DININGGenuine WarmthFive-O Shore Road in Ogunquit is the sort of place where everyone knows your name.
On fine summer nights, you can spot Five-0 Shore Road without a glance at the street numbers: Just look for the line of folks gathered on the sidewalk waiting to get in. Some are waiting for a spot on the patio, where they'll enjoy appetizers, drinks, and some of Ogunquit's best people watching. Others pine for a seat in Five-0's chic dining room, where the floor-to-ceiling windows are flung open when the weather permits and the buttery yellow walls make even the gloomiest day bright.Donato Tramuto and Jeffrey Porter, a health-care executive and a human resources professional, respectively, have owned the restaurant near the head of Ogunquit's famous mile [see "Ogunquit's Miracle Mile," page 78] since 2004. The duo put a priority on warm hospitality and often man the front of the house to see to the details in person; one takes a diner's coat while the other delivers a birthday cake, candles blazing, to a table of eight.
And they've trained their wait staff well, with even the busmen making friendly conversation with diners who seem interested. On a recent visit, a request to delay dessert so we could finish our lovely bottle of Steele Pinot Noir was honored with a smile. Things may not be quite so flexible in the height of summer; however, Porter says Five-0 is dedicated to accommodating diners in any way possible. "We inherited a fun atmosphere, and wanted to make it a little better," he says. "We also wanted to focus on getting a great team together so that from stepping foot on the property to the time you leave, you have a great experience."
Unfortunately, Five-0's ambitions sometimes exceed its reach when it comes to the food. Porter describes the menu as "New England with Mediterranean influences," but it's a bit more chaotic than that. While fine-dining stalwarts such as pan-seared salmon and char-grilled filet mignon dominate, executive chef Zach Crosby likes to tweak the old stand-bys with Asian, Italian, and Indian touches. His rack of spring lamb, for example, is marinated in curry and Eastern spices, while the day-boat haddock is served over saffron anise risotto. That makes the menu a bit of a mish-mash, and leaves diners uncertain of the kitchen's strengths.
Crosby's infatuation with Asian influences — Porter confesses that he vetoed a Portland marketing firm's suggestion that the phrase "Asian fusion" be used to describe Five-0's menu - does yield some interesting results. His crabcakes, for instance, arrive on a bed of Asian slaw with a light, lively dressing and are accompanied by a wasabi cream sauce. Still, the server's warning to a nearby couple that the sauce was spicy was akin to alerting a diner that the butter knife is sharp - a bit more drama than conditions warrant. Meanwhile, a perfectly cooked filet mignon, accompanied with a rich, salty roasted garlic demi glace and a perfectly rounded scoop of crème fraiche thyme mashed potatoes, proved that the kitchen knows its way around a cut of beef. Yet the beef tenderloin tips in Crosby's upscale take on surf-and-turf arrived cooked quite a bit longer than the requested medium rare - inexcusable at any time, but most especially when the dish sets you back forty-two dollars.
And yet spending a few hours at Five-O is a pleasurable experience. The chic décor - glowing sconces and pendant lights, cherry chairs, and stylish geometric-patterned banquettes - and the hum of locals chattering in the lounge inspires you to linger over coffee and dessert. Indeed, a delicate pear tartlet served with a scoop of cinnamon gelato - handmade next door at Caffe Prego, Tramuto and Porter's casual Italian spot - and a luxurious peanut butter mousse cake are constructed with equal precision.
