“I’m big on salad preparation,” explains 45 North’s executive chef Gary Hubert. “In so many restaurants, it’s a leave-behind dish thrown together in an obligatory fashion. I want every single dressing that I create to be interesting, with layers of flavor that work in harmony with the salad’s components to create something truly special.”
This statement speaks volumes about Hubert’s relentless attention to each and every detail on his menus. A tall order, given that he now oversees four kitchen operations on Sugarloaf Mountain, which boasts some of the most passionate, addicted season pass holders in New England.
I meet with Hubert in the kitchen, several months before the official renovations are complete on what was formerly known as the Double Diamond Steakhouse and Wine Bar, located in the Sugarloaf Mountain Hotel. 45 North will be an entirely new concept, focusing on Maine comfort food to create both regionally and internationally inspired fare that will significantly raise the bar in the mountain’s culinary scene. Decor will seek to re-create the feel of a Maine farmhouse, complete with a barn-door entranceway.
Dining room manager Gina Taylor is particularly enthusiastic about the changes—after being run by a large national corporation, it will be the first time in many years that Sugarloaf will own the restaurant space. She joins us in the kitchen, where it appears I have some eating to do.
As Hubert walks me through the preparation of several dishes, it is apparent that years of experience have failed to dull his enthusiasm for great ingredients and the pleasures of simple comfort food. He is quick to supply me with a frosty cold beer before he gets caught up behind the line, where he immediately goes to work on a dish of smoked mussels, shrimp, and scallops—from Ducktrap River of Maine—served over angel hair pasta. “I love shallots,” he says, grinning, “any time you can use onions, shallots will always make things better.”
After sautéing said shallots in butter with the smoked seafood, in goes a hearty ladling of creamy béchamel, which immediately takes on the deep, smoky flavor in the pan. I see that a small dinner table has been set for me in the corner of the kitchen, and I am instructed to take a seat as the procession of food begins. Though the pasta is quite rich, it benefits from the acid imparted by lemon wedges dusted with smoked paprika, which further enhances the smoky nature of the dish.
Hubert has a lengthy history on the mountain—he began his culinary career at the Sugarloaf Inn in the 1970s. Over the course of 15 years, he worked his way through the ranks, ascending from dishwasher to executive chef (an increasingly rare feat in today’s kitchens, where many a would-be chef finishes culinary school and immediately feels entitled to top positions).
For Hubert’s crab cakes, he starts with liberal amounts of lump Jonah crabmeat, mixing in egg whites and hints of shallot and basil. The cakes are lightly coated with panko before being pan-fried to a crisp golden brown and topped with a spicy chipotle aioli and sweet, crunchy bits of fresh mango. What results is an airy cake that emphasizes the flavor of the crab itself, and pays homage to the preparation that was made famous most notably in Chesapeake Bay.
Nothing embodies the restaurant’s philosophy—“rewarding those who have been out skiing in the cold all day”—more than a heaping portion of bangers and mashed. A pair of plump, tender sausages are piled atop velvety mashed potatoes before being enveloped in a rich gravy consisting of both veal and beef demi-glace with cream—truly one of the most filling and soul-satisfying plates of food known to man. I am sure to employ the accompanying slices of grilled bread to mop up every last bit of the decadent sauce, which happens to pair wonderfully with my second beer of the day.
Hubert applies the same strategic thinking when devising vegetarian entrees for his menu. A rich, flaky parcel of puff pastry, playfully embellished with leaves made of dough, houses tangy goat cheese, spinach, and foraged mushrooms. What I enjoy most about this dish is the manner in which it beautifully showcases the earthy, forest-floor characteristics of porcini and chanterelle mushrooms, although other varieties will be used based on availability.
Many of the offerings at 45 North incorporate a curious mélange of ingredients that often need to be tasted before a proper understanding can be reached. Such is the case with fresh rainbow trout, stuffed with cranberries, apple, and lobster tail meat, wrapped in black pepper bacon, and roasted until crispy. The tart cranberry balances the sweetness of the apple and lobster. The fish itself is deeply refreshing, and the bacon adds a salty element. The dish also expresses a smoky element that I cannot quite put my finger on. After inquiring, it turns out to be a faint sprinkling of black sea salt.
Hubert’s German roots are evident in my final dish, a top sirloin of beef prepared in a style similar to Spiessbraten—the meat is grilled before being seared and finished in the oven. This cooking method results in meat that is surprisingly tender, to the point that it melts in your mouth, despite its medium-to-well appearance. It is draped in sauce chasseur—often called “hunter’s sauce”—a silky blend of demi-glace, shallot, and mushrooms. The dish is served alongside root vegetable hash and piquant braised red cabbage, and is a perfect conclusion to what is quite possibly the most rapid-fire six course dining experience of my life.
Although I do not ski—due to the notorious “1995 incident”—I will admit that I am excited to make my way back to the mountain in the winter months to enjoy the finished renovations, and, of course, sample more of Hubert’s food. That being said, the restaurant will remain open year-round, providing sustenance for both those who have spent the day on the slopes as well as the world-class, PGA-level golf course designed by the legendary Robert Trent Jones, Jr.
5092 Sugarloaf Rd. | Carrabassett Valley | 207.237.2222 | sugarloaf.com