Stone Barn Dinner at Saint Joseph’s College
You might think you’re a world away from a busy college campus, but the Stone Barn is just across the street from Saint Joseph’s College in Standish. The Normandy-style barn, built in 1920, is the centerpiece of the college’s 18-acre livestock and crop farm. The college acquired the barn in 2004 and completely renovated it last year. The historic structure is impressive and gorgeous, wood-beamed and solid. One wing off the main barn houses sheep, goats, and two rescued alpacas, and the other wing has a small store selling produce. A patio has been added to the courtyard for outdoor events, and just beyond lies the farm and pastures. It’s a quiet, bucolic setting perfect for many types of events, including the farm-to-table dinner series that has taken place this summer.
I arrive early on Sunday evening, so I can talk with chefs Mary Paine and Scott Walsh. They work as a team, both for these special events and in the college’s dining services. “These suppers showcase the barn and the farm and bring people in from the community,” Paine tells me, as she’s prepping for tonight’s dinner. The theme is northern French, paying homage to the architectural style of the barn. She unwraps a big square of washed rind cheese that will be part of the stationary table, along with a generous array of meats, breads, vegetables, and more cheeses, all from Maine or other New England states. She’s excited about the lavender-hued cauliflower from Pearson’s Town Farm that’s she’s pickled with spices and garlic. The farm, owned by the college, is located just beyond the barn. In conjunction with a required course in environmental science, every Saint Joseph’s College student spends time volunteering there, caring for crops and animals. We’re given a tour of the 100-year-old farm, where neat rows of summer squash, two kinds of eggplant, plenty of leafy greens, peppers, pumpkins, and much more are still waiting to be harvested. A flock of turkeys is tucked into their coop for the night, away from prowling foxes. In November, the college will serve the turkeys to students and staff at the Thanksgiving-style dinner, and some will be sold to the public.
Chef Walsh arrives in the kitchen with a deep vat of French onion soup, part of tonight’s menu. “The onions come from the Somali Bantu community farm in Lewiston,” he says. “We’re building a relationship with them and other farms. We try to work everyone in, a little at a time.” As guests start to arrive, most stop at the bar, where tonight’s signature cocktail is the French 75 in keeping with the evening’s theme. With drinks in hand, they wander out to the patio and the pasture, where sheep are lazing in the shade. I have a chance to catch up with Peter Nielsen, Saint Joseph’s College entrepreneur-in-residence, who’s been a key player in developing the agritourism initiative at the Stone Barn. The college recently received a $2 million federal grant to help establish the Institute for Local Food Systems Innovation. With the public and private funds, they’ll break ground for a quarter-acre hydroponic greenhouse and offer certificate programs in hydroponic farming next year. They also plan to develop a commercial kitchen and offer certificates in food production and processing. “The kitchen will be an innovation hub,” Nielsen says, “connecting producers and farmers to other people in the food supply chain. It’ll serve as a link between the urban and agricultural economies of Maine.”
As the sun starts to set, we head back into the barn. Long maple tables, custom-built by local furniture maker Greg Frangoulis, are laid out and set for 80 guests. Tiny white lights wrapped around posts add an elegant touch to the rustic setting. Centerpieces are artfully created from kale and squash, sourced from Grand View Farm in Conway, New Hampshire. There’s a mixture of people associated with the college (including President Jim Dlugos), community members, and those who come in search of a great meal among new and old friends. Loaves of brioche and herb butter are set out, along with Paine’s pickled vegetables. A simple salad of fresh greens is served with a cup of Walsh’s soup, followed by an enormous and delicious half chicken. Walsh had described the multi-day brining process to me earlier, making the meat extraordinarily tender and flavorful. The accompanying potato gratin with chevre is irresistibly rich. The two chefs appear in the barn and address guests, Paine holding a plate of bright red nasturtiums. “I just ran out to the garden to pick these for the salad,” says the chef. “We’re so fortunate to go into our backyard, literally and figuratively, for ingredients,” adds Walsh. “The dinners have been such a success. They make people aware of the richness this area has to offer.”
The Stone Barn | 278 Whites Bridge Rd. | Standish | 207.893.6624 | stonebarnmaine.com