Go north, young men. And women. To 45 North.
The Sugarloaf Mountain ski resort has just added this first-rate restaurant to its heretofore less-than-stellar mix (that includes the region, which has been weak in noteworthy restaurants since the Porter House in Eustis closed).
45 North, so named because the mountain sits at this latitude, occupies the renovated space of the former Double Diamond restaurant on the first floor of the impressive Sugarloaf Mountain Hotel.
It’s still housed in the same long rectangular room with a large bar area to the right as you enter. But the redo has changed the character of that traditional dining room (with traditional menu to match) into something contemporary and jazzy, yet warm and welcoming.
Now the walls are barn board. One holds a spread of candles set in clean-lined contemporary glass. Bundles of twigs encase pendant lights. A fire flickers near the entrance. Tables are arranged so the space doesn’t feel like a big rectangle.
The dinner menu, printed on card stock with attractive graphics, listed the selections as “beginning February second.” Coincidentally, that’s the day we were there.
The options — most from last month, some new — looked promising. We put in an order for fried cauliflower ($6) and settled back to look things over. Our waiter returned with an iPad with the wine list to augment our decision making.
The device, organized by region and variety, was a bit cumbersome and unnecessary, though I realize this is a thing. But I wonder — do you really want to be swiping a screen with buttery fingers, afraid you might tip over a cocktail glass with the hardware? Or waiting for the wine list because all four devices are already in use elsewhere?
A paper cone of hot miniature florets deep-fried in a breading you might find on calamari — mixed with golden raisins and capers, and flavored with lemon — arrived at the table. This fantastic dish would make a cauliflower lover of anyone.
One could say the same about the next course. There are lots of average salads in the dining world as well as creative efforts and take-offs thereof, but the two tried here had a welcome flair.
A delicious grilled romaine, half a head sliced in half length-wise, had small sections of char at the leafy ends but warmed crispiness prominent, with green apple cubes, walnuts, red onion and a good cheddar lightly sprinkled on top ($10). Argula and radicchio added leafiness to a beet, ginger and tangerine medley with a Greek yogurt dressing ($8) — a delicious and well-conceived dish.
Lobster and carrot soup ($7) was a bright orange puree with a little heat and chunks of lobster meat on top. The pairing had the interest of a fine first date, but this was not a romance for the ages.
A special of succulent short ribs, braised and served mixed with homemade pappardelle in a sweet and tomato-y sauce, was tender and luscious comfort food — the pasta and meat an excellent mix — that was as good as any anywhere ($24).
Braised red cabbage, turnip and a smidge of local maple syrup nicely complemented a thick and juicy slab of pork ribeye ($19). The grilled Scottish salmon was a substantial portion and very good overall, but the leek crepes didn’t cry out for finishing, and the egg sauce resembled chopped egg more than anything ($22).
Maine haddock cake, an appetizer ($9), was nicely crusted but a little dry, and topped with dressed, julienned celery root. The separate bacon-mustard vinaigrette somehow got a little lost, and broccoli puree didn’t do much for the plate, either.
These are only minor details in a mostly excellent dinner, but they make a difference to the nibbler choosing to fill up on appetizers. Which is just a roundabout way of saying that sous chefs in all establishments ought to strive for quality and balance with every plate, no matter how small.
No quarrels whatsoever with the lovely deviled eggs appetizer, cool and creamy with flecks of Maine peekytoe crab and a hint of horseradish ($9).
Our waiter was eager and attentive from the moment we sat down. Dishes came with hardly a wait, despite a house that was filling up. We could have used a breather between first and second courses. We lingered over dessert without feeling rushed.
A fun Geary’s Stout and chocolate pudding resembled the draft, complete with dark brown body visible through a small glass and foam of suds on top. Smooth and bittersweet, with a slight beery finish, the dessert was very nice.
Just as appealing was a hefty wedge of maple/blueberry buckle. It was more coffee cake than elegant pastry, but elevated with a not-too-sweet goat-cheese mousse. These desserts underscored this eatery’s facility with being fancy one minute and casual the next.
45 North is not inexpensive, but you don’t have to spend a fortune here, either: Three of eight entrees were under $20. You can take your appetite to the congenial bar and order from the menu there too.
You might choose such first courses as Maine mussels with pancetta ($12) or duck poutine ($14), which will certainly fill you up after a day on the slopes.
Nancy Heiser is a freelance writer and editor. She can be reached at nancyheiser.com.