Good things happen at The Rack. Exciting things like live music. Silly things like zombie parties and the crowning of the king and queen of Sugarloaf. You can head downstairs to the arcade and fling air hockey disks, or upstairs to a play area for younger kids.

If you’re hungry, haul your post-downhill ski muscles to The Rack in Carrabassett Valley for a tasty and ample dinner. Fill your club mug with one of 14 beers on draft while you watch the big TV or take in the eclectic wall ornaments: A huge mosaic made from bottle caps, witty street signs, plush toys, vintage ski equipment, serious abstract art, and a framed copy of Sports Illustrated from 2006 with local Olympic champion Seth Wescott on the cover.

This is the rousing spot that Wescott co-owns with Jeff Strunk and Chase McKendry. Located on the access road to Sugarloaf, the rustic wood lodge is party central. The parking lot overflows with vehicles. Sometimes, there is a bonfire. In 2010, Outside Magazine called this one of the best bars in the Northeast. The Rack’s motto, if you can call it that, is this sign above the entrance: “Serving questionable locals and those soon to be.”

Inside, in addition to libations, there’s food for the heartiest of appetites. Diners are seated in one of two areas apart from the bar. At prime time, you may have to wait for a table, as The Rack doesn’t take reservations.

We came at 6 p.m. on a Saturday and didn’t have to wait; the hostess told a party that came around 7 p.m. that the backup was an hour. With this in mind, I have two words for our server who never hinted at hurrying us nor lost her affable, unhassled demeanor in the midst of all the hubbub: Bless you.

Barbecue is the specialty du maison. We dug in, and we dug it. Mostly.

The Avalanche Brisket platter ($18.99) was a mound of shaved beef brisket mixed with “Roasted and Toasted” sauce, which was really hot stuff. A delicious brisket sandwich will get you the same meat, but less of it for less money ($9.99), and with sides of cole slaw and sweet potato fries. The latter were thin-cut and crispy.

Hog Heaven was a platter of moist shredded pork, and because I asked to try two different sauces from the four house-made choices, they came in plastic dishes instead of mixed in. The Pow Pow sauce was a traditional, sweet, tomato-y and mildly spicy blend, and was quite good.

But the apple chipotle sauce, which resembles apple pie filling in texture and somewhat in taste, did not appeal.

The skin-on mashed potatoes were garlicy, lumpy and firm in a good homestyle way. But the cornbread was spongy, and the cole slaw and beans nondescript.

After several visits to Texas, I’ve learned that at a serious ‘cue spot, the aroma of smoked meat hits you before you get out of your car, and the sides get as much loving attention as the centerpiece. That wasn’t the case here. Nevertheless, the barbecue was good enough to put on the repeat list.

The almond-crusted, plank-roasted salmon was a delicious and healthy entree option, with sides of sauteed spinach splashed with balsamic vinegar and slightly firm green beans, but a blah risotto ($22.99).

Roast Peking duck with cranberry orange glaze — you get half the bird, bone in — was tender with some stringiness. The shiny lacquer was fruity and sweet, but missed that touch of Asia ($22.99).

The Rack also turns out pizza. After a full day on the mountain, the 30-something snowboarder in our party went for a Big Rac, which was ground beef crumbles, lettuce, tomato, cheese, red onion, dill pickle and special sauce on a sesame seed crust ($13.99). He enjoyed it and said he’d have it again, declaring, “I knew what I was getting into.”

Of my two bites, one tasted primarily of dill pickle, the other of “special sauce.” (To be fair, these bites were a little like the blind man touching the elephant; I didn’t get the full picture.) The crust was thin, too firm and lacking in yeasty bubbles. There are plenty of other specialty pizza choices on the menu, if this one isn’t your thing. It wasn’t mine.

The Caesar salad dressing was a nice balance of lemon, anchovy paste and Parmesan ($6.99). Out of three standard dessert options — brownie sundae, creme brulee and key lime pie — we ordered the pie. It was low-slung, tart and tangy, with a crumbly graham cracker crust ($6.50) and served in a shallow salad bowl.

Our unflappable server made a fresh pot of decaf for us. Her final act of gallantry? Tracking me down in the cold, vast parking lot, in her shirt sleeves, still as pleasant as could be, even after I had inadvertently walked off with the signed credit slip. Yup, good things happen at The Rack. You don’t want to be a stranger. 

Nancy Heiser is a freelance writer. She can be reached at:

nancyheiser.com

 


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