The White Wolf Inn serves many functions. Here, Appalachian Trail through hikers find company, a hot shower, a bed, and homemade dinner for a song. It’s where hunters and snowmobilers tell stories at the divey bar in the back. Sugarloaf skiers quaff microbrews and enjoy seriously filling food after a day on the slopes. Leaf peepers traveling Route 27 grab a cup of coffee and a piece of homemade peanut butter pie. Old-time locals take the missus for a night out or gather for a weekend breakfast.
The restaurant, housed in a utilitarian two-story building, is prominent among a half-dozen businesses in the tiny village of Stratton. The spot has a personality all its own, starting with the wolf-themed decor and mishmash of other quirky details, including one wall that is a mural of massive wasp nests wrapped by floral touches.
The eccentric 3-D structure is a reminder that the wild, natural world is just outside the door. A well-thumbed Maine Atlas and Gazetteer, a.k.a. the DeLorme guide, sits in a post pocket to back up those where-have-you-been, where-are-you-going conversations. This is rural, mountainous Maine, where pickups and kayaks outnumber sedans and the secondary roads are gravel.
After we settled into a booth, a disarmingly extroverted woman, a registered Maine guide and former sports camp owner (we later learned), greeted us, took our drink order, gave us menus, and assured us that Sandy Isgro, the owner, cook, and tonight’s server (her son works the kitchen on weekends), would be over soon. She comes in when her friend expects a lot of customers.
We mostly ordered our food off the board, which listed a bewildering number of specials in addition to the fried fish, lobster-stuffed haddock, burgers, turkey pot pie and a few more expensive entrees (including venison or elk steak coming in at $28.95) that appear on the regular menu.
Curried vegetable soup, the vegetables diced and slightly firm, the base well seasoned and made with cream instead of coconut milk, was delicious, if not authentic Indian. This extra-large and steaming bowlful of bliss was only $3.50 and a very good start.
Eggplant Parmesan, another special, was supersized ($9.95). Standard issue, the eggplant was breaded and fried and surrounded by tomato sauce. A mix of ricotta, mozzarella, Parmesan and Romano gave the comfort food casserole richness.
Several thin slices of barbecue brisket, braised and doused in a tasty homemade sauce, satisfied the carnivore tendencies that fall mountain forays can inspire. The beef was fatty, tender but not to the point of fall-apart, and good. Gooey elbows in the side of “Big Boy” mac and cheese had a peppery bite and were topped with crumbled Pepperidge Farm goldfish – an offbeat touch that worked. This enormous platter was $11.95.
Hamburgers are notable here. We ordered a juicy 4-ouncer, a bargain at $4.95; add-ons were extra. The rest of the burgers weigh in at a full half-pound and run about twice that. There are several varieties including the infamous “wolf burger” with sausage, cheese, bacon and sauteed mushrooms, reportedly beloved by A-T hikers. All burgers are hand-formed patties, grilled to order, served on a Kaiser roll and offered with selection of Igro’s homemade sauces (honey dill, barbecue with jalapenos, pesto mayo, etc.). Our chunky mushrooms were a little on the underdone side, as were the onions. A respectable side of handcut, skin-on homemade fries filled the plate to the brim. No wonder hikers leave here happy.
Also pleasing are the prices, particularly those for beverages: $3.95 will get you a 25-ounce Foster’s Oil Can; an 18-ounce draft of Carrabassett Pale Ale (when in Rome) is only $4.25. These are prices from another era.
Dessert options were many and included a collection of comforting standards and a few unusual ones, such as fried cheesecake. We choose the strawberry rhubarb surprise. Delicious fruit compote filled fluffy yellow cake layers, all nicely warmed up and served with vanilla ice cream ($4.95).
After a late September day spent outdoors, we entered White Wolf Inn by default, as our original choice was closed. We left knowing we’d be back for more of its unpretentious and comforting food that filled the belly and satisfied. When it comes to portions, kitchen skill and personality, the White Wolf Inn serves it up big.
On another note: This is my last column for Dine Out Maine. I’m moving on to a new endeavor.
The state of Maine, an exceptional food region, is the source of so many riches from sea and land. It’s been a privilege to write about the brilliant collection of hard-working and creative people bringing out the best of them. The state’s culinary scene, in much-heralded Portland and elsewhere, continues to grow and inspire.
Thank you to my tolerant dining companions over the last two and a half years. You’ve let me reach over for tastes and then discuss our meal well into the night. And a stand-up toast of appreciation to Maine’s chefs and restaurant staffs. I look forward to future visits and getting acquainted in a more relaxed manner. Salut.
Nancy Heiser is a freelance writer and editor. She can be reached at nancyheiser.com.