DiningOpen HouseKittery's intimate, sophisticated Anneke Jans offers clever twists on classic food.
Anneke Jans is proof that sometimes dreams do come true. The popular Kittery restaurant is the creation of a Cape Neddick couple who always wanted to own a restaurant. With no experience in the industry, Andy Livingston and Donna Ryan opened Anneke Jans in early 2005. (Pronounced annicka janz, the restaurant is named for one of Livingston's ancestors, a spunky seventeenth-century Dutch New Yorker."Andy and Donna like to cook and entertain and they are very, very good at it," explains general manager Anthony Aiken. "They always dreamed of opening a restaurant that would be, essentially, an extension of their dining room and their hospitality."
Nearly two years on, it's clear that their success is the result of more than a fertile imagination. Livingston and Ryan also have good instincts and a knack for putting together a talented team. They consulted with a restaurant designer to make maximum use of their limited dining and kitchen space on the first floor of a handsome clapboard Victorian in the heart of Kittery Village. Executive chef Charles Cicero came from the busy seafood restaurant Catch in Winchester, Massachusetts, and veteran waiter Aiken was recently assigned the managerial post.
Ryan drew on her background as an interior designer to create Anneke Jans' intimate ambience, which pairs sleek industrial simplicity with organic warmth. Cork-sheathed walls are painted a dark shade of graphite, and the pearly light is cast by frosted-glass ceiling pendants. The tables are dressed with thick white cloths and topped with flickering votives, boxes of live moss in lieu of flowers, and diner-style glass screwtop salt and pepper shakers — a sophisticated but playful mix.
The restaurant has terrific views of the Piscataqua River and Kittery's Wallingford Square through tall windows in the dining room. The cutout view into the kitchen from the dining room is another nice piece of stagecraft, framed as it is by polished and artfully arranged copper and steel pots that hang from the ceiling above the heads of the cooks.
"Opening up the kitchen to the dining room is the key to the whole experience here, and it was very important to me. When you expose the kitchen, everything changes," says Ryan. "There is no more us and them. There's real teamwork, and diners can sense it."
Anneke Jans has an international wine list of more than sixty bottles, two thirds of which are under forty dollars and thirty of which are available by the glass (from $6 to $15). The selections are thoughtful, accessible, and a real discovery for those looking for new surprises by the glass.
The menu at Anneke Jans, concise but usefully descriptive, is a one-page affair with up to ten each of appetizers ($4 to $12) and entrees ($14 to $26), and three composed salads. The overriding theme is classic, yet clever, ways to serve high quality meat, seafood, and produce, much of which is obtained locally. The menu undergoes seasonal changes, and it is also tweaked a bit and reprinted daily. This summer Cicero added poached lobster served on a crispy risotto cake; a typical winter menu might include house-made paté, cassoulet, or a pork chop.
In the course of the almost two years since the restaurant opened, certain dishes — steamed Bangs Island mussels with shallots, wine, and Great Hill Blue cheese, a herb-roasted half chicken with mashed potatoes, and a simple Angus strip steak with pommes frites — have proven so enduringly popular that they remain year-round.
Another signature dish, calves liver and onions, is the most tender, sweet version you're likely to find anywhere, served with caramelized onions, bacon, and rich mashed potatoes. With a glass of Carmel Road Monterey pinot noir it is pure bistro heaven.
Pastry chef Deb Chag's intense chocolate caramel tart in a fluted Graham cracker crust topped with crème fraiche shares the dessert menu with carrot layer cake with cream cheese icing and vanilla bread pudding with caramel sauce (all $7.50). Other desserts in Chag's high-class homestyle rotation include a Scharffen Berger chocolate soufflé cake and peach blueberry cobbler.
