DiningA Grand ExperimentChef Sean Doherty brings a sense of adventure to Apollo's Bistro in Waterville.
Twelve years ago, when I first moved to Maine to take a job at Colby College, I received many helpful handouts, including a sheet of paper from my new employer listing Waterville-area restaurants. McDonald's and Wendy's were mentioned with no apparent sense of irony.
This hardly seemed like good news, but locals assured me there were finds to be had, if I searched them out."I tried [Restaurant X] this weekend," another newcomer told me one day.
"How was it?" I asked hopefully.
"It was vile."
Well, in Waterville the times, they are a-changin'. A number of good places have cropped up in recent years, and now there's the innovative Apollo's Bistro, where chef Sean Doherty is producing meals that rival the best of what you might find in Portland - or New York, for that matter.
Some restaurants are a place to grab a nice meal before a movie, and some restaurants are an event in and of themselves. Apollo's Bistro is clearly the latter. On a recent night, friends and I stepped up a long staircase to the second floor of the large Victorian home in which Apollo's Bistro is located. Off the landing were several pretty rooms with white-linened tables and brown walls adorned with dramatic gold drapes. We shared everything we ordered, as we chatted about how my friend's daughter used to play dolls in the room that bordered the one in which we were sitting. In the not too distant past, the restaurant was a single family home owned by a local physician.
We started with a smoky split pea soup (featuring pork the chef had smoked himself); a delicious green salad topped with pomegranate seeds and a sweet passion fruit vinaigrette; and a crisp but light crab cake, around which pooled a bright green cilantro-lime mayonnaise.
If you ask chef Sean Doherty what kind of food he serves, he'll say he "has a huge respect for tradition" or that he's "post-fusion" or even that he's "not frightened of molecular gastronomy and changing textures of food." In the end, he means that he's eager to combine the flavors and textures of different cuisines to create a visually appealing plate that offers an intriguing, if not altogether expected, balance of tastes.
Our main courses were evidence of Doherty's success. The richness of a hanger steak served with earthy mushroom bread pudding was offset with fresh asparagus. A lemony sole was served atop a creamy spinach-crab risotto and accompanied by simple steamed carrots. The desserts were similarly composed: a light lavender crème br\0xFBlée with the classic burnt sugar finish came with buttery shortbread cookies. A dense chocolate walnut torte was served with a surprisingly tasty beet gelato and crystallized blood orange peel.
Doherty clearly knows food, but he also knows Waterville. His culinary ideas are grounded in the products he can get locally, and his culinary forays are related to his understanding of the Waterville clientele, which he sees as becoming increasingly sophisticated since the early nineties, when he tried - unsuccessfully - to serve arugula at the Waterville Country Club. On a recent night at Apollo's, he offered a dry-aged short loin steak, a main course that sold out even though it was priced at a whopping $46. (Main courses otherwise run from $18-$24.)
Doherty is a local talent, as is Keli Kenyon, Apollo's Bistro's owner. They both grew up in Waterville, and their families were friends. Over the years, the duo kept in touch as Kenyon, with the encouragement of friend and investor Kevin Joseph, realized her dream of opening a restaurant. Meanwhile, Doherty played guitar in bands and worked in restaurants in Florida, Boston, New York, and Los Angeles. Later, he earned a degree from Atlantic Culinary Academy's Le Cordon Bleu program.
Kenyon seems particularly proud that Apollo's reflects her tastes while being an "unstuffy" place to visit. Some of the communal feel may stem from the bistro being very much a family affair, located as it is above Apollo's Day Spa, where Kenyon's mother and many of her eight siblings work. On any given night, one sister may stop by to help with the dishes, while a brother may be delivering root vegetables from his organic farm.
"I wanted my restaurant to be different than anything else in town," Kenyon says - and it is, especially given Doherty's experimentation.
"It's all about keeping it fun," Doherty says. "Keeping it fun and keeping it challenging." Challenging for the chef, that is. For the diner willing to pay for an unusual and creative dinner, it's all too easy to enjoy Apollo's Bistro. debra spark
Apollo's Bistro, at 91 Silver St. in Waterville, is open for dinner Tuesday through Saturday year-round from 6 - 11 p.m. First courses $4-$11, main courses $18-$24, desserts $5-$8. Not handicap accessible. Reservations suggested, 207-872-8736 www.apollosalonspa.com HOT TIPBehind the Garden Gate
Right in the middle of Portland there are gardens hidden everywhere: pocket gardens, container gardens, clandestine flowerbeds, all blossoming in the early summer sun, tucked away behind buildings and hidden by fences. On June 23 flower-o-philes will have a chance to see about a dozen of the best of these during the Secret Gardens of Portland tour sponsored by the PROP Senior Volunteers ($15 in advance, $18 day of the event, 207-773-0202). "It's really interesting to get a chance to see what's behind a fence you've driven by for years," says Susan Lavigne, who organizes the event, now in its fifth year, on behalf of the People's Regional Opportunity Program. "There are lots of secrets and lots of surprises," Lavigne says, but she won't reveal the highlights. For that, you have to buy a ticket, which serves as a map of the tour.BooksSpinning the GoodA new biography of Helen Nearing suggests the lifestyle she and husband Scott espoused was not all it was cracked up to be.