Though the missteps at Five-0 are worth noting - especially when a three-course meal for two comes to nearly two hundred dollars including tip - the warmth exuded by Tramuto, Porter, and their staff inspires you to give them a bit of leeway. And the restaurant should benefit as the leadership continues to gain experience; Porter says he and Tramuto are determined to be hands-on owners. "We wanted to be here on the premises and partake in the experience with our guests," he explains. "It's not just an investment, it's part of our lives."By Michaela CavallaroFive-0 Shore Road, in Ogunquit, serves dinner seven days a week from 5 p.m. Appetizers $4-$13, entrees $25-$42, desserts $8.50. Limited wheelchair accessibility. Reservations recommended. 207-646-5001. www.five-oshoreroad.com OUTDOORSLoop De Loop
Sitting in the mountains north of Bethel, the Grafton Notch area is something of a natural wonderland. Three of the state's most beautiful gorges can be found here, along with a series of spectacular waterfalls, several of Maine's tallest mountains, and a network of caves that comprise the most difficult mile of the Appalachian Trail. Until recently, though, campers wanting to explore the area had only one option - the AT. This led to heavy traffic on the trail and overcrowding in its shelters. A consortium of outdoor groups came together a few years back to address the situation and the result is the new Grafton Loop Trail
, a forty-two-mile, winding wilderness way that provides hikers with access to a half-dozen previously inaccessible mountains, seven new camping shelters, and a truly magnificent alternative to the AT. For more details, see www.outdoors.org
; search for "Grafton Notch."QUICK BITES
•Looking for the best pizza in the midcoast? You'll find it on Route 1 in Camden at The Restaurant at Cedar Crest
(115 Elm St., 207-236-7722). As the name suggests, the eatery is attached to the Cedar Crest Motel. The restaurant is a year-round locals' favorite for eight- to eighteen-inch pizzas with toppings ranging from sausage to prosciutto to barbecue sauce, as well as its hearty traditional breakfasts.
•What's even better than the prestigious honor recently bestowed upon Steve Corry, chef/owner of Five Fifty-Five
(555 Congress St., Portland, 207-761-0555, www.fivefifty-five.com
), by Food & Wine magazine [see page 74] is that Corry is keeping his focus on the loyal Maine diners who've supported his stylish restaurant from the start. Rather than letting summer tables be snatched up by the folks from away who swamped the phone lines after the magazine's announcement, Corry and his wife and business partner, Michelle, decided they'd only accept reservations a month in advance - a small price for Mainers to pay in return for some of the most creative, delicious cuisine around.By Michaela CavallaroGARDENINGA Natural Approach
There's something about a garden that calls out for a bit of decoration - some accessories to accent the beauty of the natural world. Still, you don't want something garish or unsightly, so you've got to make sure that whatever you choose will work in context. Take, for example, the rustic fences and furniture created by Anne Cox of Hedgerow Design. Made of natural materials, Cox's objects have a grace and modesty that will suit even the fussiest gardener. Perhaps it's no surprise, then, that Cox is also a landscape architect who has spent nearly the last decade creating and maintaining gardens throughout the midcoast. Describing her work as "elegantly wild and creative," Cox puts it all - gardens, furniture, and individual plants for sale - on display Tuesdays through Sundays from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. at Hedgerow Gardens
(8 Ridge Rd., Martinsville, 207-372-0655, www.hedgerowdesign.com
).BOOKSFrom AwayBrian Groh's debut novel explores a culture of privilege among Maine's summer visitors.
In the classic bild?ngsroman, or "novel of education," a young man leaves a small town and moves to the city to seek his fortune. Indiana author Brian Groh's gently (some will say, laxly) paced first novel, Summer People
(Ecco Press, New York; hardcover; 294 pages; $24.95), alters that pattern by chronicling an underachieving Clevelander's summer of frustrated love spent in an upscale Maine resort town.
College dropout Nathan Empson takes an ostensible leave of absence from his entry-level job cataloguing library books and proceeds to fictional Brightonfield Cove on Albans Bay - somewhere in the midcoast vacation belt - to become the companion and de facto caretaker of elderly widow Ellen Broderick, who departs Cleveland every year to "summer" in Maine.
Nathan narrates the novel in a wry, borderline-whiny slacker's voice that seems just right for a mildly gifted intellectual with designs on a career as a graphic novelist. He's a sometimes ingenuous, sometimes savvy observer of the culture of privilege he has entered; he recognizes it as "the scene I've been seeing in Lands' End catalogs all my life." (In an error that will raise eyebrows for Maine readers, Nathan - and Groh - surely mean to refer to L.L. Bean.) It's a cordial little world of yachting and cocktail parties, therapeutic kayaking, broiling salmon on outdoor grills - activities shared by sleek, aggressively healthy young people and "older, conservative men and women who valued dignity and discretion, and . . . also gossiped like fiends."
