The less you ski, the more time you have to après-ski. In this regard, there is no better place to be than Sugarloaf.
There are many people who, when asked about their experience at a ski resort, will begin with a discussion of the trail conditions and snowy weather forecasts. While this is perfectly reasonable, this element of the mountain is of absolutely zero consequence to me because, to put it bluntly, I do not ski. Lucky for me, most folks who spend time at Sugarloaf tend to be just as obsessed with food and drink as they are with hitting the slopes. This allows me to fit in quite seamlessly and effectively assess après-ski options around the mountain—without getting bogged down by clunky equipment.
The first destination of my eating marathon is 45 North, located at the base level of the Sugarloaf Mountain Hotel. From the moment I step through the large barn door, I notice the Maine farmhouse-inspired decor, which serves as a preview for the retro-inspired food. 45 North serves a refined version of pre-1950s local cuisine, a concept they have researched extensively. I begin with the Fishmonger’s Board, which features various forms of raw fruits de mer, as well as Ducktrap smoked salmon and deviled egg with lobster. The appetizer is refreshing and simple and is served with rye toast and crème fraiche. The Delmonico pork ribeye is a heartier dish that is seared medium rare, glazed with maple syrup from Sugarloaf’s Sugar Shack, and served alongside some of the most insanely buttery carrots I’ve ever tasted. The Shack was added to Sugarloaf’s base area in 2010 and its nectar is a thing of pride among locals.
It is late afternoon and I strike out from the hotel towards my next destination, the Widowmaker. In front of the lounge I wade through a large impromptu dance party that dances to Sugar Ray’s “Fly.” I make my way upstairs to the sprawling barroom. I select a high top by a window that overlooks the action down below because, even if dance parties aren’t my thing, I am always up for people watching. The bar itself is bright and open, and generally hosts lively events because it has plenty of seating and a high-energy party vibe. I’m told that the Widowmaker is most famous for nachos, and I can say without any hesitation that they are some of the best I have ever had. The platter is heaped high, mounded with pickled jalapenos, olives, sour cream, and salsa and bound together by cheese. As I sip beer and Irish whiskey, I note that this place must turn into an absolute madhouse during peak hours, which is confirmed by neighboring diners. I get about halfway through my delicious platter of nachos before realizing that I would be seriously jeopardizing the rest of my day if I were to go any further, so I am forced to place my napkin over the remainder to signal defeat (while simultaneously shielding my eyes from temptation).
Next is the Bag and Kettle, a place I knew only from their signature poster bearing the image of a shirtless wild man gripping a bottle of Jack Daniels. One of the first things I learn when I meet owner Pat Mulligan is that the gentleman depicted in the poster was an employee of the pub for quite some time. The Bag and Kettle, above all else, recalls a classic English pub, and as I scan the bar for a perch I find myself drawn to the low-hanging green glass lamp at the very end. I find out later that said lamp is something of an icon in the area, even boasting its own mysteriously hosted Facebook page. From this spot, I enjoy the last of the sunset while sipping a glass of Irish whiskey. After chatting briefly with Jon DiBiase, who has tended bar at the Bag and Kettle for almost 30 years, in addition to managing the golf course in the warmer months, I am joined by Mulligan, who shows me the newly expanded “whiskey shelf,” and gives me a tour of the full line of beers brewed on location. I note that Mulligan is the kind of guy who shares my agenda, and I make plans to track him down once I have satisfied my initial itinerary.
Initially my journey had involved a single night’s stay, but on my way out of the Bag and Kettle, Mulligan introduces me to John Diller, the general manager of Sugarloaf and a beloved, well-known authority around these parts. He asks me where I plan to visit, and when I omit Bullwinkle’s from the list he seems very concerned.
“Well, the problem is that it’s up the mountain and I don’t ski,” I tell him, “So I don’t know how I would get there.”
“Listen, you just let me handle that,” Diller replies. “Plan on staying another night, and I’m going to arrange transportation up the mountain for you tomorrow at 12:30 p.m. sharp.”
He adds that I should definitely make an effort to enjoy a Bloody Mary in the red Adirondack chair, but before I can inquire as to the details of such an activity I am whisked off to my next stop, Gepetto’s.
