Poutine, cream puffs, brownies, lobster, and more. Grammy’s Country Inn takes Maine comfort food to another level.
By Hilary Nangle
Photographed by Mark fleming
Diet in advance, order conservatively, and plan to share. That advice comes paired with nearly any recommendation for Grammy’s Country Inn. This unassuming restaurant in Linneus, just southwest of Houlton, has a reputation that may exceed the ginormous portions of made-from-scratch comfort foods it serves.
From the Coca-Cola sign on the roof to the country tools accenting the blond-paneled interior, there’s no mistaking Grammy’s for a fine dining spot. Customers slide into fast-food–style booths or plunk down at tables topped with sugar silos, ketchup bottles, and paper placemats advertising local businesses. Waitresses banter with regulars, and cross-table conversations welcome newbies to the fold. “They’re not coming for the décor,” owner Steve Graham quips. “Yes, they like the atmosphere, and they love the waitresses, but they come for the food.”
The counter in the front room nearly sags under the weight of pizzetta-size cookies, two-fisted whoopie pies, and humongous bars and brownies. On the back wall, a glass-fronted refrigerator is filled with pies, cream puffs, puddings, and other sinful temptations. Hand-lettered marker boards advertise deep-fried appetizers, including broccoli, fiddleheads, pickles, and lobster; specials such as lobster grilled cheese sandwiches, fried whole-clam dinners, and black Angus rib-eyes ranging from 10 ounces to 2 pounds; and drool-worthy desserts.
Graham, a New Jersey native, had hunted and fished in the area since childhood. During a fishing trip to his brother’s Linneus camp, he purchased what was then Brendan’s, renaming it Grammy’s, a play on his name. Here’s the kicker: He was 21 and had worked at only two other jobs in his life, neither in the restaurant business. He returned home, turned to Lynn Birdsall, his girlfriend since age 13, and asked, “Do you really love me? I’m moving to Maine to buy a restaurant. Do you want to come?” She did. They opened on the first day of deer season in 1989.
Graham oversees the back of the house; Birdsall the front. Together, they’ve turned Grammy’s into The County’s best-known restaurant. “Every piecrust is hand-kneaded, Graham says. “We boil our own eggs; peel our own potatoes. There aren’t many places that go through the gravy we go through and make it from scratch.”
Whenever possible, they source ingredients locally, including fiddleheads, broccoli, and seafood. “We use about 3,000 pounds of potatoes each week — all County potatoes. I’ve never bought a bag from elsewhere,” Graham says. It’s not unusual to see workers stationed outside the restaurant peeling mountains of spuds.
Truth is, Grammy’s fans come not only for the quality, but also for the quantity. “I learned in school to always give more than what’s expected,” Graham says. “We started giving more of this and more of that, and it just went from there. It kind of floored customers. At fancy restaurants, you pay twice as much for a quarter of the food, but here they think about us the next day when they’re eating their leftovers.”
Grammy’s heaping seafood platters, overstuffed sandwiches, and platter-size steaks and prime rib, not to mention the whopping cream puffs, attract people from far beyond Aroostook County. “We had two people who flew into Bangor and asked the rental car guy for the best place to eat. They didn’t care how far it was. He told them to come to Grammy’s.” That’s roughly a four-hour, 260-mile round trip.
The restaurant’s location, on both Maine’s ATV and snowmobile trail networks, is another draw. In the spring, the four-wheelers come from Presque Isle, Caribou, and Island Falls; in the winter, the trail groomer comes right through the parking lot. “Some days there are more snow sleds than vehicles,” Graham says.
Although Graham plans to expand the kitchen and add a small lounge, he’s not tinkering with the formula. “I buy the best I can possibly buy, train employees to cook the best I possibly can, and we serve basic, good food. That’s what people want.” Well, that and two-pound whoopie pies.