Brightonfield Cove is worlds away from Carolyn Chute's gritty dominion of dilapidated house trailers and expired hunting licenses. Yet it, too, has as many stories to conceal as it has to tell. For example, the regal, frequently distracted Ellen tends to wander directionless about her property - and the not-always-watchful Nathan is slower than the reader to realize that this nice old lady's fragility is part of a local fabric of loss and change.
The summer is darkened by the death of neighbor Carl Buchanan, who had loved Ellen unrequitedly for forty years. Episcopalian priest Eldwin Lowell, who is married to Buchanan's daughter, struggles to tailor his faith to frustrations caused by his wife's ceaseless grieving over her father's death.
And Nathan, reeling from the shock of having been dumped by his longtime girlfriend Sophie, keeps asking himself "whether he had reached the limits of human suffering."
Not quite, as it turns out. For Nathan's vacillating flirtation with Leah, the beautiful girl employed as nanny for the Lowells' children, is repeatedly interrupted by her apparent mood swings, the distinctly uncool concerns he expresses about safe sex, and the looming presence of "thuggish" summer regular Thayer. The latter is a muscular young hunk whose intimidating presence mocks and threatens Nathan's willowy physique and non-confrontational demeanor, and makes him the first (though, alas, not the only) likely rival for Leah's unpredictable affections.
A tabulation of all these interconnections may suggest that there's a lot going on in this novel. There is, and isn't. We are treated to a pair of house fires, a vigorous fistfight, a near drowning, and a mystery surrounding the earlier "accident" that may explain Ellen's circuitous wavering between her present confusion and a past that she seems determined to recapture.
So repetition is both inevitable and crucial, for the novel's central point is the wavering path toward understanding traced by Nathan. Yet Nathan still can't quite grasp the blessing implicit in Pastor Lowell's hopeful vision of "the possibility of the miraculous" attained by scrupulous attention to the obligations of the here and now.
Summer People may appeal most to readers who accept it as a "summer" book: a leisurely account of how we grow and change under the stimulations of acquaintances, relationships, and shared experiences and perceptions. There's a little of F. Scott Fitzgerald's Nick Carraway (of The Great Gatsby) in the "outsider" Nathan's cautious evaluations of the bright world into which he is almost, if not quite fully, welcomed. And I was reminded more than once of Thornton Wilder's novels (such as his unfinished Theophilus North), in which intuitive young men find their own sensibilities opening to new possibilities within the confines of essentially closed societies.
Acknowledging that he has been "long oppressed by a preoccupation with happiness," Nathan, at summer's end, accepts the necessity of settling for whatever life chooses to bring him. It's a muted victory, but a convincing note on which to end an agreeably thoughtful and provocative novel.By Bruce AllenBRIEFLY NOTED
Anyone who missed the chance to listen to Captain Jim Sharp spin a yarn aboard Adventure, the Gloucester fishing schooner-turned-Camden windjammer, will enjoy With Reckless Abandon: Memoirs of a Boat-Obsessed Life
(Devereux Books, Marblehead, Massachusetts; paperback; 272 pages; $18.95), Sharp's salty memoir. From the childhood bout with polio that left him with a limp ("I would discover to my amusement that landlubbers seem to delight in a limping seaman," Sharp says) to the tough decision to donate the aging ship to a nonprofit, Captain Sharp tells his story with a voice that makes readers feel as if he's regaling them from the ship's helm.ARTTrash to Treasure
When most people go to the dump, they see junk. But when Nate Nicholls, a.k.a. Recyclesculptor, looks at a discarded muffler or a rusty old wok, he sees a sea horse or a jellyfish. Even the welder Nicholls uses to make his quirky works of art was salvaged from the dump. At his Recycleart Gallery of Home and Garden Sculpture
(483 Bremen Rd., Waldoboro, 207-832-4938, www.myspace.com
) the fruits - or, rather, the animals of his labor are on view, from the gaping hippo head to the "Chimp Chump," whose visible seams make him all the more appealing. Nicholls is entirely self-taught and is quite attached to his works, many of which are not for sale. Whether you're in the market for a unique outdoor sculpture or just want an entertaining diversion, scope out the menagerie at Nicholls' home and gallery, just a mile or so off Route 1 in Waldoboro.GETAWAYEasy StreetBridgton's main drag is just the spot for a summer stroll.
