunks of beef, spicy sausage and proscuitto. It was not your average spaghetti sauce. You can order a half portion and, depending on your appetizer, that would probably be plenty ... unless you enjoy leftovers.

They offered some decadent desserts, three flavors of homemade ice cream and three sorbets. They had me when they mentioned mango-orange sorbet. A large scoop came served with cookies and was topped with buttercrunch toffee. Refreshing doesn't begin to describe this. I didn't touch the cookies. I was in sorbet heaven. It was light and packed with fresh fruit flavor -- a perfect ending.

Breakfast offerings change each morning. We started with a fresh apricot croissant. This is my idea of a perfect breakfast bread, as it only had a hint of sweetness. Our sausage-and-pepper scramble was great served with homefries (soft on the inside and perfectly browned on the outside) and great coffee. These innkeepers know how to spoil you.

Conclusion

During school-vacation week, we went from the beaches of southern Maine to the mountains of western Maine, experiencing all that our state offers. Ocean waves lapped our deck at the Lafayette's Oceanfront Resort in Wells in the morning, and that evening we watched the sun set over the mountains behind the Oxford House Inn. Not many states can offer this!

IF YOU GO

Stone Mountain Arts Center
Brownfield
stonemountainartscenter.com
935-7292

Oxford House Inn
548 Main St., Fryeburg
OxfordHouseInn.com
935-3442, 800-261-7206

Visit George's website: www.georgesmithmaine.com for travel tips, book reviews, outdoor news and more.





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