Monday, July 12, 2010

The Chebeague Island Inn

The Webb Cottage clan has longed to be loyal Chebeague Island Inn devotees for ages. Over the years we've seen owners and managers come and go. There have certainly been high and lowlights during that time. The views from the covered veranda are spectacular, and there's nothing better than sipping a cocktail in one of the comfy wicker chairs, idly watching the boat traffic on Stone Wharf as the sun sets behind the New Hampshire mountains 50 miles off in the distance.  However, there was also the unfortunate, now hilarious, still-partially-frozen fish filet incident, and the nearly inedible lobster roll massacre back when Y2K was still a novelty. Still, we go back every summer with high hopes. The 130-year old Inn has great bones and loads of potential. It just wants for the right blend of moxie, vision and a solid business plan to make it a full fledged destination spot. The old girl may have found those in spades with the Prentice family. New general manager Casey with his parents Richard and Gerri bought then Inn back in January and have made great strides improving service and coming up with a smart marketing scheme. They lured hot Portland chef Justine Rowe to the island with the title of executive chef, and he's already making a mark with a seasonal menu of traditional favorites and new classics.
Miss Muffy and I stopped in on my first full day on island to nose around a bit, deliberating whether we wanted to risk another infamous meal in the dining room. Upon learning of the new owners and chef, and after perusing the menus, we made dinner reservations for a Monday later in my stay. Mondays, we were told, were Nostalgia Night, when Chef Rowe puts his own spin on family favorites.
Roasted Cornish Game Hens
Roasted Shallot, Herb & Mushroom Stuffing
Fingerling Potatoes, Green Beans

Slow-Cooked Baby Back Ribs
House Barbecue Sauce, Hand-Cut Fries, Cole Slaw

Spaghetti and Meatballs
Marinara Sauce

Oven Roasted Pork Chops
House-Made Applesauce, Sweet Potato Purée, English Peas

Vegetable Alfredo
Egg Noodles, Spinach, Asparagus, Roasted Corn

Baked Lemon Pepper Haddock
Basmati Rice, Asparagus, Chive Butter Sauce
Cornish Game HensBaby Back Ribs
Spaghetti and MeatballsOven Roasted Pork Chops
Vegetable AlfredoBaked Lemon Pepper Haddock
I don't know how we pulled it off with eight very independent appetites; hell, I can't even order a proper bottle of wine for the table without some fuss, but we somehow managed to order at least one of every entrée. Nary a complaint was uttered by anyone with the first bite. I got a taste of everything and can attest to Rowe's expertise in the kitchen. Lovely, rich sauces, perfectly executed doneness on all the meats. The haddock most especially was firm and flakey and cooked right through. KT's meatballs were nice and moist with a fine outer crust to them. The meat fell off the bone on the ribs. There was also a pleasant heat in Rowe's BBQ sauce. I suspect they had a dry rub before cooking.
And my game hens! Well, you can see for yourself what I thought of those. The stuffing, with the herbs and mushrooms, was homey yet sophisticated. Even the vegetables were faultlessly blanched. Not those mercilessly boiled grayish green things negligent chefs often serve. The table raved and raved.
I don't think Management was prepared for the Monday holiday after the Fourth. Wait staff and owners alike were running around, madly accommodating the fast-filling dining room. Even Richard Prentice himself was called into service bussing tables. Personally, I like seeing that. It shows an honest desire to succeed and gives one the impression that no one is above performing even the lowliest task to keep the customer happy. In any event, we got the last three slices of poor Chef Rowe's strawberry rhubarb pie. A couple of the kids tried to lick the glazing off their plates, so I presume they liked the dessert.
As Richard cleared, I took the opportunity to introduce myself and let him know how much we enjoyed our dinner. He showered an inordinate amount of attention on us afterwards. He told us about his family, a little bit about their background, and their hopes for the business. We discovered that the Prentices and the Webbs used to live just a few houses apart from one another in New Jersey. That sealed deal. Between dessert and a final glass of Port, J-Mac schmoozed with Casey and Gerri in the lobby. Always the charmer, he had them grinning ear to ear with his enthusiastic approval of the changes in the Inn and his fervent hopes for a thriving Prentice run. I'm not entirely sure, but I think we made reservations for next year before heading back to Webb Cottage that night.
Chef Rowe also does an appetizer and cocktail service every afternoon on the porch. He calls it Sunset Landing and it's a brilliant excuse for the grown ups to get away for a couple hours.
Sunset Landing
Marinated Olives

Devils on Horseback
Blue Cheese Stuffed Dates Wrapped in Bacon

Maine Oysters on the Half Shell
Green Peppercorn Mignonette

Artisanal Cheese Plate
Honeycomb, Fruit Compote, Nuts, Crostini

Charcuterie Plate
Whole Grain Mustard, Pickled Onion, Crostini

Lobster Corn Dogs
Sun Dried Tomato Aioli

Scallop Ceviche
Grilled Baguette

Duck Tenderloin Skewers
Root Vegetable Slaw

Bangs Island Mussels
Dijon, Horseradish, White Wine, Grilled Baguette
How do you improve on cheese and bacon? Well, Chef Rowe sets up a 3-way with plump moist dates and gives it a clever name. Our hostess cooed when we ordered them. A young woman of obvious fine breeding. And they were out of this world! The nutty sweet meat of the date was heightened by the tang of the cheese and the smokiness of the bacon. They were the show stopper at our table. I could have popped them into my mouth all afternoon. We'd heard about the corn dogs, and I couldn't wait to try them. They just missed the mark though, in my opinion. The aioli was an inspired condiment, but the cornmeal dough could have used a kick with a pinch of cayenne maybe, or even just some citrus zest in the lobster meat. The ceviche was perfection, however. Just the right amount of acid from the lime, and the thin slices of scallop stood up to the "cooking" sauce. Finally, duck should never be served any other way than pan seared or roasted on the bone. I liked Rowe's idea, but our duck was a little dry, a bit bland and deprived of the crackling skin good roast duck is famous for.
Miss Muffy gets upset when I'm critical of restaurants and food, especially on Chebeague. Then again, she doesn't have a mean bone in her body. I've had to explain that I'm not being contrary, just honest, with the aim of helping to make an establishment better through constructive scrutiny. At the Inn, my criticisms are minor and don't stop me from heartily endorsing the place to all my readers.

Photo courtesy of the Chebeague Island Inn
Well, the Inn is now in good hands. The Prentices, I think, have a feel for what will ultimately work on the Island, and what might be too ambitious. They seem to be earnest and sincere innkeepers, with an eye toward satisfying their clientele. They certainly impressed me, and I look forward to going back again and again.
Chebeague Island Inn
61 South Road
Chebeague Island, Maine 04017
(207) 846-5155

Open for accommodations and dining mid-May through mid-October.
Thanks for taking the time - Blog O. Food

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