The Maine Harvest Dining Room at Freeport’s Harraseeket Inn is highly regarded for its contemporary menu featuring locally sourced food. The kitchen takes great pride in following this strict regimen and even excludes such foods as farmed salmon from its menu to meet its goals of culinary purity whenever possible.
Yet the modern nature of its menu is not reflected in the décor, which is dowdy and stuffy, nor in the passé style of service.
Case in point, the restaurant still practices tableside service where special preparations are served from rolling carts. There is a gracious quaintness to this practice, but in Freeport’s discount shopping Mecca, this throwback to old-fashioned civilities comes off as comically old-hat.
However, if it’s rolling-cart fare that you want, it’s served formidably here. The chateaubriand or rack of lamb for two ($75) is solemnly carved tableside. And from the tableside dessert menu are such workhorses as crepes with cherries that burst into great balls of fire flambéed in Grand Marnier ($8.50); Jamaican-style bananas in Tia Maria, or fruit-filled crepes set alight in Grand Marnier.
Even during the final moments of our perfectly respectable dinner, we witnessed another major tableside tableaux going on at a nearby table of six. It concerned the execution of the Caesar salad ($8.50 each) served from the rolling cart. There was such pomp and circumstance displayed as the dressing was mixed by the waiter and the salad greens tossed with fanfare and flourish that you expected singing minstrels to emerge from the wings to serenade the proceedings.
The truly annoying part of this production occurred when we had finished our dinner and were presented with our check. Our waiter then went off to his Caesar-salad dance, which took 10 minutes to conclude as we waited to be cashed out.
The main dining room is divided into two spaces separated by a fireplace with central bar in the front room. That night there was only one waiter in each room, and the place was fairly busy, so service was slow.
The rooms are dressed in standard faux Colonial trappings of wainscoting, wall sconces and a disparate collection of contemporary and traditional artwork hanging on the walls.
Executive chef Eric Flynn has presided over the dining operations (including the casual and very popular Broad Arrow Tavern downstairs) at the inn for years, with his sous chef Troy Mains tending to dinner preparations at the Maine Harvest Dining Room.
The wine list is a fairly large one with many well-priced selections. With our cocktails ($8.50) we enjoyed a complimentary hors d’oeuvre of smoked duck breast over mango sorbet that was a delicious little mouthful.
For a first course I savored a cup of the lobster stew ($9). The meat was placed in a pretty white enameled vessel and the waiter poured over a creamily rich and buttery lobster broth. This was four-star lobster stew. The classic version always speaks for itself, and all too often chefs clutter this soup with extraneous flavors, to its detriment.
My guest thoroughly enjoyed a starter of roasted-beet salad ($12). On a long, narrow presentation plate were red and orange beets from Freeport’s Laughing Stock Farm interspersed with cubes of an excellent smoked blue cheese from Hahn’s Hill Creamery in Phippsburg. It was moistened with truffled vinaigrette, and garnished with flecks of hazelnuts and mini greens. It was a fine assemblage of contrasting textures and flavors.
My entree choice was duck two ways ($26) – seared duck breast dusted with cumin and coriander and what’s described on the menu as “confit dirty rice” and root vegetables. The very tender breast meat was neatly arranged in a fan pattern set over the rice. The cumin and coriander seasoning, however, was overwhelming. Duck benefits so much more from a sweet coating of spices or citrusy glaze; the moistening of a bitter-sweet barbecue sauce was a further distraction of flavors. As for the “duck two ways,” it was unclear how the second component figured. When asked, the waiter explained that the confit and root vegetables were incorporated into the dirty rice. At best this was an elusive element since the duck confit and root vegetable were so minutely rendered.
My guest’s choice of seafood bouillabaisse ($28) was a soulful dish indeed. Clams, mussels, lobster and scallops were set in a very rich tomato-laced broth. It could have had a soupier base, but it was a worthwhile dish nonetheless.
Worth honorable mention was the contents of the bread basket. Here was a collection of housemade breads and flatbreads served warm with a little vat filled with the creamiest, sweetest butter.
For our final course we passed on the menu of tableside-prepared desserts ($8.50). Instead we opted for the regular menu of sweets. I chose the intensely decadent turtle sundae ($8). This contained homemade vanilla ice cream and an exceedingly chocolaty ice cream napped in chocolate and caramel sauces, whipped cream and candied pecans. My guest’s pumpkin cheesecake ($9) was densely creamy and totally satisfying.
There’s a definite yin and yang to the food and service at the Maine Harvest Dining Room. While the restaurant appeals to a more mature patronage who want traditional dishes and formal service, it also attracts a food-centric following who savor the rigors of modern cooking of which this kitchen is quite capable. This results in a dining establishment where there’s certainly something for everyone.
John Golden, who lives in Portland, writes about food, dining and lifestyle subjects for local and national publications. He can be contacted at: