The Brunswick Inn
Eileen Hornor is a consummate host. The owner of the Brunswick Inn warmly greets me on a chilly spring day, and I know we’ll hit it off. While rain splatters the tall windows, we settle comfortably into the living room. Hornor and her husband, Jim, purchased the Federal-style inn in 2009. It’s located directly across from Brunswick’s green, the site for concerts, the farmers’ market, and other community events. Hornor has a background in the hospitality field, working at the illustrious Greenbrier resort in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia, and was looking for a new project. “We found this by accident,” she says. “Jim was running a road race in Brunswick, and we noticed it was for sale.” They moved from Pittsfield with their two children and became the inn’s new owners. “It’s my project, but Jim is very supportive and very helpful,” says Hornor. “He’s a great sounding board and helps me deal with the big picture.”
The circa-1848 building with a wide and welcoming front porch has had many lives. It’s been a home, a physician’s office, and a rooming house. Hornor has brought the decor up to date, with a more sophisticated look and feel, while still keeping the inn’s heritage in mind. The color palette is warm, and the furnishings are comfortable. “What I always wanted was for the inn to be like a public house, a gathering place for the community,” she says. “An inn isn’t an inn unless there are people in it.” She’s succeeded in that goal, hosting book groups, a knitters’ circle, community fundraisers, artists, and many Bowdoin events, including team dinners. Even with kitchen help, it was getting hard to keep up with the cooking. Then she was introduced to chef Ali Waks Adams by their mutual friend, chef and cookbook author Christine Burns Rudalevige.
Waks Adams, a New York transplant who had been hosting pop-up dinners around town, was looking for an opportunity like this. Together, they started holding Plat du Jour dinners at the inn on Tuesday evenings. “We talked a lot about what was missing in Brunswick as a dining experience,” Hornor says. “There’s no other place in town that feels like this. It’s like being in someone’s beautiful home without having to do any work.” Their first joint project had a Back to Downton Abbey theme, complete with 1920s-era cocktails and traditional English dishes, including Eton mess. Since that successful evening, Tuesday dinners at the inn have become a favorite event in town. “We have quite a few standing reservations for the dinners,” says Hornor. “It’s an easy way to go to dinner, with just two choices on the menu. Ali makes food that’s familiar, but with an element of surprise.” Waks Adams likes to choose a loose theme for each week, like the recent Spain Dinner or tonight’s Spring Dinner. She’s thoughtful about the ingredients and dishes and how they tie into the concept. “I’m focusing on the earnestness and virtuousness of spring,” she tells me. “On buds bursting out of the ground, like the fiddleheads in the salad and the mushroom soup that’s brown like the earth. The purple potatoes remind me of crocuses.” She laughs and continues, “I sound like such an aesthete, talking about the food like this, but that’s how I feel.”
Tables are set in the inn’s bar room, a cozy spot with a huge fireplace. In the kitchen, Waks Adams and her two sous chefs taste dishes one final time, and I hear exclamations of, “Ooh, that’s so good!” Guests begin to arrive at 5:30, greeted by Hornor, who takes wine and cocktail orders from them. The spring-themed menu is simple but appealing. It’s hard to choose between wild mushroom soup and the salad previously mentioned by Waks Adams. I ask for the salad, with its lightly blanched fiddleheads, watermelon radishes, and big, crunchy croutons. But the chef also brings me a tiny crock of the soup, and it’s smooth, earthy, and creamy. There’s a choice of chicken breast with asparagus bread pudding or hake with a parsley-almond pesto and those tiny purple potatoes. I opt for the fish, and my dinner companion orders the chicken. Both dishes are indeed a taste of spring, with fresh flavors and a welcoming lightness. We finish up with a flaky rhubarb tart and whipped cream, the perfect ending. Dinner is well paced and relaxed, giving us time to enjoy a glass of wine from the concise, but well-chosen list. After dinner, Waks Adams comes out to chat with guests, many of whom she and Hornor know from previous dinners. “If we didn’t know them before, we do now,” says Hornor.
“People used to pass through Brunswick on their way to somewhere else,” Hornor continues. “Now it’s a destination, thanks in part to the restaurants here. I hope the Tuesday night dinners become a culinary destination, too.”
The Brunswick Inn | 165 Park Row | Brunswick | 207.729.4914 | brunswickbnb.com