Referring to Calderwood Hall as a pizza joint is a little like calling Amazon.com a bookstore. Both are technically accurate, yet hilariously wild understatements that leave most of the truth unspoken. But when owner Cecily Pingree approached kitchen manager and head chef Jessie Hallowell about opening a new seasonal restaurant in the gray-shingled building on the corner of Iron Point Road and Main Street in North Haven, she did just that.

“I was ready for a change,” said Hallowell, who was cooking at nearby Nebo Lodge at the time. “So when Cecily bought the building, she asked me ‘Hey, do you want to start a pizza restaurant?’ and that’s how it all started. She had a lot of faith in me, thinking that I could make pizza. I had cooked it at home, but never at any great capacity.”

That winter, Hallowell spent months playing with dough, tinkering with flours, hydration ratios and fermentation techniques. As the weather started warming up in 2013, she and her small kitchen crew and front-of-house team began serving dinners a few nights a week in a room that once doubled as a basketball court and dance floor.

Soon enough, they added a tiny farm co-op market at the rear and a full bar whose arrow-handled taps today exclusively pour beers that come from North Haven Brewing Company, located (where else?) on the ground floor of the Calderwood Hall building. Then, over the next two years, they started a midmorning “Coffee Hour,” a late breakfast of pastries and sandwiches served primarily to local workers. It seemed inevitable that lunch service would follow, and in 2015, it did. “We’ve evolved to the point that we’re feeding some people three meals a day,” Hallowell said. “I guess it was always intended to be a hub of the community, a place for people to come where they can feel welcome. It’s not just any single thing anymore. And that’s hard … but good.”

On most weekend evenings in the summer, it feels as if every adult on North Haven, Vinalhaven and Islesboro is there, waiting patiently with a house-infused cherry Old Fashioned ($9) or puckery, Margarita-esque Paloma cocktail ($9) in hand, ready to parachute into one of the 80-ish indoor seats the instant it becomes free. If the weather is nice, another few dozen spots beckon from picnic tables on the front lawn.

An especially thorough afternoon drenching ruled out the option of outdoor seating when I visited last week, which was fine by me, as it meant a view of the open kitchen, where my guests and I watched Hallowell’s team slide scores of pies in and out of the propane-fired deck oven.

Over the course of two hours, we tasted four pizzas (all $17/$24). What arrived at our table mirrored what we saw slipped onto peels throughout the night: abundantly topped pies with all-too-unpredictable crusts.

On the Garden Lover sat thin slices of summer squash; halved yellow cherry tomatoes wrinkled during baking; crumbles of sweet, house-made ricotta and weeping, sugary kernels of barely cooked corn – as if August had been reincarnated as a pizza. But wet ingredients leach water, which creates problems like mushy bottom crusts.

The Pickled pizza suffered in precisely the same way. Here, electric-pink sumac-pickled onions and ricotta shed enough moisture to keep the pizza from firming up underneath, despite its bubbly browned perimeter crust. “Never mind,” one of my guests exclaimed as she grabbed a fork and knife, “It’s too good to worry about floppiness. Or the mess.” She made a good point; the pie’s lilting, tangy-savory combo was unexpected and wonderful. Fix the sogginess issue, and this is a pie worth replicating off-island.

The pizzas at Calderwood Hall, which is open from May to September on North Haven, challenge traditional notions of what belongs on a pie. Photos courtesy of Calderwood Hall

It’s not as if Calderwood Hall’s kitchen doesn’t know how to produce a great crust. Take the Farmer pizza, a lasagna-like layering of crushed San Marzano tomato sauce, spinach, goat cheese and uncased sweet Italian sausage brought in from the bar manager’s daytime business, Four Acre Farms. Despite plenty of wet ingredients, this pie’s slices were crisp and charred in all the right places.

Yet no crust came close to the airy, blistered foundation of the Calderwood pie, a white-sauce pizza topped with poblano chiles, red onions, mozzarella and shredded chicken sautéed a little too exuberantly with cumin. Still, the crust was so good, I stole the ends from my less carb-friendly guests.

As we ate, we ran into a frustrating problem: The tiered stands used to hold two pies at a time are too wide for the aluminum pizza platters they support. Simply reaching for a slice frequently causes one platter to fall onto the pizza below, or worse, onto the table. And don’t even think about using a knife on a pie on the upper deck; it’ll end up in your lap.

The dining room once doubled as a basketball court and a dance floor and seats 80 or so. The restaurant’s taps exclusively pour beers from North Haven Brewing Co., which is located on the building’s ground floor.

For those less pizza-philic, the kitchen offers tartar-sauce-drizzled baked fish cakes ($14), baseball-sized quenelles of hake or haddock, florid with tarragon, parsley and chive. Held together with gluten-free panko, they reminded me a bit of a flakier take on gefilte fish – possibly the last thing anyone would expect to find in one of the WASPiest places in the state.

Hallowell’s salads are both also worth a mention, in part because they are built around leaves from nearby Turner Farm. Her green salad, strewn generously with pepitas and dried cranberries ($9), used balsamic vinegar and cubes of firm-and-salty ricotta salata to connect Italian flavors to North Haven’s freshest produce. But her Caesar ($9) was even more interesting, thanks to a loose, lemon-and-anchovy dressing that broke from tradition, pitching layers of flavor higher and higher – away from classic yolky creaminess, towards a lighter, more citrusy balancing point.

Every time I have eaten at Calderwood Hall, I have gotten a real kick out of Hallowell’s culinary experiments, even though some, like damp salted caramel Rice Krispie treats ($4), don’t turn out quite as well as her Caesar dressing. But I’m starting to wonder if the restaurant’s multiple personalities are preventing it from developing the consistency it lacks. I understand that there’s a lively bar and farm market, pastry bakery and coffee shop here, but deep down, Calderwood Hall really is a pizza place. Perhaps now, in the twilight of its fifth summer, the time is right to commit to making every pie as reliably excellent as it certainly could be.

Andrew Ross has written about food in the United Kingdom and in New York, where he co-founded NYCnosh, a food website. He and his work have been featured on Martha Stewart Living Radio and in The New York Times. Contact him at:

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Twitter: @AndrewRossME