October 9, 2013

Natural Foodie: A menu shift at Linekin Bay Resort

Its clientele’s rising dietary awareness resonates with the resort.

By AVERY YALE KAMILA

Linekin Bay Resort is a classic Maine getaway. Perched on the end of a wooded peninsula in Boothbay Harbor, the seasonal oceanfront property offers a mix of cabins and lodges, with the oldest dating back to 1946.

click image to enlarge

Staff members at the Linekin Bay Resort line up behind the buffet, which was expanded this year to include vegan and gluten-free items.

Contributed photo

click image to enlarge

To accommodate an increasing number of special diets, Linekin Bay Resort no longer plates salads and instead allows guests to build their own.

Contributed photo

Wood-paneled guest rooms exude a rustic vibe and televisions are nowhere to be found. (Instead guests go to the bar to watch sporting events or head to the TV room in West Lodge for the nightly big-screen movie.) During the day, vacationers enjoy games of doubles on the clay tennis courts and spend time on the bay in kayaks and on paddleboards. Kids swim in the ocean or the heated pool. Sailing and lessons come as part of the all-inclusive rate.

“It really is a bit of a throwback and most guests appreciate that,” said general manager Mark Osborn.

From the end of June through Labor Day, the resort offers vacationers all-inclusive packages featuring breakfast, lunch and dinner each day. Before and after those dates, the resort offers exclusive wedding weekends. This weekend marks the last wedding before the resort closes down until next summer.

Linekin Bay Resort is the sort of place where lobster bakes, clam chowders and seared scallops are expected and the kitchen has always delivered.

But this past season the menu shifted in a new direction, while still retaining the classics. Most notably, the resort added a number of plant-based dishes and gluten-free offerings.

“Change has sort of come slowly to Linekin Bay Resort,” said Jane Richmond, 68, who has vacationed with her family at the resort for 34 years. “But I welcome the change in diet. I would even use the word rave. I raved to Mark about the new food system.”

While Richmond doesn’t follow a gluten-free or vegan diet, she does appreciate the new menu items and the opportunity to eat a lighter meal.

“This past winter the number of requests and requirements for food went through the roof,” said Osborn, who spends the off-season booking reservations for the following summer. “This year the requests for vegetarian, vegan, low-fat, lactose-free or gluten-free was probably every third reservation I took for new guests and one in 10 for returning guests.”

The tradition at Linekin Bay has always been table service, allowing guests to order their meal and have it delivered by a waiter or waitress. Each meal offered a choice of soup or salad, a choice between two entrees and a choice of desserts.

But as the reservations and special requests continued to roll in for the 2013 season, Osborn realized the way the resort had served the food in the past wasn’t going to work in light of all the special requests. So in consultation with the chef, he decided to add a number of vegan and gluten-free menu items and move to a self-serve model, while retaining the option of table service for guests who preferred it.

New menu items include dishes such as zucchini ribbons served with two sauces, cheese-less cashew ricotta cheese with roasted vegetable rollatini, chilled cucumber and avocado soup and vegan cheesecake.

This past season guests selected what they wanted from buffets and themed food stations. Many menu items were deconstructed and served in individual components, allowing each person to create his or her preferred dish.

As a result, a roasted pear salad showed up as a large bowl of butter lettuce, a dish of roasted pears, a bowl of gorgonzola, a plate of prosciutto and a dish of walnuts. Likewise, fish tacos became a spread featuring fried or grilled fish, grilled vegetables, house-made salsa, guacamole, cheese, fresh vegetables and wheat or corn tortillas. Guests were then free to construct their meal in a way that suited their tastes and dietary needs.

“It gave people a lot more options,” Osborn said.

In addition to satisfying the diverse dining needs of guests, the resort found an added benefit from this more flexible food service: It cut down on food waste.

“During lunch and dinner service hardly anything gets thrown away,” Osborn said, noting the change from previous seasons when multiple trash cans would fill with food waste after each meal. “If they don’t like asparagus, they’re not going to take it.”

Richmond and her family, which includes a physician son and two young grandchildren, appreciated the ability to choose what went on their plates, instead of ordering an entrée that came with a standard set of sides.

“I loved that I could select very healthy food,” said Richmond, who lives in Cleveland, Ohio, and always stays in cabin 7 at the resort for a week or two each summer. “I felt wonderful after every meal, instead of feeling like I wish I hadn’t eaten that baked potato. I never felt as if I was on a diet, but I could select those things that I wanted to eat. Things with more fat and calories, I could have smaller portions of those.”

Before implementing the move to buffet service, Osborn and his team worried this change might increase the resort’s costs. Under the previous system, pricey items – such as crab and lobster cakes – were limited to one per plate. Now guests could take as many as they wanted.

“What we’ve found is our food costs as a percentage of sales is about the same,” Osborn said.

While some did take more of the expensive items, others didn’t take them at all or choose smaller portions.

“We’re spending the same money on food, but it’s really a better value because the guests are eating it and no one is leaving hungry,” Osborn said. “If they went up and tried the salmon and didn’t like it, they could get something else.”

The trend toward plant-based menu items and dishes that work for special diets is a reflection of the evolving food preferences of travelers and is mirrored in the glitzy world of luxury hotels.

High-profile hotels with vegan menus include all the properties in the Fairmont hotel chain (such as The Plaza in New York and the Fairmont Copley Plaza in Boston), the Four Seasons Hotel in Beverly Hills and all the restaurants at the Wynn hotel in Las Vegas, which is owned by casino mogul and vegan Steve Wynn.

According to a story published last year in Bon Appetit, the vegan menus at the Wynn inspired the chefs at “nearly every major hotel restaurant on the Strip” to offer vegan menus, making Sin City a rather unexpected vegan oasis.

Back in Maine, Osborn said a number of factors seem to be driving the changing food needs of the resort’s guests.

“People are becoming more educated about food,” Osborn said. “It’s a greater awareness, and a lot of it is people wanting to eat healthier. I’ve had conversations with guests who are not only eating for health reasons but also for environmental reasons. People are really becoming more worldly in knowing they can vote with their forks.”

 Avery Yale Kamila is a freelancer who lives in Portland and always seeks out plant-based eats when she travels. She can be reached at:

avery.kamila@gmail.com

Twitter: AveryYaleKamila

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