Western Winter Warm-Up

We find brews and stews, fireside nights, and snowy vistas of White Mountains’ peaks, all on a weekend getaway to Fryeburg, Center Lovell, and nearby locales.

Western

Winter

Warm-Up

We find brews and stews, fireside nights, and snowy vistas of White Mountains’ peaks, all on a weekend getaway to Fryeburg, Center Lovell, and nearby locales.

Issue: November 2019

By: Sandy Lang
Photography by: Peter Frank Edwards


Around here, the tally of winter snow is over 100 inches so far. The banks are high enough to completely bury a five-foot-tall fence near Saco River Brewing in Fryeburg. And, when we arrive in the town of about 3,400 residents on a late winter Thursday, the accumulated snow is higher than the rooftop at the machinist-shop-turned-brewpub. The owners note they haven’t been able to get into the adjacent barn to complete all of the renovations they’d planned to make before summer.

 Yet, the regulars are here. They’ve come even though the sunlight has melted some of the plow-driven mounds and created a sudden pond of open water in the rear parking lot. Ryan Vincent, one of the owners of the 2015-founded craft brewery that’s about 50 miles northwest of Portland, jokes they’ll give a free beer to anyone who arrives today by canoe.

“This place is all the rage,” explains a tasting room customer who’s sitting along the long bar made of poured concrete and inset with stones from the Saco River. “Please don’t tell too many people.”

Vintage skis are hung overhead, and canoe paddles are used as trays for tasting flights of the dozen or so brews on tap. Along one long wall, artist Sara Cahn, who lives a few miles away in New Hampshire, is busy painting a black-light mural of great blue herons flying across a background of mountain topography and a sky of constellations. She says she approached the owners about creating the outdoors-themed mural after visiting the brewery for one of the live music nights and loving the vibe. “It’s so random that this brewery is here, and that it’s so good.”

A founding owner and the head brewer, Mason Irish, is an appreciator of the region’s skiing, biking, and hiking culture. Photographer Peter Frank Edwards and I meet him in the brewing room just as he is stepping down from a ladder beside one of the tallest barrels. Tall and lanky, Irish talks of aged sours and dry Irish stouts in the works, emanating the studiedconfidence of an experienced brewmaster and the zeal of a true beer enthusiast. Meanwhile, another customer walks in to buy a growler of the made-right-here beer. The epic snowall that’s all but buried the entrance isn’t halting business in this western Maine small town.

Co-owner Ryan Vincent and founding owner and brewmaster Mason Irish on a snowbank tasting a days-end pint.

Vintage skis are hung overhead, and canoe paddles are used as trays for tasting flights of the dozen or so brews on tap. Along one long wall, artist Sara Cahn, who lives a few miles away in New Hampshire, is busy painting a black-light mural of great blue herons flying across a background of mountain topography and a sky of constellations. She says she approached the owners about creating the outdoors-themed mural after visiting the brewery for one of the live music nights and loving the vibe. “It’s so random that this brewery is here, and that it’s so good.”

A founding owner and the head brewer, Mason Irish, is an appreciator of the region’s skiing, biking, and hiking culture. Photographer Peter Frank Edwards and I meet him in the brewing room just as he is stepping down from a ladder beside one of the tallest barrels. Tall and lanky, Irish talks of aged sours and dry Irish stouts in the works, emanating the studied confidence of an experienced brewmaster and the zeal of a true beer enthusiast. Meanwhile, another customer walks in to buy a growler of the made-right-here beer. The epic snowall that’s all but buried the entrance isn’t halting business in this western Maine small town.

Inn for the Win

Driving northward about 15 miles, we cruise through snowy Lovell (population 1,100) and follow snowy, smaller roads to views across the frozen-white Kezar Lake and toward distant peaks of the White Mountains. We’re booked for a couple of nights at the Center Lovell Inn. A white house with wide porches, the inn is a New England classic—circa early 1800s, perched on a rise above Route 5, with sweeping views.

The 1805-built Center Lovell Inn blanketed in snow.

I remember the story of thousands of fee-paying entrants who penned essays to explain why they’d like to own the property for a much-publicized 2015 contest to win the inn. Finalists were chosen and vetted, and eventually the keys to the historic inn went to Prince and Rose Adams, originally from Brooklyn, who were then living and working in the U.S. Virgin Islands. They’d been thinking of moving back to New York, Rose says. “But it was a complete surprise when we got the call.”

She was the chef at Sweet Plantains in St. John at the time, and they’d entered the contest on a lark. Both Rose and Prince have deep experience in hospitality and have been business partners and cooking together for more than 30 years, but neither had ever been to Maine—until they arrived to take over the fully furnished property with their now-teenaged son, Jacob.

When we arrive and step across the snow and slush to the front porch and into the warmth inside, the couple greets us in the front hall—she in a dress and heels, and he ready with tray of cheese, fruit, and wine. It’s a welcome as if we’re all old friends. After we get settled in our room upstairs, the pair shows us around the house.

The Adamses have drawn inspiration from music, food, and art in the United States, Europe, and the tropics as they’ve gradually renovated and added their aesthetic touches to the inn’s New England decor. The results are eclectic and colorful. Rose formerly studied ballet, and among the inn’s varied artworks are bronze ballerina sculptures and prints of Edgar Degas’s ballet paintings.