The owners may have begun with a dream, but they have succeeded thanks to their focus on hospitality and quality. Anneke Jans is the kind of friendly place where you really can stop in for just an appetizer and a glass of wine at the bar, yet the professional caliber of the food and service make a visit feel very special. C.Z. Cramer
Anneke Jans is located at 60 Wallingford Square in Kittery. 207-439-0001. Reservations are accepted for dinner, which is served from 5 -10 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday.Quick Bites
By day, Gunjan Gilbert, a native of Mumbai, India, analyzes DNA strands at the Jackson Laboratory in Bar Harbor. By night, she cooks up the curries, samosas, and chutneys she sells via Tandoor Downeast (207-565-3598; www.tandoordowneast.com
). Don't know your saag aloo from your palak paneer? Visit Gilbert's Web site, which includes a full menu with descriptions and photos of each dish. Customers typically call in their order a day ahead; Gilbert and her husband, Christian, make free deliveries in Bar Harbor, or customers can pick up their meals, ready for reheating, at the Gilberts' home in Franklin after work.
Judging from the lines on opening day, denizens of the Maine Mall area of South Portland greeted the arrival of Pom's Thai Restaurant (209 Western Ave. Crossing; 207-347-3000) a few months back with something akin to glee. An oasis in a desert of chains and fast food, the restaurant is an offshoot of owner Pom Boobphachati's Thai Taste restaurant on the other side of the city. Both spots are known for their use of fresh ingredients and a nuanced approach to seasonings — a far cry from what you'll find at the food court. Michaela CavallaroMaine MadeBlanket Policy
If you think Maine's textile industry is just about kaput, then you obviously haven't heard about Brahms/Mount Textiles, Inc. (19 Central St.; 800-545-9347; www.brahmsmount.com
). The Hallowell company designs and manufactures gorgeous heirloom throws and blankets using production equipment salvaged from some of the state's most renowned (and now defunct) mills. Founders Claudia Brahms and Noel Mount are obsessed with quality, tracking down flax for their linen blankets in Italy and sourcing the finest American cotton. You can buy their products from Neiman Marcus and the Garnet Hill catalog, or you can call the company to find out which retailer near you stocks the cozy blankets. But if you happen to be in Hallowell, it's worth your while to pay a visit to Brahms/Mount's factory store, which offers a wide array of products — some at very enticing prices.SportsGood Skates
With the University of Maine men's ice hockey team making it all the way to the Frozen Four in three of the last five years, it's no wonder the press coverage has been voluminous. But did you know that UMaine has a women's ice hockey team, too? Last season, they had their best year — posting a 17-9-6 record — since the team was founded in 1997. And unlike their male counterparts, the women regularly skate in front of lots of empty seats — a shame, given the quality of play. Coaches say this year's schedule (www.goblackbears.com
) is the toughest yet, with the Black Bears hosting powerhouses New Hampshire, St. Lawrence, and Minnesota, among others, at Alfond Arena in Orono. The season runs through February, and admission is free. So what excuse do you have for staying home?BooksBack to the LandPoet Baron Wormser's new memoir revisits his years off the grid in Somerset County.
Though many hippies set out for the backwoods of Maine in the early 1970s, not many of them stayed there. The ones who stuck it out, not for a year or two, but for a quarter of a century, have stories to tell, but who is interested in hearing them? The idea of "going back to the land" was pretty weird even in 1970, but at least it was part of a recognized movement, the Counterculture. That movement went the way of the dodo, leaving no point of reference behind for a contemporary audience. Without the idealism and the politics, the only story left to tell might be just another version of the Swiss Family Robinson.
Baron Wormser was one of those back-to-the-landers, but he was also Maine's poet laureate from 2000 to 2005, and so his memoir The Road Washes Out in Spring: A Poet's Memoir of Living Off the Grid (University Press of New England, Lebanon, New Hampshire; hardcover; 224 pages; $24.95) is a different sort of book entirely. Intelligent and engaging, following no chronology, it rambles and wanders its way in an almost Byronic fashion, slowly and modestly revealing the making of a poet. "I came to poetry," he writes, "through a love of reading poetry . . . Something in me wanted to craft those things called poems, the way any made thing . . . might impel a person to make one."
