FRYEBURG — The downside to putting together a dish everyone loves is that you will never be allowed to take it off the menu. The upside is that people will show up to eat it.

An example is the pulled duck at Oxford House Inn, complete with crunchy scallion pancakes, vibrant sticky sauce and braised duck. It’s exactly the kind of thing for which you can develop a hankering.

“We attempted to take it off the menu,” co-owner and chef Jonathan Spak said, “and there was a minor revolt.”

When Jonathan and Natalie Spak bought the Oxford House Inn, a bed-and-breakfast with a restaurant, in 2007, they reorganized the already popular menu with their own innovations.

Jonathan Spak has a degree from the Culinary Institute of America, and had cooked at the Water Club in New York City. He met his future wife, Natalie Knickerbocker, when they were both cooking at West Main Restaurant in Lakeville, Conn., where Natalie later became manager.

On the first floor of the Oxford House Inn, diners can choose between architect John Calvin Stevens’ well-proportioned 1913 parlor and dining room and an enclosed back porch that sits like an aerie overlooking a stretch of farmland and the middle-distance White Mountains. The tables by the windows are in high demand at sunset.

But after night falls, the downstairs pub, Jonathan’s, beckons with its intimate atmosphere. At the pub, you can order everything on the menu, from a burger to a rack of lamb special.

Granite block walls surround wall benches with cream pillows and a small bar. A gas fireplace sits near upholstered seats, and painted martini glasses welcome you as you step down to the floor of the pub from the stairs.

An espresso martini is one option from the bar. A modest wine and beer list is served, which includes a split of Italian Moletto Prosecco ($14), a pleasant sparkling wine with some sweetness. Hollow-stem flutes hold half of the split.

An appetizer of fried oysters ($9) was slightly tough, the cornmeal crust too hard. A relish made an agreeable tart contrast to their mildness.

“I make a quick raw cranberry relish with orange, maple syrup and with shallots, peppercorn and sherry vinegar,” said Jonathan Spak.

Crab cakes were more exciting, wearing a shaggy crust of shredded dough. I’d encountered this before only in a Syrian dessert called knafeh wrapped around mild cheese. Its crisp, buttery strands work admirably around sweet crabmeat.

Spak mixes crabmeat with crumbled tarragon biscuits, mayonnaise, celery, onion and a bit of Old Bay. His spicy version of Cajun remoulade held chopped garlic pickles, capers, mayonnaise, celery root and red onion. A bite of these crab cakes pulled together heat, fat, crunch and sweetness.

Shredded hoisin-braised duck ($10.50) filled a little bowl on a plate that also carried triangles of fried, darkly blistered and crunchy scallion pancakes that were drizzled with more of the sweet and savory hoisin. Grilled grapes with scorch marks and thin shards of scallion added sugar, heat and vegetable crunch.

Oxford House Thai Beef Cobb Salad ($14) presents a quandary — what about this makes it a Cobb salad, with no avocado, no bacon, no chicken and no Roquefort? Spak said he uses the word to convey the fact that this is an entree-sized salad.

Whatever the name, it worked perfectly. The thinly sliced rare beef radiated out from the base of a big mountain of dressed soba noodles on a big plate, with shaved lettuce underneath. It was exactly right with its cool, watery taste.

The spicy peanut, ginger, chili paste and lime juice dressing coated the chewy noodles and strands of carrot, making them utterly appetizing.

Both the duck and the noodles are bistro plates, which are less expensive than entrees that include grilled filet mignon ($31) and lobster pot pie ($28). In season, Oxford House Inn gets its produce, fish, beef, eggs, honey, cheese and more from local sources such as next-door Sherman Farm.

We’d done some coloring on a brown paper cover over our white tablecloth with crayons inside a little terracotta pot. Next to us, a server mentioned that a previous diner had written, “Help me, I’m married.”

But we had nothing to suggest as we tucked into dessert and became increasingly content. The ice cream sampler ($8) on a long rectangular plate was far too generous, with two honking-big cookies and a wide piece of toffee in between small cups of utterly smooth Belgian milk chocolate ice cream, cinnamon ice cream studded with chocolate-covered coffee beans, and honey-and-green-tea ice cream.

“Heating the milk for the custard base, I made a strong infusion of green tea, and instead of white sugar, I used a cup and a half of honey to sweeten it. They harvested the honey from right behind our place,” Spak said.

Chai pot de creme ($8) married custard with black tea, cardamom and black pepper. Two long sticks of poppy seed shortbread cookies were delicate and fresh.

Harney and Sons Mint Verbena tea, from a small family-run company, and strong, agreeably bitter decaf brought our meal to a close. 

N.L. English is a Portland freelance writer and the author of “Chow Maine: The Best Restaurants, Cafes, Lobster Shacks and Markets on the Coast.” Visit English’s Web site,


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