In outings to western Maine’s many antiques markets, the couple continue to look for just the right vintage pieces to use in renovating the ten guest rooms one by one, each with different colors and themes. In French country style, there are carved wooden headboards, floral wallpapers, metal lamps, and reupholstered pieces with plush throw pillows. A yellow palette in one of the guest rooms, called Limoncello, is inspired by a wall color from the Soho boutique of fashion designer Betsey Johnson.

“Winter is a great time to indulge in the food–to have the fireplace going and basically have the whole place to yourselves”

Tropical Recipes, Rum Warmth

The overall idea, Rose explains, is for the entire house and adjacent cottage to evoke comfort and elegance. That’s easy to feel in the dining room, with its chestnut wood beams across the ceiling, scenic paintings, and a large fireplace glowing with a wood fire. Breakfast is included for all guests, and tables here have views to the porch and snow-covered yard.

We also try the five-course Winter Harvest menu at the inn’s restaurant tonight. We’ve been smelling aromas of cooking and baking from the inn’s kitchen since the morning. Our dinner begins with a salad of thinly sliced pears, squash, and radishes topped with toasted pumpkin seeds, dried cranberries, and a ginger-cider vinaigrette. It’s like a bright winter day on a plate, and Rose explains that she often toasts seeds and nuts to add to the flavor—as in the next dish, a lentil-tomato bisque with toasted cumin seeds. This is starting well.

Through swinging dining room doors and past the fireplace, course after course is presented to our candlelit table by either Rose or Prince. New England and tropical island influences continue in the menu choices—even as snow clings outside—including a lobster salad with chunks of avocado and just-fried plantain chips. There’s seared wild scallops, salmon atop a rich cassoulet, and melty beef short ribs on mashed potatoes. Prince, who handles the beverage program, offers pours of wine to complement the courses, and then samples of aged rums from the inn’s collection, sourced from Barbados, Guyana, and Trinidad and Tobago. All the while, classic jazz tunes play on the sound system. It’s a delicious night, more so because we need only to walk upstairs afterward.

Pub, Shop, Ski

Warmed by a wood stove, the ski and snowshoe rental shed at Five Fields Farm is on anorchard overlook in South Bridgton.

At Harvest Gold Gallery near the inn in Center Lovell, glass cases of fine jewelry include shimmering gold and silver rings, earrings, and necklaces, many unique pieces made by goldsmiths and owners Lynda Rasco and Bill Rudd. Original sculptures, paintings, and other local artworks and crafts fill several gallery rooms, including a large space with windows overlooking Kezar Lake and mountaintops beyond.

Rudd mentions that, before he learned the goldsmith trade, he worked as chef at the Oxford House Inn in Fryeburg, which he recommends. Jonathan’s is the pub at that inn, and we go there for our second night’s dinner. In a busy, cozy downstairs room with granite walls, we’re seated at a small bar and follow the lead of the local man next to us. He’s celebrating his birthday solo by ordering a “pint and pound”— special of Maine mussels (or littleneck clams) with homemade bread and, in his case, a stout from Black Bear Brewing Company in Orono.

The next day we notice signs for a local fishing derby and follow a snowy road to the shore of frozen Kezar Lake to see kids hoisting up their catches at a weigh-in tent. Later that day, after a short drive past more ice-fishing shacks and ski shops, we park and make our way to the slope-facing rear deck of the Shawnee Peak Lodge in Bridgton. Temperatures have spiked into the 50s for a few hours. Everyone’s basking in the Friday-afternoon sunshine watching skiers and snowboarders zip down the 1,300-foot peak. Some guests outside of Blizzard’s Pub have peeled off their coats and are sitting in T-shirts sipping Bloody Marys. On another trip, I’d like to try the mountain’s night skiing.

Or we could explore more of the trails at Five Fields Farm in South Bridgton, where the rows of apple trees in the longtime family orchard are winter-bare. We step onto the plank floors of a farm shed overlooking the hillside orchard and still smelling of fall apples. A woodstove is burning, and rental cross-country skis, boots, and snowshoes line the walls. “The snow is a little sticky on the trails, but the views are fantastic,” a woman tells us as she clicks out of her skis.

They ask about our days of exploring, and when I offer details, they smile and advise me that my pronunciations of Saco and Kezar should be more “sock-o” and “kee-zer” than the way I’ve been saying the words (for days now!). It’s just some friendly ribbing around the bar, and soon the conversations turn again to the impressive amounts of lingering snow and the good season of skiing—along with the big melt that will surely, eventually, arrive in western Maine.

For a final stop, we make our way to the iconic Ebenezer’s Pub in Lovell, a mecca for beer-seeking travelers. Part beer hall, part farmhouse, Ebenezer’s has a handful of barstools and a couple of high tops, along with seating in an enclosed porch. Once inside we order the twice-fried frites with aioli and a couple of Belgian-style beers. Above us are ceiling and wall racks full of beer glasses—tall, skinny glasses for lambics, goblets for saisons, and soon—we take in the scene and talk with some of the local guests.

They ask about our days of exploring, and when I offer details, they smile and advise me that my pronunciations of Saco and Kezar should be more “sock-o” and “kee-zer” than the way I’ve been saying the words (for days now!). It’s just some friendly ribbing around the bar, and soon the conversations turn again to the impressive amounts of lingering snow and the good season of skiing—along with the big melt that will surely, eventually, arrive in western Maine.

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