KINGFIELD — In the town of Kingfield, the lights of a Victorian inn dazzle and enliven a streetscape of large old homes. Located just across the Carrabassett River from Main Street at its eponymous address, One Stanley Avenue has been serving locals and winter vacationers to nearby Sugarloaf for 39 seasons. I’d visited twice in the last decade and recalled excellent meals. It was time to return.
The tables in three small dining rooms are set with salmon-colored linens and lit tapers. Walls are filled with vintage framed prints and windows, some of them stained glass. The lighting is low; the atmosphere cozy and quiet. The menu is written in calligraphy. Servers wear white blouses and ankle-length black skirts. It is the 19th century.
Chef Dan Davis, who got his start as a woods cook for a boys’ camp followed by stints in the Coast Guard and at a restaurant in Vail, Colo., set out in 1972 to bring classic regional cuisine to Maine’s western mountains. To that end, his entrees use items from northern New England — molasses, cider, juniper berries, chestnuts, crabapples — to enhance main dishes that feature beef, duck, venison, lobster, sweetbreads and chicken. Also on the menu is a vegetarian chive fettuccine with cream, vermouth and sun-dried tomatoes.
We ordered several items at once, including wine, and our calm and skilled server kept them straight in her head, even when we interrupted several times for clarification.
The lamb sausage ($6), dark pink and sliced at a diagonal with a nice snap to the casing, had a strong, earthy lamb and garlic flavor; the mild cider mint sauce was almost an afterthought. This appetizer was quite good, my favorite item of the night. We took a chance and ordered the locally foraged then frozen fiddleheads, served in lemon butter ($5.50). Not surprisingly, they were mushy. We wondered why they were even on a winter menu.
Two house-made dressings, a tangy tomato and onion and a blue cheese a bit light on the cheese, elevated the everyday contents (lettuce, sprouts, green pepper) of our salads, which come with every entree. Davis’ homemade whole wheat bread, served as a single warm loaf, was soft and nutty, a pre-dinner highlight and worth a slight wait.
The tender and mild meat of venison stroganoff ($25.75) was cooked to a pink interior, and balanced nicely with expected sour cream and onion flavors. The escalope of lamb ($27), however, was too thickly coated with batter and overly creamy, disguising the meat — it could have been veal or chicken. On both plates, basic kale topped with two carrot spears was nestled next to a delicious, slightly sweet braised cabbage with caraway. My Shaker dumpling, the deep-brown crust rendered by cooking it in duck stock, was like an herbed biscuit, disappointingly dry.
Plating needs improvement here. The almost 20 slices of that delightful lamb sausage came crowded on a small glass dish, a parsley sprig on top. Our dinner platters were likewise arranged in a cluttered, dinerlike manner, the cream-based entrees lacking color and visual interest.
For dessert, we chose to share Maine Guide chocolate cake ($6), one of four options. Cut from a ring and dabbed with whipped cream, it resembled a mildly chocolate pound cake. If I am spending the calories, give me chocolate with lots of rich cacao or creaminess (or better yet, both).
The wine list at One Stanley Avenue is long (85 bottles) and broadly international. In the foyer, a pretty antique chest with glass doors holds several whites on ice. We chose three reds by the glass — a fruity and complex Crios de Seisana Balbo malbec from Argentina ($7.50); a full-bodied Beaulieu Vineyards cabernet sauvignon from Napa ($7.50); and an acceptable Washington state Columbia Crest Grand Estate merlot ($6.50). They came in large-bowled glasses half-filled, which made us contented sniffers. The full bar includes about half a dozen bottled beers.
Many locals and tourists are drawn to One Stanley Avenue’s traditional and rich food, sizable portions and evocation of the past. Is it worth a visit? Sure. Guests will find dishes to enjoy (perhaps the saged rabbit in raspberry sauce or the roast duck with rhubarb glaze, two dishes we didn’t have a chance to try) and a serene escape from winter’s grip. From the moment we spoke to the chef/proprietor to request a reservation to the time the check came, service was competent, unpretentious and friendly.
Yet I found the dining experience a little heavy and outdated. The restaurant bills itself as a spot for classic Maine cuisine. But the dining world has changed, and my expectations have altered too. I’d like to see something more contemporary on the menu, and a presentation that doesn’t make me feel full before I start.
On the other hand, there’s much to be said for settling back with a nice wine and a hearty meal in a setting that reminds you of your grandmother’s.
Nancy Heiser is a freelance writer and editor whose work has appeared in national and regional publications.