February 17, 2013

Dine out Maine: Enjoy a perfect mix of latitude and attitude at 45 North


Go north, young men. And women. To 45 North.

click image to enlarge

45 North gives the Sugarloaf Mountain region a much-needed, first-rate restaurant that offers contemporary style and appealing grown-up food that’s well-prepared.

Courtesy photo



Sugarloaf Mountain Resort, 5092 Access Road, Carrabasset Valley. 237-4220; sugarloaf.com/eventsactivities/ DiningNightlife/index.html


HOURS: Dining is 5 to 10 p.m. daily. Happy hour is 3 to 5 p.m. Open daily for breakfast.


PRICE RANGE: Appetizers, $7 to $14; entrees, $16 to $27



KIDS: Welcome; separate menu

RESERVATIONS: Yes; recommended

BAR: Full. Twelve beers on tap. Single-malt scotches. Broad wine list on paper or searchable on an iPad


BOTTOM LINE: For an apres-ski change of pace, leave the pizza, pasta and burgers behind. At 45 North, you will find contemporary style and appealing grown-up food selected and prepared very well. This is the up-to-date culinary spot on the mountain that many visitors and locals willing to spend a little money have been waiting for.

Ratings follow this scale and take into consideration food, atmosphere, service and value:

*Poor **Fair  ***Good ****Excellent *****Extraordinary.

The Maine Sunday Telegram visits an establishment twice if the first dining experience was unsatisfactory. The reviewer dines anonymously.

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.

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