Coplin Dinner House
Chef Tony Rossi employs high quality ingredients for simple yet inspired dishes that have truly raised the bar for cuisine in the region.
It basically sums up as this: You keep driving and driving into the darkness, for miles and miles, and, just when you think there is no way anything could be out here, behold the beacon of light that is the Coplin Dinner House.
Situated in a beautiful 1896 farmhouse, every element of the simple but elegant dining room speaks to an experience that it uncharacteristic given its location. Stark, white tablecloths and thinly veiled lights strung throughout contrast against vibrant paintings that adorn the walls. There are many rooms to explore, and I am pleasantly surprised to see all of them full of happy patrons, even on a cold night in January.
Owned and operated by chef Tony Rossi and his wife, Heidi Donovan, The Coplin Dinner House opened its doors in December of 2013, and the positive response was immediate. It provided a very pleasant contrast to the dining options at nearby Sugarloaf, where both Donovan and Rossi cut their teeth in restaurants for over a decade. This would probably contribute to the goodwill towards their establishment any time I mentioned them while eating and drinking my way around the mountain.
What’s interesting about the Coplin is that much of the produce, as well as the pigs, are the product of members of their staff.
“In a seasonal market like this, its not uncommon for most people to hold 2 or 3 jobs throughout the year,” Donovan explains. ”And many of our staff work in the variety of nearby farms.”
Of course, in the winter months, the availability of fresh produce presents a challenge.
“In the summer and fall, we generally have several people coming by every day with grown or foraged goods,” Rossi tells me, ”But in the winter we are somewhat limited to those who will actually deliver this far up.”
Still, the menu does not want for diversity in the wintertime by any stretch of the imagination. As I settle into my very comfortable chair and order up a glass of aromatic Terredora Falanghina, an ancient varietal from Campania, I notice other little details, such as the quality and heft of the flatware. Over warm rolls with butter, I plot my course with the menu.
I have an unfailing predisposition to order seared foie gras whenever it is available, and for good reason. The pinkishly hued, fatty duck liver melts in your mouth and lingers on the tongue like no other food that I can imagine, and generally benefits from the classical inclusion of cooked fruit, in this case raspberries, while sweet pecans add a pleasant crunch.
Rossi’s version of steak tartare is mostly traditional: well seasoned, super fresh beef, capers, whole grain mustard, and a farm egg yolk with the exception of adding pickled cherry peppers to impart both heat and piquancy. It is quite delicious, and I enjoy that they are not shy about the quantity of crostini they provide as a conduit, as I always feel somewhat awkward asking for more, almost as if I have exceeded the amount that any proper human being should consume. Nonsense, I want a lot of crostini.
On the subject of pigs, which as I mentioned are raised by a member of the kitchen staff, these ones are clearly happy, based on the sweetness of the fat and the tenderness of the meat I experience in a dish of crisp belly with pickled vegetables and stir-fried bok choy. And, because nothing should go to waste, they also offer a pleasingly stodgy kidney pie, in this case more like a flaky turnover, filled with pears, cranberries, and fresh herbs, lightly speckled with red wine sauce.
I particularly enjoy the process of pulling the tender, dark meat from the miniature bones of the roast Cavendish Quail, glazed with apricot sauce and served with velvety rich whipped potatoes and tangy goat cheese. At this point, while trying to be polite and divide the dish up for the photographer and me, I inadvertently make a small mess of my shirt. Our server appears out of nowhere with a glass of club soda, which is impressive. It is also, unfortunately, for naught as I repeat the incident with our last savory dish, Porcini Sacchetti. These mouthwatering little purses of fresh pasta filled with earthy cepes, sautéed in brown butter, and topped with fragrant sage leaves, is Sunday Supper food at its best.
Just as it goes with foie gras, I am also equally inclined to sample pretty much any version of carrot cake with cream cheese frosting, and pastry chef Ashley Wiencek’s interpretation of a classic does not disappoint in this regard. Were I to have space for both, I would have also opted for the poached pears with vanilla ice cream and mulled red wine reduction, as it came highly recommended by the server, and sounds pretty damn good.
The next day I pay a visit to Donovan and Rossi mid-morning, just as they are finishing the breakdown of a whole pig. It is difficult not to stay another night, if only to taste of one of the double cut pork chops I notice laid on the cutting surface. I ask Rossi a question that can be the bane of some chefs’ existence, while others employ a pre-rehearsed answer 1000x over, and that is, “How would you describe the style of your food?”
His response, after mulling it over, is perfect:
”I guess I make simple, real food.”
8252 Carrabassett Rd. | Stratton | (207) 246-0016 | Find them on facebook