This is a memoir made of essay and character sketch, incident, rant, and meditation. Some readers will love this style; others may find it takes some getting used to. A gem of an essay on Thoreau is followed by a section on snow and shoveling it. "For decades we shoveled. It was part of the experience, and we were fools for experience." That in turn leads to a description of the town of Norridgewock and shoe shops, and that to an essay on reading the New York Times. In terms of structure, the book seems to take its rhythm from the changeability of Maine weather: if you don't like what's on this page, just go to the next.
There's certainly enough about the hardships of living in the woods — the road washing out, the design of the outhouse, all those trees — to make some readers glad they stayed on the grid and kept their lights and running water. There are joys, too, some of which involve relationships with the neighbors. "Rural people . . . grow up paying attention to a thousand small things . . . Because they make so little fuss about themselves, it's easy to make a fuss over country people if not out and out idealize them." Wormser doesn't, not quite, but he does let us see into the lives of these men and women in a way that is honest, touching, and sometimes painful.
Oddly, these neighbors, though they may be composite characters, "fictive," as the front matter warns us, are far more distinctly drawn than Wormser's wife, Janet, or his two children, or even the author himself. Instead, it is poetry which is the real protagonist of this memoir, poetry "episodic, haphazard, and incredulous" that "honors the urgent pulse that can change in a moment and the turncoat heart that one second says one thing and a second later says the opposite." After quoting a poem by Li Po, Wormser writes: "To make feeling so tangible must be why poetry exists. Any day that I went for a walk in the woods, I could feel the spectacle of mutability, a spectacle that at once dwarfs our works of art and lends them such poignancy . . . As my wife and I walked on an abandoned dirt road in the faltering afternoon light, I could see myself as a wayfarer, a cousin of Li Po's. . . . "
This might sound like romanticism, but then so was the back to the land movement itself, as Wormser well knows. "We hadn't rejected everything the United States offered. Europeanized America was the place you ran off to. Once there you were free to start running off again in pursuit of whatever gimcrack scheme or notion inspired you. Like many thousands who lit out for the territory, we were seekers who were fleeing. That we didn't know what awaited us was part of the charm."
That we don't know what awaits us from page to page is also part of the charm of this book, which moves with the wayward harmony of a good poem to reveal the making of a poet. Agnes BushellBriefly Noted
In Shoutin' into the Fog: Growing Up on Maine's Ragged Edge (Islandport Press, Yarmouth; paperback; 320 pages; $15.95) Thomas Hanna chronicles his hardscrabble youth on Georgetown Island in the 1920s and '30s. Hanna pulls no punches about the small — and large — miseries of growing up in an impoverished family of ten, but his stories of hand-me-down shoes and dinners of raisins and rice are full of precise details and a surprising amount of good humor.
Maine's Visible Black History: The First Chronicle of Its People (Tilbury House Publishers, Gardiner; paperback; 429 pages; $35) is an in-depth history of the state's black citizens, written by Gerald E. Talbot — himself an eighth-generation black Mainer — and H.H. Price, along with a veritable army of contributors. Whether read from front to back or sampled at random, this weighty tome offers both the grand sweep of history and the telling detail of individual lives.