Because of the nature of the beast, it’s no surprise that I’m running a little late, but luckily the veteran crew at Gepetto’s is ready to see me through an eclectic array of starters, accompanied by selections from a thoughtfully put together wine list. I tackle a plate of sesame-crusted tuna served rare with the traditional soy, wasabi, and ginger on the side. The dining room has a certain warmth and familiarity and the place is packed in the early evening, especially from 3 to 6 p.m., with patrons making themselves right at home. Most diehard Sugarloafers seem to mention Gepetto’s first on their list of more sophisticated dining options and, as I take a bite of their beef satay with chimichurri sauce, I can see why.
On the way out I notice the Sushi Side Bar attached to the restaurant and run by veteran sushi chef Harrison Maung. Locals tell me that the specialty rolls and basic nigiri are delicious and from what I can tell the small bar doubles as a mini sports bar. However, time is of the essence so it will have to wait until my next excursion.
I visit the Shipyard Brew Haus, where chef Gary Hubert, formerly of 45 North, has taken the reins. In addition to a full range of beers from the iconic Portland brewery, they offer a full bar. I’m served a plate of crisp seared crab cakes accompanied by a dizzyingly good sweet and sour slaw. The space itself seems custom-designed to accommodate both families and sizeable groups of rowdy skiers. Its location in the White Cap Inn makes the Brew Haus the perfect venue for a nightcap, plus I feel strangely compelled to try and join their mug club for a potential visit in the a.m. But no, I have one more stop tonight.
Not far down the access road I come upon the Rack, a raucous nightclub that regularly features live entertainment. I make my way to the bar, knowing that I’ve got one last dish to sample for the evening. The crowd, well into (or past) the après-ski experience, is quite lively and seems to be growing larger by the minute. I go for a half order of chicken wings, which I polish off quickly as the band starts playing, and I head upstairs to shoot pool and drink cold beer in a heavily grafittied gondola overlooking an illuminated likeness of Jack Torrance. This bar maintains the slogan, “Serving questionable locals… and those soon to be.” I feel that I fit the bill quite brilliantly.
The next morning I meet Mulligan at the Bag and Kettle to experience what everyone has been telling me about since the moment I got here: the Bag Burger. The Bag Burger is composed of a formidably large charbroiled beef patty topped with L.T.O. and onion rings plus a creamy “house sauce.” It’s pretty damn delicious, cooked perfectly with a very pleasant char on the patty. I can’t imagine how anyone could ski after consuming it, but I suppose that isn’t what this story is about.
It is now noon, and time for my trip up the mountain to Bullwinkle’s. I’m not entirely surprised to discover that my mode of transportation will be a shiny, new and, might I add, hot pink Snowcat. I must say that John Diller was right – any story about après-ski without mentioning Bullwinkle’s would be completely ludicrous. It’s pretty amazing; you can sit out on the deck, which is on the slopes, and sip drinks while putting your feet up and taking in the warm sun. Inside, I dip into one of the better wine selections on the mountain, while sampling a series of dishes, including fried Brussels sprouts, tomato margherita flatbread, and a superlative Reuben sandwich.
Later in the day I make my way back down the mountain, This time in a Snowcat with the last of the kitchen crew from Bullwinkle’s, and reflect on the experience. It is apparent that, although skiing is the way of life up here in Carrabassett Valley, everyone I meet is equally as enthusiastic to talk to me about what restaurants I’ve been to. I would speculate that the act of skiing, with the cold weather and long days, would tend to create the need for reliable epicurean comforts, so I am not surprised.
Sugarloaf prides itself on its après-ski options, and it is apparent after two solid days here that the bar continues to be raised, while Sugarloafers continue to party and have a good time.
45 North | 5092 Sugarloaf Access Rd | Carrabassett Valley | (207) 237-4220
The Widowmaker Lounge | 5012 Access Rd | Carrabassett Valley |
The Bag and Kettle | 19 Village W. | Carrabassett Valley | (207) 237-2451
Gepetto’s | 900 Main St. 1 | Carrabassett Valley | (207) 237-2192
Shipyard Brew Haus | 1000 Commons Circle | Carrabassett Valley
The Rack | 5092 Sugarloaf Access Rd | Carrabassett Valley | (207) 237-2000