DiningStyle and SubstanceThe Wescott Forge in Blue Hill offers creative food in an unpretentious setting.
Like many of the best restaurateurs, Anneliese Riggall, proprietor of the Wescott Forge, had always dreamed of having her own restaurant. After catering in Boston and San Francisco and running restaurants in New York, Riggall was drawn to Blue Hill in 2004, not only for its scenic beauty but also for its lively arts scene.She fell in love with an old building that was once the town's blacksmith shop, and, after extensive renovations, sought out local artists to help decorate the restaurant space and found local musicians, who often perform in the Forge's upstairs bar. Riggall and chef Mickey Jowders also tap into the pool of talented culinary artisans on the peninsula — growers and producers — looking to their superb fresh, local ingredients for inspiration when creating their seasonal menus.
The atmosphere at the Wescott Forge is easy and welcoming — stylish without being in the least pretentious. The downstairs dining room is quiet and romantic, offering fireside dining or seating overlooking the lovely granite-lined mill stream/fire pond; the bar space upstairs is more informal and contemporary. And in summer, a seat at the agreeable street-side patio gains you access to the most coveted spot in town. Inside, the walls hang with framed blow-ups of old black and white photographs of Blue Hill.
"My goal was to become an integral part of this community and to attract a diverse clientele, with atmosphere and food appealing to all ages and to year-rounders as well as to visitors. I might describe our menu as contemporary eclectic American with innovative Mediterranean and Asian influences," says Riggall. "And it keeps evolving. For instance, after our first summer we added several lighter items to the lunch menu that would have appeal to female patrons."
So, while the Forge Burger, a patty of prime aged Black Angus beef served with homemade potato chips, remains a hugely popular lunch choice, you can also choose a fabulous seared yellowfin tuna ni?oise, with olives, hard-boiled egg, green beans, roasted corn, and anchovies. A flavorful shrimp quesadilla with avocado, red pepper, and lime vinaigrette is another good bet, although the presentation leaves a bit to be desired. Lunch entrees range from $8 to $12 and are served with a complimentary cup of always delicious soup or a green salad.
At dinner, some of the Forge's signature starters (averaging $8 to $10) are a salad of field greens and pea shoots with Sunset Acres' wonderful fresh chevre and a sprightly lemon-herb vinaigrette. A lobster salad with double-smoked bacon and a truffle-scented vinaigrette judiciously balances the meat of sweet local lobster with the stronger flavors. Steamed mussels with chorizo — a portion generous enough to serve at least two — is another excellent choice.
Spring brings not only the first pea shoots but also purslane (a juicy wild green with a lemony tang) from nearby Wind and Sun Farm, and it inspires the chef to create the lovely steamed halibut wrapped in Swiss chard, served on a bed of the purslane accompanied by tiny new potatoes. A salmon roulade encases delicate local crabmeat and does justice to both seafoods, while a great meat preparation is the Forge's grilled hanger steak, which is accompanied by gorgonzola skillet potatoes (of which never any speck remains on my plate). At least one vegetarian entrée is always featured. A recent winner was Moroccan-spiced chickpea stew, brilliantly sparked by the smokiness of grilled fennel and topped with a refreshing cucumber raita. Dinner entrées are in the $18 to $25 range.
Try to save room for one of the Forge's innovative house-made desserts. Their raspberry napoleon is brittle buttery phyllo layered with chantilly cream and fresh raspberries. While Mandarin orange crepes might sound old-fashioned, here the delicate, eggy crepes are drizzled with bittersweet chocolate ganache.
Before opening the Wescott Forge, Anneliese Riggall ran Thrumcap in Bar Harbor for several years. That's where she learned a lot about wine and food pairings — a marriage that is also emphasized here. Riggall works closely with Blue Hill Wine Shop owner Max Treitler to find unusual and moderately priced varietals, many of which are available by the glass. Riggall says, "I like for people to be able to taste less-well-known wines and to compare them — for instance a Riesling with a Viognier."