The trouble with holding yourself up as a paragon of ethical virtue is that sooner or later someone is going to try to knock you off your pedestal.
Helen Nearing, the subject of a slight new biography by University of Maine adjunct assistant professor Margaret O. Killinger, was world-famous as one half of the dynamic duo of Scott and Helen Nearing, back-to-the-land gurus who detailed their attempt to live off the land, first in the mountains of Vermont and then on the coast of Maine, in the pioneering homesteading classics The Maple Sugar Book (1950) and Living the Good Life (1954). Helen Nearing also proselytized on behalf of the couple's spartan lifestyle on Cape Rosier in a subsequent series of how-we-do-it books, among them Continuing the Good Life (1979), Simple Food for the Good Life (1980), Wise Words for the Good Life (1980), and Loving and Leaving the Good Life (1992).
The Nearings probably attracted as many homesteading hippies to the Blue Hill peninsula by their writings and their presence as E.B. White and his wife, Katherine Angell White, did wannabe gentlemen farmers with their writings in The New Yorker. Where the Whites were models of culture, the Nearings were paragons of counterculture.
In The Good Life of Helen K. Nearing (University of Vermont Press/University Press of New England; hardcover; 176 pages, $28), Killinger does not so much debunk the Nearings' "good life" as she "dispels certain myths but upholds the basic integrity of the good life that Helen Nearing created, promoted, and lived."
At 176 pages, The Good Life of Helen K. Nearing seems like half a book, a rather workman-like account of Nearing's remarkable life that, from the copious notes and bibliography, suggests a PhD thesis more than a true biography. The primary virtues of Killinger's life of Helen are the straightforward narrative approach and an apparent attempt to walk an objective line somewhere between the openly critical and the reverential. Both the latter paths have already been followed by other writers on Nearing.
The job of knocking the Nearings off their pedestal was done by former Bangor Daily News reporter and political candidate Jean Hay Bright in Meanwhile, Next Door to the Good Life (2003), a documentary account of Bright's own homesteading experience on Cape Rosier that detailed the Nearings' finances, revealing that the good life was subsidized by inherited money. The job of sanctifying Helen Nearing was attempted by her friend Ellen LaConte in On Light Alone: A Guru Meditation of the Good Death of Helen Nearing (1996). Helen Nearing died in 1995 in an automobile accident while racing to the movies in Ellsworth; LaConte, a Nearing disciple and deep ecologist, went to great and loving pains to turn what some might see as a senseless tragedy into something of a mystical event.
Killinger does a fine job of limning the outlines of Helen Nearing's life, from her early wanderings as a disciple of Theosophy and her romantic liaison with the mystic Jiddu Krishnamurti to her political awakening under the Old Left radical Scott Nearing and the Nearings' subsequent cultivation of a life outside of mainstream society. Killinger's respectful indictment of Nearing amounts to the fact that she tended to romanticize the good life.
"Her version of their story," writes Killinger, "idealized their homesteading experiment, omitting truths about profitable land sales and obscuring facts regarding the extent to which others helped them with their project."
Not only did the Nearings have undisclosed inherited money and money from land sales, Killinger reports, but Helen Nearing also failed to mention in her writings on self-sufficiency such minor details as the fact that someone else did most of the work on their stone house, that they never made any money from their "cash crop" of blueberries, that the Nearings' vegan diet required them to take B12 shots, and that Helen's account of Scott Nearing's much vaunted and self-willed "good death" in 1983 at age one hundred "completely excluded Nancy Berkowitz, a principal caregiver to Nearing throughout his dying process."
The Helen Nearing who emerges from the pages of Margaret Killinger's biography is a complex and contradictory character, a pastoral idealist and a vigorous self-promoter, a difficult woman but, nonetheless, an inspiration to many. By Edgar Allen BeemPractical NerderyOnline Weathermen
Let's face it: computers have opened up new ways to procrastinate. But for boaters, surfers, and anyone else interested in what's happening out on the big blue, computers now provide immediate access to weather conditions as far offshore as the Grand Banks or as near as Penobscot Bay. Want to know how hard the wind is blowing out on Casco Bay? Surf over to www.gomoos.org
and click on one of the eleven buoys maintained by the Gulf of Maine Ocean Observing System, not to mention the nineteen other stations operated by either Bowdoin College or the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association, and you'll have all the data necessary to decide if it's time to tuck in a reef or throw on a wetsuit. Every hour the buoys transmit data about wind speed and direction, visibility, wave conditions, and air temperature. They'll even help if you've gone offline; call 888-701-8992 and enter the station number and a computer-generated voice will relay the same information.Briefly Noted
• An Unexpected Forest
, published by our affiliate, Down East Books (hardcover; 328 pages; $22.95), is the tale of a former hospital attorney whose life takes an unexpected turn when a thousand black spruce seedlings inexplicably show up in his yard. The first novel by Peaks Island resident Eleanor Lincoln Morse, An Unexpected Forest is an engaging look at four somewhat quirky characters whose lives become intertwined in the process of dealing with the seedlings.