Much more than a cookbook, A1 Diner: Real Food, Recipes, and Recollections (Tilbury House Publishers, Gardiner; paperback; 120 pages; $20) by Sarah Rolph, weaves together the history of Gardiner's famous Worcester diner, tales of the lives of its owners and employees, and a collection of recipes from its most recent incarnation as an eclectic spot beloved by foodies near and far.Hot TipChips Ahoy
In retrospect, it was obvious: Aroostook County has staked its reputation on the potatoes harvested there each summer. So why not create an authentic potato chip using local spuds? That's exactly what Rhett Fox has done with his Fox Family Potato Chips (207-760-8400), which he makes by hand in Mapleton, just outside Presque Isle. Available in barbecue, salt and pepper, and plain, the chips are preservative-free and seriously addictive. You can pick up a bag or six at Trett's, the variety store in Mapleton owned by Fox and his family, which also serves as the chip manufacturing plant. And if your travel plans don't include a visit to the County, find the chips at grocers including Browne Trading Company in Portland, Oak Street Provisions in Boothbay Harbor, and the Cat'N Nine Tail General Store in Cape Neddick.GetawayBack to the Slopes in BethelSunday River's early snow provides a pre-holiday escape complete with country inns and fine food.
Skiers and snowboarders eager to hit the slopes and romantics yearning to cuddle fireside will find Bethel, cradled in the western mountains, a fine place to ease into winter.Lodging
Both the sprawling Bethel Inn & Country Club (Bethel Common; 207-824-2175; www.bethelinn.com
) and the classic Sudbury Inn (151 Main St.; 207-824-2174; www.sudburyinn.com
) ooze charm and have walk-to-everything locations and excellent dining rooms. A Prodigal Inn and Gallery (162 Mayville Rd./Rte. 2; 207-824-8884; www.prodigalinn.com
), a B-and-B, welcomes guests with elegant breakfasts and detailed bronze sculptures, crafted in the adjacent, humongous barn.Shops
Irresistible woolens, pottery, jewelry, and other fine goods beckon from Linda Clifford Scottish & Irish Merchant (91 Main St.; 207-824-6560; www.lindaclifford.com
). Bonnema Potters (146 Main St.; 207-824-2821) specializes in earthen colors accented with unusual designs and intriguing glazes. Gem-cutter and jewelry-designer Jim Mann's Mt. Mann Jewelers (57 Main St.; 207-824-3030) has an eye-popping selection of western Maine gemstones, a Maine mineral museum, and a crystal cave for kids.Food
Bethel a dining destination? Who knew! Pop into DiCocoa's Marketplace (119 Main St.; 207-824-6386) for coffee, scrumptious baked goodies, and light fare. Bethel's token Texans award enthusiastic thumbs-up to the Texas-style barbecue at the Good Food Store (Rte. 2; 207-824-3754). Way cool Great Grizzly/Matterhorn (292 Sunday River Rd.; 207-824-6271), a huge barn filled with ski and climbing memorabilia and other funky finds, draws families to the area's best pizzas, great pastas, steaks, and ongoing ski flicks.Activities
Stop by the Bethel Area Chamber of Commerce (Cross St.; 207-824-2282; www.bethelmaine.com
) to pick up a Walking Tour of Bethel Hill Village, which details the downtown Historic District. Dr. Moses Mason House (14 Broad St.; 207-824-2908; www.bethelhistorical.org
), with murals attributed to itinerant artist Rufus Porter or his nephew Jonathan Poor, is open by appointment. Tour the countryside, visiting the Artist's Covered Bridge (off Rte. 2) and looping out to Grafton Notch State Park (Rte. 26; Grafton Township; 207-824-2912; off-season 207-624-6080) to visit Screw Auger Falls, Mother Walker Falls, and Moose Gorge Cave (wear orange; it's hunting season) and to the crest of Route 26 in Upton for spectacular views over Lake Umbagog. Schussers rejoice: Sunday River (Sunday River Rd.; 207-824-3000; www.sundayriver.com
) anticipates opening Nov. 10.Après-ski scene
Locals favor the Sudbury Inn's Suds Pub, where the Thursday-night open-mic Hoot Night has been running for sixteen years. Great Grizzly/Matterhorn draws the Sunday River crowd. Sip a pint of the Jolly Drayman, a flavor of Merry Old England at the Briar-Lea (150 Mayville Rd./Rte. 2; 207-824-4717). Hilary Nangle