Need an excuse for a summer idyll? Just thirty-five miles west of Portland, Bridgton boasts a brick-trimmed Main Street that's made for strolling after lazing about on Highland Lake, Moose Pond, or Long Lake.
Culinary options aren't fancy. The Black Horse Tavern
(26 Portland St., 207-647-5300) embodies casual elegance with a comfortable atmosphere and satisfying fare. Be transported from the Lakes region to Boston's North End at Venezia Ristorante
(251 North High St., 207-647-5333). Happy Days lives at Ricky's
(257 Main St., 207-647-2499) with its filling all-day breakfasts. Tiny Ken's Kove
(7 Main St., 207-647-3867) will set you up with a fried seafood plate or lobster roll to go; enjoy it at Highland Lake's beach picnic tables.
The water is never far. Relax at the hundred year-old Noble House
B-and-B (81 Highland Rd., 207-647-3733, www.noblehousebb.com
), which is tastefully decorated and warmly run. A tad off the beaten path, the cozy Pleasant View Two
bed-and-breakfast (118 Sam Ingalls Rd., 207-647-9578, www.pleasantview2.com
) boasts a perennial garden, wrap-around deck, and Shawnee Peak views. The beachfront Highland Lake Resort
(115 North High St., 207-647-5301, www.highlandlakeresort.com
) oozes that summer vacation feel, while waterside Grady's West Shore Motel
(177 North High St., 207-647-2284, www.megalink.net
), is compact and reasonably priced.
In the old church, Craftworks
(53 Main St., 207-647-5436) is stacked with gifts and expands in summer with seasonal ware. The reading is easy at the independent Bridgton Books, Inc
(140 Main St., 207-647-2122) with its sloping floor and wide selection of bargain books. The yellow 1811 Maine Difference
building houses a whimsy of offerings like Bailey's Coffee House, (82 Main St., 207-221-6440, www.baileyscoffeehouse.com
) and the unique home, food, and bath items of Sweet Peas Maine (207-647-5211, www.sweetpeasmaine.com
). Mingle with area artisans during monthly wine and cheese receptions at Gallery 302
(112 Main St., 207-647-2787, www.gallery302.org
) or stop in to see displays of paintings, wood, glass, and other media.
Go above the lakes and hike to the top of Pleasant Mountain or Bald Pate's rocky ledges, both under the auspices of the Loon Echo Land Trust
(1 Chase St., 207-647-4352, www.loonecholandtrust.org
). A blast from the past, the Bridgton Drive-in
(Route 302, 207-647-8666) is the town's outdoor moving picture show. Bridgton was the childhood home of painter and Scientific American founder Rufus Porter. His landscape murals are on display in the red Rufus Porter Museum
(67 North High St., 207-647-2828, www.rufusportermuseum.org
). When the sun goes down, the Big Kahuna Cafe
(270 Main St., 207-647-9031, www.thebigkahunacafe.com
) lights up with live blues, jazz, folk, and other tunes in a historic Main Street hall.By Marty BaschMUSICMaking Beautiful MusicAfter an uncertain start, the Bar Harbor Music Festival has charmed audiences for forty years.
Today, Francis Fortier is known for enlivening Mount Desert Island with a month of music. "My mission from the start," says the founder of the Bar Harbor Music Festival, "was something I learned from the great violinist Yehudi Menuhin: Make beautiful music in beautiful places."
But it wasn't entirely that lofty philosophy that brought the young violin student to Bar Harbor in the early 1960s. It was the quest for beer and pretty girls.
"My teacher at Juilliard, Joseph Fuchs, insisted that his students go up to Kneisel Hall in Blue Hill for the summer season," Fortier recalls, referring to the famed summer workshop for string students. "It was wonderful training, no doubt, but the place was run like a prison camp. We were young and restless and plotted our escape route every weekend. That route usually led to Bar Harbor, where we had a reasonable chance of meeting some girls and getting served a beer."
