Diners outside at Nebo Lodge on North Haven. Photo by Kelsey Gayle

If Nebo Lodge weren’t real, someone would have had to dream it into being. Probably a fiction writer smitten by Maine and its natural beauty, its wabi-sabi coastal communities and local foodways where everything from oysters to nettles to lobster comes from a few miles away. Who else could invent the tongue-and-groove, stained-wood ceilings and intricate woodworked bar? The vintage tablecloths and mix-and-match French café chairs? The dozens of repurposed jars and bottles featuring a stem or two apiece, each picked from someone’s wildflower plot a few yards away?

But Nebo Lodge, a handsome North Haven landmark that opened in 1912 as a modest rooming house, is a real place. You can go there. Just not without some planning.

Travel from Vinalhaven across the Fox Islands Thoroughfare in a skiff that skips across the deep waters in three, maybe four minutes. Or work with Nebo’s staff to arrange private round-trip transport on the Equinox, a chartered water-taxi that picks up and drops off in Rockland. But if you’re interested in the fully immersive North Haven experience, travel by Maine State Ferry from Rockland in the daytime and spend some time wandering the charming, if tiny, town (year-round population: about 400), then hunker down for the night because ferries stop at 3:45 p.m.

Dining at Nebo Lodge or visiting North Haven (or Vinalhaven for that matter) isn’t something you do by accident. If you’re there, you’ve made some effort. And for an upscale restaurant, that’s exactly the kind of preamble you crave. If customers arrive at your property already having “an experience” before they walk in the door, well, consider the wheels pre-greased for a good night.

Blueberry smash cocktail Courtesy of Nebo Lodge

Everyone’s susceptible, even staff. Ask this season’s new head chef, Robert Flanagan (Sur Lie, Earth at Hidden Pond). “I came out here to Nebo in 2020 and jumped right into the busiest season where we were doing 180 covers a night, and then after I’d been here a week, we had to serve Gordon Ramsey,” he said. “But there’s this thing, this feeling being at the restaurant and the hotel: the gardens, the island itself. It’s been said too much, but there’s no other way to describe it other than ‘magical.’ When I came out here, I was mesmerized by the place. I still am.”

Booze helps. Start with one of Nebo’s dreamy cocktails, especially since you’re almost certainly not driving home after dinner. Something like a citrusy, minty Blueberry Smash ($14) made with your choice of vodka or gin (go for gin) or a floral take on a Kir Royale made with Prosecco and a lavender slug of lilac-infused simple syrup ($14).


If you’re more in the mood for wine, Nebo Lodge serves the pricier bottles you’d expect, as well as many respectable sub-$50 options, like a jammy 2016 Easton Zinfandel from California ($48) that stacks up nicely against a grill-marked pork chop ($34) plated with fat Israeli couscous, seared maitake mushrooms and a tart chimichurri punched up with bouquets of island-grown herbs: flat-leaf parsley, chives, even licoricey mentuccia Romana.

By-the-glass beverage choices are also plentiful and are calibrated to work with most appetizers, especially savory, wine-friendly plates like foraged stinging nettles whipped into Cider Hill Farm ricotta and served with slices of house-made focaccia ($17). The flavors are terrific but proportions here need tweaking: There’s enough spread for eight pieces of bread, and the kitchen only sends out two.

Apart from pointing out Nebo’s explicit mission to source most ingredients locally, it’s hard to categorize Flanagan’s and his second-in-command, Michael Lucey’s menu. It’s mostly European bistro-style cooking, but with several ambitious “wildcard” dishes that don’t fit into Nebo’s reliable template of evergreen offerings like steak, seared fish and salad.

“Those wildcards are dishes I put on the menu to make my life harder,” Flanagan said with a chuckle. “People don’t realize how hard it is to get things out to the island, and how flexible you have to be. Sometimes you don’t get what you order from a supplier, sometimes you get something different you didn’t ask for. You have to be able to make changes quick, and those wildcard dishes are the hardest ones to adjust.”

