Into the Woods + Off the Grid
With chef Greg McCausland, Tea Pond Lodge and Cabins offers memorable meals at journey’s end.
To reach Tea Pond Lodge and Cabins by car, turn off Route 27 in Eustis and drive a little more than two miles to the end of an unpaved road where, depending on the time of year, the parking lot may hold more ATVs or snow-mobiles than road vehicles. When business and life partners Sandra Lamontagne and Craig House bought the property in 2015, it consisted of eight rustic log cabins clustered along the shore of scenic Tea Pond. On a hill above the cabins, the couple built a cozy lodge with a restaurant and bar to turn the old hunting and ﬁshing camp into a year-round destination; its busiest season is winter, when the most popular way to get there is by snowmobile. Aptly named Off the Beaten Path, the restaurant is known for hearty comfort food, including Lamontagne’s signature meatloaf, prepared by chef Greg McCausland, a Philadelphia native who joined Tea Pond Lodge and Cabins in July 2018. On a sunny fall Saturday, he and Lamontagne sat down with me in front of the lodge’s stone ﬁreplace to talk about the classic dish and the evolution of this distinctly Maine hideaway.
Q. What’s special about this meatloaf?
A. Lamontagne: When Craig [House] and I started this, we wanted to do homey, comfort food. My kids grew up on my meatloaf, and I love meatloaf sandwiches, so we ﬁrst put it on as a Thursday night special three years ago. The following spring we were talking with the staff about changing the menu, as we always do, and I wanted to take the meatloaf off. One of our servers said, “No, no, no, do you know how many people come here for the meatloaf?” So it stayed.
We use ground sirloin, a special blend that we have ground for us at Pines Market in Eustis. I love onions, but we use onion powder because a lot of people don’t like chopped onions. Obviously we’ve got our eggs and bread crumbs; we also put in bacon bits, shredded cheddar cheese, and some spices I’m not going to reveal. We serve it with horseradish demi-glace and our special roasted garlic mashed potatoes.
Q. Tell me about the sandwich.
A. McCausland: Every snowmobile season we want to feature a new sandwich. This year, we’re doing a meatloaf sandwich with tomato, onion jam, arugula, and candied bacon grilled on sourdough with cheddar cheese.
Lamontagne: We get 250 to 300 people through here every Saturday on snowmobiles; they can’t get enough of our meatloaf sandwiches.
Q. How did you ﬁnd your way to Tea Pond from Philadelphia?
A. McCausland: I’ve been coming to Maine since I was about seven years old; my family are avid hunters, and I came up here bear hunting 10 or 12 times. Every time I went back to Pennsylvania, I’d ramble on about how beautiful it was, and it’s always been in the back of my mind to move to Maine. I just never really wanted to pull the trigger, so to speak. After a long career cooking in restaurants, I was working for an elevator service company, and it didn’t work out. My brother said, “Go back to what you know,” and I posted on a Maine moose-hunting Facebook page to see if any of the sporting lodges were looking for a cook for hunting season. Danny Chase, the care-taker of the property, replied and told me to send my resume to Sandy. We had a beautiful phone conversation, and she invited me up for an interview. We agreed about everything, and she said, “When could you be back?” I said, “Give me a week and I’ll be here.” That was it.
Q. How do you plan the menu?
A. McCausland: Sandy and Craig and I sit down together; they’re very involved in the business. We plan the menu together, always with quality ingredients, and if I ask for anything, they get it. Our food is not over-thought; it shines because of the ingredients, not complicated preparations and sauces. The menu changes seasonally, but there are some core things that stay, like the Friday prime rib and the meatloaf.
Q. What are you most looking forward to in the next year?
A. McCausland: I love the organized chaos of snowmobile season. Last year, when Craig was in the kitchen with us, it was my ﬁrst winter here, and I wasn’t quite sure if I was going to make it because of the cold winters, but we had a lot of fun.
Lamontagne: Like I said to Greg this morning, I appreciate everything he does and how easy he makes our lives. We recently did a wedding, and I didn’t have to deal with anything in the kitchen, whereas before he came, it was always a balancing act with everything. Some back-ground: Craig and I used to do 3,500 to 4,000 miles a year on snowmobiles. We’d stay at places like this, and say, “We could so do this.” We bought the property with the plan that within ﬁve years we’d build the lodge; it took eight months. I said from the jumpstart that at some point I wanted to build a wedding pavilion over there on the ridge and do weddings; this summer we opened the pavilion. We’re actually in Jim Pond Township, which is part of Maine’s unorganized territory, so we were grateful to qualify for a Franklin County TIF [Tax Increment Financing] grant and revolving loan to build it. We face different challenges operating a business here. We’re off the grid and generate our own electricity by solar and generator. We’re not doing any more projects for a while; I’m focused on promoting the pavilion for weddings and corporate events. We’ve had our speed bumps, but I’m looking forward to making people happy and serving them some of Greg’s great cooking.