Although the Wescott Forge has only been on the scene for a couple of seasons, the restaurant has radiated professionalism right from the start. The look and feel of the place — not to mention the innovative top-quality food — are all the hallmarks of success. —Brooke Dojny
Open April through February, serving dinner Tuesday through Saturday in winter. During the summer, lunch and dinner are served Monday through Saturday. 66 Main St., Blue Hill. 207-374-9909. www.thewescottforge.com MAINE MADEOn the Waterfront
When Gorham resident Brian Fish was pondering what to call his company, he wanted the name to convey the feeling you get when you sink into the beach chair he designed. Thus, Oh Yeah Comfy (www.ohyeahcomfy.com
, 207-807-4940). Made from sustainably harvested Brazilian cherry hardwood, the chairs are built to withstand years of beachfront lounging and lakeside reading. They've got wide arms, complete with cupholder, and a high back to support your head. Fish hand-finishes, assembles, and packages the chairs himself, but he somehow found the time to brainstorm a new model, scheduled to launch this spring. While the original beach chair ($169.95) sits just ten inches off the ground, the new Oh Yeah Comfy deck chair ($195) will provide you with a lofty eighteen inches of clearance. Now if only he could supply the vacation time necessary to enjoy it. . . .HANDS-ONAntiques 101
John Bottero knows what an antique is. Perhaps more importantly, he knows what is not an antique. And luckily for those of us confused by such things, he's happy to share his knowledge. A vice president, auctioneer, and appraiser at the Thomaston Place Auction Galleries and owner of the Nobleboro Antique Exchange, Bottero is teaching a four-week course in antiques at the Great Salt Bay School in Damariscotta beginning April 12 ($30; 207-563-2811). "One of the things we do in Antiques for Beginners is highlight the difference between antiques, collectibles, and just decorative objects," he says. "We look at what gives things value." The class will cover the relative worth of furniture, glass, china, art, prints, textiles, and collectibles, and delve into the history that shaped them. And — shades of Antiques Roadshow — students can even bring in items from home to be appraised.BooksRum, Romanism, and RebellionNeil Rolde tackles the checkered career of presidential contender James G. Blaine.
James Gillespie Blaine of Maine, one of America's towering statesmen during the second half of the nineteenth century, is perhaps best remembered today for losing the presidency in an uncharacteristic moment of inattention.
Neil Rolde's book Continental Liar From the State of Maine: James G. Blaine (Tilbury House, Gardiner; paperback; 384 pages; $20) is a long overdue retelling of Blaine's remarkable story, from his presence at the creation of the Republican Party in the 1850s through his progression through the ranks as state party chairman, state legislator, member of Congress, House Speaker, U.S. senator, secretary of state, and presidential hopeful.
The book opens in 1884 with the Blaine family and their Augusta neighbors receiving the thrilling news that Blaine had won the Republican nomination for president. This was a time when presidential candidates did not attend party conventions or campaign directly for nomination; they waited at home for the news to be formally delivered.
Months later, during a last minute campaign rally in New York City, Blaine stood by as the Reverend Samuel Burchard, speaking for a group of Protestant ministers, pledged support for him and condemned the Democrats as "the party whose antecedents have been rum, Romanism, and rebellion." Blaine's failure to disassociate himself from this alliterative slur against Irish Catholics — he was widely reported to have uttered the remark himself — cost him the election.
Although inextricably identified with the state that rhymes with his name, Blaine was actually a native of Pennsylvania. He moved to Maine in his mid-twenties after marrying Harriet Stanwood, a schoolteacher from Augusta, and quickly established himself as an important business and political figure in the state.
With financial backing from his wife's family, he became part owner and editor of the Kennebec Journal, a position he used to boost the fortunes of the GOP and to promote government printing contracts for his newspaper when Republicans took control of the State House. Rolde comments that this gave Blaine his first taste of earning money — legitimately — through the political process. It was an impulse that would come to define and haunt a long and otherwise distinguished career.
Blaine spent much of his public life defending himself against charges of corruption, of trading political favors for railroad stock and other sources of ready cash. His often brilliant defensive tactics were only partly successful, however, and the country at large remained divided over whether he was the ethically challenged "Continental Liar" of the book's title or the spotless "Plumed Knight" (another popular Blaine sobriquet), hurling the lance of righteous indignation at politically motivated accusers.
Rolde quotes Charles Edward Russell, a political reporter who covered Blaine for the New York Herald and published a posthumous biography of him in 1931: "No other man in our annals has filled so large a space and left it so empty."
The perverse ambiguity of that assessment is reflected throughout this new biography. It may help explain how someone with such charisma, intellect, and natural leadership ability could dominate the American political scene so thoroughly and yet come to be relatively unknown today, even in Maine.