The ras el hanout-spiced roasted carrots at Nebo Lodge. Courtesy of Nebo Lodge

So if you visit Nebo Lodge and order the ras el hanout-spiced roasted carrots ($15), you’ll probably get Flanagan’s bespoke, cinnamon-and-cardamom-dominant spice blend dusted over baby carrots and sprinkled onto a pastel-pink spoonful of yogurt smoked over cinchona bark, Urfa biber pepper and sumac. Probably. Who knows what the morning boat will bring over…

And that element of randomness, that’s part of the adventure of being out in the middle of the Penobscot Bay without a big supermarket or a bridge. If a bit of volatility is too much for you, my fellow worriers and planners, you can relax, knowing that Nebo Lodge also features standby dishes so tasty that, according to Flanagan, “our regular customers would come out here with pitchforks if we tried to change or eliminate them.”


Meyer lemon semifreddo ($14) is one of those dishes, according to Flanagan. I can understand how the zesty tartness of the airy frozen dessert keeps diners coming back. I’m not as sold on the crumbly almond “streusel” chunks; they feel a little disconnected from the rest of the dish. But the North Haven blueberry sauce gets my enthusiastic thumbs-up.

There’s also always a homemade pasta on the menu. Currently, Flanagan and his team of three cooks are using their copper-die-fitted pasta machine to extrude wavy ribbons of mafaldine. Finished with Romano and taleggio cheeses in a modified cacio e pepe style ($24) along with grilled, island-grown garlic scapes, it is an excellent bowl of noodles.

Yet as with most produce, garlic scapes aren’t in season forever. If you’re reading this on the deck of the Captain Neil Burgess, wind whipping your hair on your way over to North Haven, you might want to prepare yourself for local, fresh-picked crab or massaged kale in that pasta. Neither is a downgrade. Or better yet, don’t think about it until you arrive. Just show up and let North Haven tell its story.

Nebo Lodge grill-marked pork chop with Israeli couscous, seared maitake mushrooms and chimichurri sauce. Courtesy of Nebo Lodge

RATING: ****
WHERE: 11 Mullins Lane, North Haven. 207-867-2007. nebolodge.com
SERVING: Tuesday to Saturday, 5-9 p.m., subject to season
PRICE RANGE: Appetizers: $14-$20, Entrees and pastas: $24-$40
NOISE LEVEL: Preppy Handbook book launch
VEGETARIAN: Some dishes
BAR: Beer, wine, cocktails

BOTTOM LINE: Nebo Lodge is a charming bistro-style restaurant with a bit of eclectic flair on an unbridged island in Penobscot Bay. Get there however you like (water taxi, ferry, skiff) and prepare to be captivated, especially on long evenings when sunlight stubbornly refuses to fade. A (surprising, given the relative wealth on the island) reasonably priced wine list awaits, as do well-executed dishes like grilled pork chops with local-herb-chimichurri, mafaldine pasta with North Haven garlic scapes, and ras el hanout carrots with yogurt smoked in cinchona bark until it blushes pink. Be ready to stay overnight if you come for dinner without private transport back. And guess what? Nebo Lodge has you covered there, too. Rooms start at $185/night.

Ratings follow this scale and take into consideration food, atmosphere, service, value and type of restaurant (a casual bistro will be judged as a casual bistro, an expensive upscale restaurant as such):


* Poor
** Fair
*** Good
**** Excellent
***** Extraordinary

The Maine Sunday Telegram visits each restaurant once; if the first meal was unsatisfactory, the reviewer returns for a second. The reviewer makes every attempt to dine anonymously and never accepts free food or drink.

Andrew Ross has written about food and dining in New York and the United Kingdom. He and his work have been featured on Martha Stewart Living Radio and in The New York Times. He is the recipient of five recent Critic’s Awards from the Maine Press Association.

Contact him at: andrewross.maine@gmail.com
Twitter: @AndrewRossME

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