Years ago, Le Garage, located on the banks of the broad Sheepscot River in Wiscasset, was a celebrated spot for a special-occasion dinner. Open since 1977, it offered a menu rich in seafood served in a converted garage – an atmosphere of upscale rustic before that became a trend.

The New York Times, Bon Appetit and Gourmet magazine wrote about Le Garage, and the restaurant earned Wine Spectator awards in the 1990s.

I hadn’t visited in a long time, and I heard it had a new chef. Was Le Garage resting on its laurels or moving with the times?

Before visiting, I looked at its menu online. Despite the French article in the name, Le Garage’s menu is long on American and short on Gallic items.

It also avoids cutting-edge innovation. You’ll find standards such as newburgs and steaks, baked fish and scallops, stuffed mushroom caps and French onion soup, and salads and pastas to which you can add chicken, steak, lobster, scallops or shrimp. The walnut-crusted haddock might be considered a novel item.

Let me stop here to wax on about that particular dish. It was excellent. A thick, crunchy and savory crust gussied up the mild fish, yielding to a moist, fresh filet that was served with a tangy lemon, mustard, caper and dill sauce ($21).

This followed a rich, rosy scallop and crab bisque ($7) loaded with halved scallops not the slightest bit overcooked. Small filaments of crabmeat swam alongside. Two thumbs up for two dishes prepared very well.

The restaurant’s vegetarian and vegan week menu is what drew us there in mid-March. Coincidentally, it was March 17, so the restaurant also had a special menu for St. Patrick’s Day. Add to that the regular menu, and we were awash in choices.

Homemade Irish soda bread with air pockets and chewy crust started us off. Toasted almonds nicely enhanced the flavor-rich, thinly textured roasted cauliflower soup, a vegan choice ($5). But rocket lettuce topped with broad strips of fennel and a halved, skin-on pear was dressed with a bland and pasty toasted hazelnut vinaigrette ($8).

Cider and maple-braised chicken breast covered with a crispy skin and strewn with rosemary was moist and delicious. Homestyle mashed potatoes containing coarsely chopped bacon was equally appealing ($18).

Count the corned beef dinner in honor of St. Patrick’s Day as another success. Several thick slices of beef that one could break apart with a spoon were accompanied by the traditional cabbage and boiled potatoes. Horseradish and a grainy mustard made the whole plate zing. This was a hearty, satisfying and economical entree at $13.

Le Garage’s menu includes light suppers in the $12-to-$15 range, a feature that seems to draw an older crowd. When we visited, there didn’t appear to be a customer under the age of 35.

Many Le Garage devotees seem to like the menu’s predictability. The new chef, Mikael Andersson, has been on board for about a year, and is skilled at preparing the mainstays.

But the offerings are beginning to show his influence too. He intends to make it a slow evolution rather than a complete overhaul, said owner Cheryl Lee Rust. When chicken and biscuits departed, she heard about it. The ever popular creamed Finnan Haddie, a light supper for $14, will remain.

More than half the tables at Le Garage are located on an enclosed, cottage-style porch with panoramic water views. Upon entering, we got a warm welcome from Rust, acting as hostess. Our server was a man of few words, and we had to pry him to list the specials. Other than that, he got the job done, if brusquely. Red wine was poured half an inch from the brim, leaving little room for the bouquet.

With all the excellent options in Portland, serious food geeks may not want to commit to an hour’s drive from there to Wiscasset simply for the food at Le Garage. But if they live in or are touring near the area, I encourage them to stop in. Bring those family members or friends who seek a water view, love classic dishes ably prepared, and are fond of traditional desserts such as chocolate peanut butter pie and brownie a la mode.

Speaking of dessert, our molasses-rich Indian pudding was soupy like a thin porridge, with a scoop of vanilla ice cream swimming in it, which made negotiating the New England classic a difficult prospect ($4.99). A moist chocolate Guinness cake ($4.50), baked for St. Patty’s day, was a delight with its swirls of cream cheese frosting and beery aftertaste.

 

Nancy Heiser is a freelance writer. She can be reached at:

nancyheiser.com