Perhaps Blaine's most lasting accomplishments were achieved as U.S. secretary of state, a post he held twice. His first term ended with the assassination of Garfield by a disappointed office-seeker who once had plotted to shoot Blaine as well. His second term was longer, from 1889-1892, under President Benjamin Harrison.
As a political leader and statesman, Blaine flourished during a period of enormous growth in our nation. As a protectionist, an expansionist, and a founder of the modern Pan-American movement, he established policies that set the stage for the United States to become a major world power entering the twentieth century.
Neil Rolde is becoming Maine's most prolific pop historian, tackling subjects ranging from the philanthropic Baxter family to the state's Indian heritage. Continental Liar may not be his best writing — the narrative style frequently seems murky, which could be a consequence of the complex period he tries to illuminate — but it is a well-researched book that gives a sturdy, balanced portrait of one of the historical giants of American politics. —Jim BrunelleHot TipQuiet, Please
Maybe it's because of all that whispering, but libraries don't tend to excel at spreading the word about their myriad offerings. Take the Portland Public Library (5 Monument Square, 207-871-1700, www.portlandlibrary.com
) for instance. Its Portland Room, tucked away on the library's third floor, is home to an extensive collection of Maine historical records, including town histories, Portland city directories for nearly the last two hundred years, Maine newspapers, and much more. And then there's the Joanne Waxman Library at the Maine College of Art (522 Congress Street, 207-775-5153, library.meca.edu
). Located on the second floor of the Porteous building, the gorgeously appointed library is the perfect place to hide out and work on your novel sans interruption (the public is welcome). And, yes, it's got an impressive collection of art books, too.GetawayBar Harbor on a BudgetPlaying rusticator on Mount Desert Island
can be surprisingly affordable.
Once the tony retreat of wealthy families like the Vanderbilts and Rockefellers, Bar Harbor has since become something of a bargain, provided you know when to visit (late May and June) and where to avoid (tourist hangouts).DINING
The best way to eat on the cheap in Bar Harbor is to eschew the obvious. Follow the locals to Reel Pizza (33 Kennebec Pl., 207-288-3828, www.reelpizza.net
), where you can grab a slice and a brew while you watch Johnny Depp onscreen, or better yet haul a pie outside and eat it on the Village Green. Wandering a bit farther off the beaten track will land you at Lompoc Café (36 Rodick St., 207-288-9392, www.lompoccafe.com
), where a game of bocce pairs nicely with an Indonesian tempeh wrap. If you're heading out for a hike you can stock up on inexpensive trail food at The Alternative Market (16 Mt. Desert St., 207-288-8225). And just because you're watching your pennies doesn't mean you should deny yourself a few guilty pleasures; Ben & Bill's Chocolate Emporium (66 Main St., 207-288-3281, www.benandbills.com
), will satisfy any sweet tooth.LODGING
The cheapest and most authentic place to stay on MDI isn't actually in Bar Harbor at all: Blackwoods Campground (five miles south of town on Route 3, 800-365-2267, www.nps.gov/
acad). Where else can you smell the Atlantic for twenty dollars a night? If you require a roof over your head try Hanscom's Motel & Cottages (273 State Highway 3, 207-288-0039 [off- season], 207-288-3744 [in-season], www.hanscomsmotel.com
), still quite reasonable for water access. Wonder View Inn & Suites (50 Eden St., 207-288-3358, www.wonderviewinn.com
), offers standard motel rooms, but it's worth splurging on the Ledgelawn Inn (66 Mt. Desert St., 207-288-4596, www.ledgelawninn.com
), one of the only homes in town to escape the great fire of 1947.SHOPS
A strict budget probably shouldn't allow any shopping, but check out the local crafts at Island Artisans (99 Main St., 207-288-4214, www.islandartisans.com
), or convince yourself that a basket from Gooseberry Hollow (119 Main St., 207-288-5419, www.gooseberryhollow.com
) is more an essential tool than an extravagance. If you missed the L.L. Bean outlet in Ellsworth, Cadillac Mountain Sports (26 Cottage St., 207-288-4532, www.cadillacsports.com
) can deck you out in Gore-Tex.ACTIVITIES
The best deal in Maine has got to be the early-season, week-long Acadia National Park pass, just ten bucks until late June. Consider it your ticket to the greatest playground in America. Grab a copy of the park's Beaver Log for a listing of ranger-led programs that explain Acadia's geology, wildlife, and history.Us
e it to check the tide, too, so you can judge when you have time to hoof it out to Bar Island, at the end of Bridge Street, without getting marooned. For a full-day excursion, the Beal & Bunker Mail Boat (207-244-3575) to the Cranberry Islands from Northeast Harbor will let you sample island living. —Joshua F. MooreFamily FunFamily StyleSummer camp isn't just for kids anymore.