While searching for those treasures in downtown Bar Harbor, Fortier says, he discovered something else about the town. "I saw all these people, all these great places," he recalls, "and wondered, where is all the music?"
Had the young man been wandering the streets of Bar Harbor eighty years before, it was not a question he would have had to ask. In its heyday as a summer resort in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Bar Harbor hosted some of the finest musicians in the world, including the famed conductor Leopold Stokowski, who would bring his entire orchestra to play at the Arts Building, a veritable Grecian temple perched on a grassy sward on the Cromwell Harbor Road.
But two world wars and the great fire that roared across Mount Desert Island in 1947 put an end to those carefree days of conspicuous consumption and highbrow cultural pursuits. In the 1960s, Bar Harbor was still trying to literally and figuratively rise out of the ashes and find a new identity for itself. The main streets of town, once lined with fancy furriers, dress shops, jewellers, gourmet grocers, and other businesses that catered to the wealthy carriage trade had largely given way to T-shirt emporiums and souvenir shops that relied on the traffic of day-trippers. Except for the sparsely attended dinner dances at the Bar Harbor Club with the Harry Marshard Band, pizza parlor juke boxes and the occasional local rock and rollers provided most of the musical accompaniment for that era.
It was the Bar Harbor Club that eventually became the site of Fortier's first foray into the music festival business. In July and August 1964, he brought a couple of good pianists and a string quartet to town for a series of eight concerts, all of which were fairly well attended. "Well, the contemporary classical concert was something of a bust," Fortier confesses. "But a generous patron heard about that and wrote us a check for five hundred dollars, so I was able to pay each of the musicians a hundred dollars."
In the following years, Fortier hoped to see an equivalent of what he had experienced in European towns like Salzburg, Austria, and Bath, England, where a music festival is the centerpiece of the town's season, with restaurants and hotels and other businesses housing and feeding the musicians who entertained their numerous visitors. Instead, in 1969 Fortier got a local businessman proclaiming to the Bar Harbor Times, "The Bar Harbor Festival is dead."
Other critics were far more blunt. "I loathe second-rate prima donnas," huffed one wealthy summer resident, referring to Fortier, despite the fact that the violinist had recently been named "Outstanding Young Artist" by High Fidelity magazine and received the prestigious Bath Festival award. Meanwhile the concert reviews by the Bangor Daily News' notoriously savage Robert Newell, while not massacres, did not leave the festival's young artists unscathed.
Still, the naysayers were equally matched by those who saw what a splendid opportunity the festival was for the town. In those early years, Fortier received enough encouragement from people whose opinions mattered to him — and whose donations backed their opinions — to fill the sails of his little festival for another year, and then another year. Even the New York Times helped breathe a little life into the venture when a writer commented that he was inclined to believe Fortier when he insisted that his was not "the vision of some mad young musician."
Finally, after a generous donor stepped forward to back the sixth season, the Bar Harbor Music Festival became a legitimate annual event in the collective mind of the community. It had transformed itself from "that" festival to "our" festival.
These days, Fortier has plenty to be proud of. In any given season of the Bar Harbor Music Festival the schedule might include a classical brass ensemble, a couple of duelling Irish tenors, an up-and-coming young composer, a pianist from New York or Moscow, a Dixieland jazz band, a pops concert or an afternoon tea recital, a full string orchestra concert, a partially staged opera, and Fortier himself on his three hundred-year-old Stradivarius violin.
In fact, it's hard to imagine July in Bar Harbor without the festival, which now offers fourteen concerts a season - including an opera performance. "When I think about the hundreds of young musicians and composers who have come through here on their way to some extraordinarily successful careers," Fortier says, "and the thousands of audience members who have had the chance to see them perform in our beautiful, intimate Bar Harbor settings, I know - while there may have been some madness involved - that it has all been worth the effort."
And, once again, one is inclined to believe him.By Nan LincolnThe Bar Harbor Music Festival opens its forty-first anniversary season June 30 with a performance by Brass Venture. Events continue at venues across town through July 29. For details, see www.barharbormusicfestival.org