Love is in the island air and on the plate at the newly renovated Nebo Lodge Restaurant.
By Karen E. Hofreiter
Amanda stole my heart with kale chips. A less confident chef might woo urban diners with a cute and refined amuse-bouche, perhaps a scallop with lobster foam or a demitasse of vichyssoise. But no–Chef Amanda Hallowell of North Haven Island’s Nebo Lodge Restaurant (owned by U.S. Representative Chellie Pingree) presents with a bold statement in the form of a bowl of the oft-misunderstood vegetable, brilliant in its bright green hue, paper-thin crispiness, and popcorn flavor.
The self-trained Hallowell may mince onions, but she certainly doesn’t mince flavors when it comes to her assertive, no-frills menu, a feast of locally-sourced ingredients poetically combined to highlight what’s already here: farm-fresh food.
Sitting at a corner table in the dining room–a sort of island shabby-chic meets beach cottage, with honeyed wood floors and benches and candles flickering on floral-clothed tables–we watch as plate after plate is delivered in luxuriant succession, each course complete enough in itself to inspire a wait, there’s more? moment.
The odyssey begins with cocktails–a gussied-up French 75 (gin, prosecco, brandied cherries, $8) and refreshing Basil Fizz (vokda, elderflower, basil, $9)–and the aforementioned kale chips ($4). Settling into the bench, backs supported by bright, contemporary throw pillows by Angela Adams (a fellow North Haven Islander), a crisp autumn breeze heavy with the smell of the sea and burning leaves slipping through large open windows, we welcome our first course–a hefty slice of juicy green tomato, fried and drizzled with a tangy chive dressing ($6). Arriving next are oysters on the half shell with a bracing champagne mignonette ($9), followed by buttery oysters Rockefeller ($12). The fourth course is an heirloom tomato salad with chewy, fried halloumi cheese and a sweet, viscous balsamic vinaigrette.
Hallowell deadpans her casual indifference to the hoity-toity with a simple flatbread pizza boasting nothing more than a punchy tomato sauce and gooey fontina ($8/12). The Italian artichoke and spinach gratin ($18)–with pops of goat cheese and smooth, creamy texture–is a deliciously coy one-up on the oily and bland chain-restaurant staple.
The seventh (yes, seventh) course is a flaky, roasted Atlantic cod in a pool of light cream sauce with tomatoes, green olives, and haricots verts ($22). The final savory dish is a silky, medium-rare sirloin, sliced thin, accompanied by fingerling fries, and–in a wink toward Belgium and Canada–a malt vinegar mayo ($25).
Finding room for dessert is a challenge–until three plates of rustic decadence are placed in front of us. The double chocolate torte ($8) is predictable, but the rough-hewn strawberry galette is a down-to-earth delight sitting next to a dollop of palette-mystifying balsamic whipped cream ($8). Paying homage to fall is warm, hearty apple crisp surrounded by puddles of melted honey ice cream ($8).
Amanda, my heart–and belly–are