Every year, Ralph Ringler heads off to summer camp in Washington, Maine. He sleeps in a cabin, meets up with his best friend from last year, swims at the shore, goes to the campfire sings, visits his favorite counselors, and does all those other things that make summer camp a Down East tradition — and an idyllic vacation.
"The lake is beautiful and there are so many things to do," he says enthusiastically. "Photography, land sports, kayaking — it's a neat place."
Sounds like the sort of camp experience any kid would love, right? It is. But Ralph Ringler is actually a grown-up advertising executive from Baltimore, Maryland, and when he ventures north to Medomak Family Camp, on the shore of Washington Pond, he brings his wife and son and daughter with him.
"I've been going back with my family for eleven years now," Ringler says. "It's a really great environment for the kids. They have a sense of freedom there, and the camp is beautifully laid out."
The camp sprawls across 250 acres, with its own sandy cove and a mile of frontage on Washington Pond, a small blue basin between Augusta and Camden. It has all of the hallmarks of the summer camps of old — the boundless outdoors, the cabins, the beach, the archery, the arts and crafts, the canoeing and water sports, the stargazing, the mess hall, and the evening campfire.
Families move in to the one-room cabins for a week in high summer, and each day at camp has a sort of structure to it. Morning coffee is followed by a walk for adults, breakfast is served family style in the farmhouse, and then activities take place until lunch. Afternoons usually find everyone down by the water; after dinner are games like kickball or scavenger hunts; and in the evening people gather to sing camp songs.
Perhaps most appealing for adults is that participation in all of this is optional. Don't feel like making a Gimp bracelet? Don't have to. "It's great because a parent can follow their kid around all day if they want," says the camp's Maureen Skelly. "Or if they want to read a book on the porch of their cabin, they can go do that, too."
This is one aspect of Medomak that Ralph Ringler truly appreciates. "It's a wonderful place to spend time with the family," he says. "But because there are counselors looking after your kids, you don't need to worry about them. The kids feel like it's their place. You can go off and do something on your own if you want."
Holly Stone went to Medomak as a girl in the sixties, becoming head counselor in the seventies. When she discovered that the camp had been sold to a church and had fallen into disrepair, she felt compelled to buy it. Camp Medomak had been started as a farming camp for boys in 1904 and went coed in the sixties. Generations of kids went there, spending halcyon days outdoors on the lake, and Stone didn't want to see that end. She and her husband bought the property at auction in the mid-nineties and set about bringing it back.
"Holly and some alumni had work parties in the summer," says Skelly, who was also a former camper. "They'd spend the mornings restoring the buildings and spend afternoons with their families, enjoying the place. They all had such a good time they said, 'We don't want this to just be a kids' summer camp. We want to come back with our families.' " Thus, in 1995, Medomak Family Camp was born.
Whatever magic was there in the good old days, Stone and her alumni friends managed to distill into the present. "Physically the place is much the same as it was when I was a kid," says Ralph Ringler, who went there for nine years as a boy. "The lake is unchanged, and the whole place has maintained the look and feel. Holly and George have done a wonderful job. There's just something about the place that is very warm and genuine."
Kids' camps are famous for the fast friendships that develop, and Medomak is no different. When Ringler was a boy here he met a buddy from Connecticut. Now every summer they both come back, families in tow. And unlike at summer camps of yore, parents don't even have to force the kids to go. "Our kids love it," says Anne Allen, a mother of two from South Berwick. "Our oldest boy wants to be a counselor there. Before we discovered Medomak we sent him to a boys' camp. We've never sent him back." The camp has that sort of tug, the kind of draw that compels you to return year after year — no matter how old you are.
"Why should the kids have all the fun?" Allen laughs. "If you go once to Medomak, you go back." —Andrew Vietze
For dates, rates, and details visit www.medomakcamp.com
or call 301-854-9100 before June 15, 207-845-6001 after.