The White Barn Inn, Kennebunk
The White Barn Inn is one of the most special places to dine in Maine. Elegant and expensive, it’s a destination spot for weddings, anniversaries, and milestone birthdays. As much as I love food and wine, I’m embarrassed to admit I’ve never had the opportunity to experience the award-winning menu and serviceuntil recently. A few weeks ago the White Barn Inn opened its second dining room for a winter à la carte bistro menu.
I’m excited to visit the property and anticipate impeccable service and hospitality, but I soon realize it’s even better than I imagine. As I park, I’m greeted by a valet who ensures that my car will be warm and waiting when I’m ready to leave. Within minutes, the Maître D’hôtel, Matthew Swinford, introduces me to executive chef Jonathan Cartwright. He graciously takes the time to share the details of the property’s rich history. He speaks highly of the team of people who work to make the inn and the restaurant successful, and emphasizes the importance of evolving, renovating, and changing to meet the needs of the customer. This, he says, is how they came up with the idea for the bistro menu.
Cartwright describes the bistro experience as a casual, friendly, and more economical option for guests and locals. The food is simple and hearty, the dress code is not as strictjackets are not required in the bistro areaand the service is more relaxed.
For Jason, our server, who’s worked at the White Barn Inn for eight years and is trained to provide flawless five-star service, the bistro is a change of pace, even a challenge. He explains that, while he feels out of his elementthis is his first night in the bistrohe finds it humbling to do something new. He may feel out of sorts, but I can’t tell. He is engaging, charming, and throughout the night, he provides a perfect blend of casual and professional service.
Located past the main dining room and piano player, the second barn has exposed brick accents and wood beams. There are white tablecloths, but leather chairs, black napkins, and glass blown candleholders give the room a less formal feel.
Starting with a Hendrick’s gin martini on the rocks, I scan the menu. Options include soup and salad, pizza, light and hearty fare, a few side dishes, and desserts. The prices are reasonable considering it’s the White Barn Inn, and Jason tells me the portions are substantial.
I order the white pizza with house-smoked salmon and the chilled Kennebunkport lobster salad to start. The pizza can be shared as an appetizer, or paired with soup or salad, as a meal. The pizza crust is thin and perfectly crisp. With just a light drizzle of olive oil for sauce, the ingredients shine. Each bite features a combination of flavors and textures from the salty capers, smoky salmon, peppery arugula, and sweet red onions. It’s simple, yet absolutely delicious. The salad arrives and I have a hard time believing it’s February. The cucumbers and tomatoes taste fresh and lively, and there’s an unbelievable amount of local lobster meat on the plate. I add a squeeze of lemon, but it’s unnecessarythe balsamic emulsion is all that’s needed.
While enjoying the appetizers, I notice the other guests are local. They are laughing, sharing stories, and catching up with the servers. When chef Cartwright comes out to visit with each table, they greet him like an old friend. I like the vibe in this familiar and casual dining room; it’s fun to see people order clam chowder and turkey BLTs while listening to the piano player. I know that right next door people are having an amazing dining experience, but so am I. Talented chefs prepare my food, the service is professional, and the pace of the meal is perfect.
Although it’s a hard decision, I order the fish and chips and the wagyu beef burger. Both come with steak fries, and since I’m really going for it, I sample the trio of saucestruffle ketchup, ancho chili mayonnaise, and spicy blue cheese. The haddock is piping hot and coated in a crispy, golden batter, and I’m thrilled to see mushy peasa mint and pea pureecome with the dish. I add a dash of malt vinegar and enjoy the best fish and chips I’ve ever tasted. Before I become too full, I try the wagyu beef burger. I appreciate its simple accompaniments, housemade brioche bun, two rings of red onion, and a slice of tomato. Nothing more is needed when the beef is this juicy and flavorful.
The winter bistro menu is a special treat for those who want an incredible meal at a fraction of the cost in less than three hours. Nothing is lost in offering an à la carte menu at the White Barn Innthe quality of food, level of professionalism, and genuine hospitality remains the same. Perhaps now, more people will take advantage of this spectacular restaurant. I’m thankful for this experience, and as I leave the restaurant, I see the valet is right; my car is warm and waiting for me out front.
37 Beach Ave. | Kennebunk | 207.967.2321 | whitebarninn.com