Saturday, September 4, 2010

Squire Tarbox Inn - Westport Island, Maine

After a couple days in Portland, we worked our way up Maine's coast to less populated territory: Westport Island, where we stayed at the Squire Tarbox Inn. The town of Westport was formed in 1828 on a petition started by one Samuel Tarbox and signed by all 73 of the residents. In nearly two centuries, that's grown to a positively bustling 745 residents, and it remains primarily a fishing and farming town.

History runs deep in Maine: Samuel Tarbox (the "Squire") was the great-great-grandson of one John Tarbox, who came to Massachusetts from England in 1639. The Inn is comprised of what was originally the Tarbox house, built in 1763, as well as the "newer addition" which was built in 1820. More recently, the original house, along with the "newer addition" and a carriage barn, have been converted to an eleven-room B&B.

We had first stayed here nearly fifteen years ago, at which time the property was also home to a dozen or so nubian goats (in a farmhouse, not in the rooms, fortunately). The inn had a restaurant that made its own cheese and used other dairy products from the goats throughout its menu. Since that time, the property has changed hands, but the new owners have in their own way carried on the agrarian traditions. The owners' son has turned several acres behind the property into an organic farm, which supplies vegetables to not only the inn's small restaurant but several other local restaurants as well.

Though the herd of nubian goats are gone, the Inn's owners did adopt a foursome of new goats (who unfortunately were being neglected by a prior owner; unlike the nubian dairy goats, these serve no purpose other than to entertain our kids), and the farm also hosts a flock of chickens and a small crew of piglets so unremittingly adorable that they could make you briefly - briefly, I say - consider giving up bacon.

Breakfasts at the Inn were simple and hearty, the highlights, unsurprisingly, being those things that came from the Inn's farm: fresh eggs with beautiful sunrise-orange yolks, home-made zucchini bread, stewed peaches plucked a couple days earlier from the tree a few yards from our room.

The same was true of dinner at the Inn. The owners are Swiss, and let's face it, the Swiss are not exactly known as culinary trailblazers.[*] The menu is mostly basic "continental" fare, and the closer we stayed to the farm, the better things tasted. A simple salad featured several greens from the garden, as well as a nice celeriac salad and a classic vinaigrette, perked up a bit with some dried cranberries and pine nuts. Even better was a tomato and mozzarella salad, with gorgeous, perfectly ripe red and yellow tomatoes straight out of the greenhouse directly behind the dining room.

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The rest, frankly, was just OK: a chilled cucumber and mint soup was a good idea but a heavy hand with the cream muted the flavors; an onion soup was satisfying but unexceptional, which would also describe the roast duck with an orange sauce (not too heavy on the sweetness, at least), red cabbage and wild rice. A crème brulée's sugar cap hadn't been adequately caramelized, leaving it grainy and missing that glass-shattering crunch. I was intrigued to find a Swiss wine on their list, a Robert Gilliard Dôle Des Monts (2008). The wine is a blend of pinot noir and gamay (90/10) and was a pleasing, fruit-forward, food-friendly red with no rough edges.

I suspect the best time to eat here might be in the off-season: in April-May and November-December, Thursday night is "Swiss Night" with fondues and raclette. A pot of bubbling cheese as the air grows a little cooler, in a dining room overlooking the farm, seems like a great way to spend an evening.

Squire Tarbox Inn
1181 Main Road
Westport Island, Maine 04578

The Squire Tarbox Inn Restaurant on Urbanspoon

[*]South Floridians with a hankering for Swiss food may remember Melody Inn in Coral Gables, which opened in 1977 and closed probably more than 10 years ago. In googling around while writing this, I discovered that the restaurant reopened in Vero Beach. Just in case you were wondering.

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