An evening at 76 Pleasant Street is a journey into the unexpected.

There’s the restaurant itself, a tiny operation serving only 24 customers, that you discover inside of a sprawling 19th-century clapboard manse located on a quiet road running north from downtown Norway.

There’s the menu, which consists of just a few appetizers and entrees, and includes the predictable – corn chowder and filet of beef – but also the surprising: escargots with Sambuca and prosciutto, braised pork belly with currants and butternut squash, and Icelandic cod with Ancho tomato broth and parsley puree. (We’ll get to that.)

And, most importantly, there’s the cooking, which is assured, consistent and deliciously unanticipated.

“Visitors often ask us what we’re doing in Norway,” says Amy Baker, an experienced restaurateur who opened 76 Pleasant Street with her husband, Bret, in 2010. (She shares responsibilities for prep and takes care of the front of the house. He works in the kitchen, behind – get this – a modest four-burner stove.) “Certainly the banks were skeptical when we said we wanted to relocate from Lake Tahoe and open here … They didn’t think it would work.” But the skeptics underestimated the enthusiastic clientele coming to the area, she says, as well as the “amazing support” the Bakers received from the local community. “If we had opened in Portland we’d be one restaurant among a million. Here, we’re one of a kind.”

So is that pork belly ($9), a thick slab that’s dry-brined with sugar and salt, then braised in beer for hours before being seared in a blazing hot cast-iron pan. The outside is outrageously crisp (think the best, crispiest bacon you’ve ever tried) and the interior is luxuriously fatty, with an appealing sweetness from both the brine and the currant-laced syrup drizzled around the plate. Slice off a corner (you’ll likely hear the crunch) and savor the fat and flavor oozing from the meat. Sure, you’ll crave a larger serving, but even a little more of this unctuous treat would be way too much. Dinner’s just started.


If you’re lucky, you’ve gone with a few friends and encouraged (well, begged) at least one of them to order escargots ($12). They’re not served in the shell with one of those spring-loaded and vaguely medieval-looking extraction tongs. Instead, they’re piled onto a plate around a hunk of crostini and accompanied by sweet, soft slivers of cooked shallot, a few shards of crisped prosciutto and a chiffonade of fresh basil. A friend marveled at the flavor (the begging apparently worked), offering a snail with a question: “Can you make out the sweetness?” Yes, absolutely, but what is it? Star anise? Honey? Fennel sautéed with the shallots? Wrong on all counts. “That’s Sambuca,” Amy Baker explains. “Bret sautés the snails with butter and garlic and a splash of the Italian liqueur…It’s become one of our most popular appetizers.”

Unexpected sweetness comes through once again in the roasted cod ($24), served in a pool of tomato broth made with San Marzano tomatoes and topped with a jam-like dollop of parsley puree enriched with golden raisins. Those accompaniments are delicious, but the cod could easily stand on its own: It’s impeccably cooked, moist and flavorful, and nearly as soft as butter.

Another friend offers a taste of his lamb entree ($28), a trio of juicy loin chops served with a few spoonfuls of aromatic harissa on the side. Like the fish, this meat is expertly cooked (the chops are tasty reminders of all the reasons to love mild lamb) and carefully seasoned. And this time the kitchen has replaced sweetness with fire; the ancho and guajillo chilies in the harissa lend greater depth to the meat. In a piquant flourish, Bret Baker finishes the plate with a few leaves of arugula tossed with garlic oil and lemon juice.

There’s still more pepper in the pink-peppered filet of beef ($28) served with whipped cannellini beans and crimini mushrooms. By now, all of us at the table are anticipating inventive sauces, and the beef delivers. It’s served with a tart gastrique made with sherry vinegar and shallots, chili paste and sugar. Paired with that sauce, the rare slices of beef are juicy, meaty and entirely delicious.

Four diners, four different entrees, can all of us be equally impressed? “These are the best scallops ($27) I’ve had in a long time,” says the last friend to weigh in. “They’re perfectly cooked.” Barely warm in the center, caramelized on the outside, the large bivalves are plump and sweet and rich-tasting – especially after a bath in the pool of brown butter and cauliflower puree on the plate. Texture plays a significant role here, too: the supple scallops are topped with a few finely chopped hazelnuts.

Like all of the appetizers and entrees we try at 76 Pleasant Street, desserts ($6.50 each) prove intensely flavored and varied. Limoncello cake may be the best of all, with sugary layers of yellow sponge cake separated by a tart limoncello cream and showered with gingersnap crumbs.

A free-form apple crisp with salted caramel gelato is nearly as good (it’s made with tart Granny Smiths as well as sweeter Golden Delicious apples). And the profiterole is excellent. And large. It’s a shatteringly crisp vessel for a scoop of vanilla ice cream, and it’s drenched in a sharply-flavored espresso-chocolate ganache.

Enjoying desserts – and an entire dinner – this good, this far off Maine’s well-beaten restaurant path is a genuine surprise. Thoroughly unexpected. Entirely delicious. And absolutely unforgettable.

James H. Schwartz has covered food, travel and architecture for The Washington Post, Downeast, Coastal Living and Southern Living magazines. He received the Maine Press Association’s First Place Critic’s Award in 2015.

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