• Speaking of quirky:
there's simply no other word to describe World Voyagers: The True Story of a Veterinarian, a Renaissance Man, and Stewart the Cat (Book Orchard Press, Georgetown; 430 pages; $29.95). Categorized on its back cover as belonging to genres including travel, humor, nonfiction, pets, and nautical, the weighty self-published tome covers in great detail the three-year circumnavigation of Iwalani, the traditional sailboat Phil Shelton and Amy Wood built in Georgetown.GetawayThe Great LakesThe Belgrade Lakes region is the perfect spot for a warm-weather idyll.
It's been more than twenty-five years since playwright Ernest Thompson's On Golden Pond captured the nostalgic ease and life-in-the-slow-lane pace of the Belgrade Lakes, yet the region remains an unaffected and idyllic summer classic. The mailboat still plies the waters; children's camps pepper the shores; loon cries replace the kids' shrieks each evening; and the rustic charms and natural beauty remain unspoiled.RECREATION
Join Captain Norm Shaw aboard the Great Pond Mail Boat
(207-215-7520) or explore the lakes on your own with a rental from Great Pond Marina
(Rte. 27, Belgrade Lakes, 207-495-2213, www.greatpondmarina.com
) or Belgrade Canoe & Kayak
(Rte. 27, Belgrade, 207-495-2005,www.belgradekayakandcanoe.com
). Tee off or simply admire the panoramic views from the Belgrade Lakes Golf Club
(West Rd., Belgrade Lakes, 207-495-4653, www.belgradelakesgolf.com
). Pick up the Belgrade Regional Conservation Alliance's Trail Map and Guide at Day's Store
(Main St., Belgrade Lakes, 207-495-2205), and set off for French Mountain, in the 6,100-acre Kennebec Highlands, or Mount Phillips.ENTERTAINMENTNew England Music Camp
faculty and students present concerts at the lakeside Bowl-in-the-Pines (8 Goldenrod Rd., Sidney, 207-465-3025, www.nemusiccamp.com
). Bring your shiny roller skates and key to Sunbeam Roller Rink
(Rte. 8, Smithfield, 207-362-4951), on the edge of North Pond.LODGING
Romantics retreat to Wings Hill Inn & Restaurant
(Rte. 27, Belgrade Lakes, 866-495-2400, www.wingshillinn.com
), a two-hundred-year-old farmhouse-turned-inn on the village edge, with six guestrooms and the area's best fine-dining restaurant. Swim, canoe, or fish Messalonskee Lake from the backyard of the octagon-shaped Pressey House Lakeside Bed and Breakfast
(32 Belgrade Rd., Oakland, 207-465-3500, www.presseyhouse.com
). The creaky, comfortably cluttered Yeaton Farm Inn
(298 West Rd., Belgrade, 207-495-7766, www.yeatonfarminn.com
), set upon forty country acres, welcomes kids and friendly dogs. Occupying all of tiny Castle Island, a blip on the causeway dividing Long Lake, is Castle Island Camps
(Castle Island Rd., Belgrade Lakes, 207-495-3312, www.castleislandcamps.com
), an old-style sporting camp geared to anglers, but popular with families. A wee bit fancier is Bear Spring Camps
(60 Jamaica Point Rd., Rome, 207-397-2341, www.bearspringcamps.com
), situated on four hundred wooded acres overlooking Great Pond.FOOD
Who'da thunk a sporting camp would serve fare such as Cajun haddock with shrimp etouffee sauce or crab cakes with Thai peanut sauce? You'll have to call in advance to book one of the few seats available to non-guests at Alden Camps
(3 Alden Camps Cove, Oakland, 207-465-7703, www.aldencamps.com
). For lighter fare, detour down by the old millstream to The Olde Post Office Café
(366 Pond Rd., Mount Vernon, 207-293-4978), overlooking Minnehonk Lake. Two women named Wendy with two labs and too many similarities operate The Lazy Lab Café
(Rte. 27, 81 Main St., Belgrade Lakes, 207-495-2872, www.lazylabcafe.com
), a local favorite for breakfast, lunch, or sweets. By Hilary Nangle