Friday July 26, 2013 | 10:00 AM
For authentic farm-to-table cooking--beyond the sphere of urban chefs doing their citified facsimiles in overwrought settings--look no further than North Haven Island chef, Amanda Hallowell. There, at Nebo Lodge, her exemplary efforts define her style as a “cook not a chef,” she has said. And if there’s any bravura whatsoever, it’s personal culinary theatre that’s classic and refined.
Flower-lined entry to Nebo Lodge and restaurant ,where there is outdoor dining on the porch, too
Farm-fresh local food is certainly the centerpiece at many special dinners held in the fields of area farms in Maine. But there’s something special about traveling 12 miles out to sea to the exquisite shores of North Haven Island where a soignee summer citizenry meet in this charming hillside inn above the salty confines of North Haven’s protected harbor.
Nearly all the food is locally sourced, much of it from Turner Farm
, which is affiliated with the inn by its ownership of Chellie Pingree and husband, Donald Sussman. (Note: Sussman is the majority owner of MaineToday Media, which publishes the Portland Press Herald and pressherald.com.)
A daily list is posted of the local ingredients that the kitchen uses
During the summer season reservations are often difficult to get, and the big-city refrain of “5:30 or 8:30” seating happens here, too. Come at six in the evening, though, and the dining rooms are filled with families and children. By seven-thirty on, the crowd changes into an adult-only world: A confluence of 20- and 30- something’s, replenished by island habitués of all stripes and a smattering of grandes dames hold court regularly.
Many diners like to eat in the cozy bar-room
Nebo Lodge is the only dining and drinking game on the island and remains popular with summer folk and islanders, too
I’ve been to the restaurant several times this summer and each has been a revelation--of food so good and utterly satisfying yet simply prepared in such good taste.
Even the centerpiece of flowers on the tables are in little vases filled with micro greens, and the table-settings are a mix of flat wear and dishes on old-fashioned tablecloths typical of summer-cottage décor.
A splash of micro greens serve as centerpieces on each table
The main dining room is a large room with big windows overlooking the gardens
Pingree and friends on the porch at Nebo Lodge
The waitstaff are locals who know the menu well and serve with alacrity and style. Prices are in line with the caliber of the food, with most entrees over $25; but there is also a menu of lighter fare where such dishes as fish or chicken tostados and a very respectable burger or grilled cheese sandwich serve remarkably well as dinner entrees.
One must-have nibble is the deviled eggs, masterfully crafted and filled with a puree of local hardboiled eggs and spices. Another gem is the fried green tomatoes with chive sauce or the fried artichokes with lemon aioli and fried caper berries. Of course don’t pass up a platter of North Haven oysters--sweet, briny, delicate and special.
The deviled eggs are the best!
At a dinner over July 4th weekend we enjoyed a fine meal that started off with a colorful palate of raw vegetables julienned and lightly dressed and a chopped kale salad with Parmesan, toasted walnuts and lemon vinaigrette.
A beautiful salad of Turner Farm vegetables is an engaging starter
Entrees that evening included an incredible dish of baked local swordfish. The fish was so tender and soft, tasting as though it had been infused with milk. With a canopy of sugar snaps it was a totally delightful dish. I chose the roasted local duck with jasmine rice that was another effort of purity of flavor.
This was one of the most delicious renditions of swordfish, locally caught, roasted and served with sugar snaps
Dinner earlier this week offered another parade of thoughtful cooking from Hallowell’s kitchen. One standout starter was a puree of local fava beans spread onto crostini made from their house-made bread. My dinner mate chose the island oysters as a starter; I managed to taste one of them and it was a good as ever.
The fava bean puree is spread over toasted houise-made bread topped with slices of Parmesan
For a main course I chose the roast chicken, pasture-raised at Turner Farm. It was beautifully served with a shallot pan sauce over a panzanella style salad of the farm’s baby lettuces, cherry tomatoes, rye croutons and red wine vinaigrette.
Fried artichokes with caper berries is a great starter
Organic Turner Farm chicken "under a brick" is served with a luxurious shallot pan sauce over
a panzanella salad
My companion also had chicken but this version filled a crispy tostada covered in a remarkable salsa verde, chopped Romaine and a bracing chipotle crème fraiche.
As one of the lighter entrees, there's always a tostada on the menu--this one is filled with chicken and salsa verde
The dessert choices are generally simple renditions that are extremely likable. At one dinner we had a terrific rhubarb turnover with house-made ginger ice cream. Most recently we tried house-made ice cream with ginger molasses cookies under a dome of whipped sweet cream.
Exceedingly creamy house-made ice cream is topped with molasses cookies and sweet whipped cream
The ambiance, the thrill of delicious food carefully prepared and the magic of dining in a well-appointed historic inn conspire to make moments at Nebo Lodge well worth the journey to this seaside haven.
Note that from July to September, the inn offers a seaside crossing from Rockland to North Haven to have dinner at the inn and return to the mainland afterwards.
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