Most of us visit Maine’s destination restaurants — unique places a good drive from Portland, like Primo in Rockland or Arrows in Ogunquit — in the summer. Guests are here from out of town, maybe even someone who would be willing to pop for the meal, and we want to show off what our state has to offer. But winter is really the best time to indulge in the sorts of meals these spots have to offer. The crowds are gone, and it's dark and cold, so the perfect way to spend an evening is to let three or four courses stretch out over several pleasing hours.
The problem is that many destination restaurants in Maine, Primo for example, close for most of the winter. And Arrows, with its $18 appetizers and $40-plus entrees, can be tough to swing, especially in the months when the heating bill shoots up. So in the winter your best bet might be the Robinhood Free Meetinghouse in Georgetown, which is open on weekends, and does an affordable four-course prix fixe theme meal every Thursday.
Chef Michael Gagne created his restaurant a decade ago and named it after the 1855 building that was originally a church and meetinghouse for the local Protestants. It has been lovingly restored, and maintains a simple elegance in its current incarnation. Modest seascape paintings hang over the muted yellow walls. The wide wooden floorboards don’t quite meet, and blackboards left over from the building’s days as a schoolhouse remain hanging around certain corners offering information about the building's history and updates about coming events. The building is tucked away on a quiet little stretch of road not far from the water. The drive from Portland is just about an hour, and it’s a lovely stretch of road once you are past Brunswick.
From the beginning the simple touches make it clear the experience will be worth the drive. Divine cream cheese biscuits arrive warm at your table along with a few other rolls and herb butter. The biscuits did somehow seem both creamy and perfectly fluffy, and the butter was spotted with big, almost crunchy pieces of herb. The wine list has a number of choices you recognize from the shelves at Hannaford or Shaws, like the Ravenswood zinfandel, the Clos du Bois cabernet, petite syrahs from Foppiano and David Bruce. This seemed odd to me at first, but it does give you the chance to order a bottle you know you will like, and there are enough eclectic options to satisfy those who want to branch out.
Gagne’s menu is known for including both classic northeast dishes and more multicultural experiments. Last week the menu seemed to focus on slightly unusual takes on old standards. The calamari, perfectly tender, was paired with olives, huge flakes of parmesan, and a sauce that tasted more of butter than vinegar. I thought it was nice but others longed for something more familiar. A puff pastry stuffed full of four kinds of mushroom (not overcooked a hair), leeks, and just a little cream, could not have been better. A great homemade raspberry sorbet, with just a touch of sugar it seemed, was served between courses.