The Victoria Inn
Dining in a Maine Mountain Mansion
- By: Monica Wood
As a girl in Mount Vernon, Ohio, Stacey Grassbaugh dreamed of being an innkeeper in Maine, a place she discovered by watching M*A*S*H on TV. “I’d listen to Hawkeye Pierce going on about a place called Crabapple Cove, and I just knew I’d live there someday.” Almost a lifetime later, Stacey got her wish, when she and her husband, Kamil Sahin, took prideful ownership of a Bethel mansion built in 1895 by a livestock baron. The Sahins oversee fourteen lovingly appointed guest rooms and a restaurant composed of three parlor-sized dining rooms, each with its own fireplace.
Kamil is the chef, Stacey the “finish person,” a designation that extends far beyond the kitchen. Her touches are everywhere in this graceful home warmed by soft rugs, lacy curtains, brightly painted trim boards, vintage light fixtures, and flowery wallpaper. On the stairway walls hang sepia-toned portraits of Stacey’s ancestors. “When we first saw the place there was an ‘under contract’ sign out front,” says Stacey, an effervescent woman who speaks in italics. “But when we came back again, that contract had disappeared. Then, right after we moved in, I met this wonderful elderly woman across the way who said, ‘Thank goodness you’re finally here. This house has been waiting for you.’ ”
Bethel’s not Crabapple Cove, but close enough — a friendly Maine town that has embraced the Sahins. Kamil, a native of Turkey, is a nearly one-man band behind the scenes, producing thoughtfully composed, generously portioned dishes. A petroleum engineer by training, his approach to cooking is decidedly unromantic. “He measures everything,” Stacey explains. “He weighs everything. He takes its temperature. Everything is exactly the same, every time.”
The Sahins are partial to local foods, and it shows. Appetizers include a prizewinning corn chowder loaded with fresh lobster; smoked salmon from Lincolnville, its smokiness refreshingly subtle; and a crostini topped with a flawlessly spiced roasted eggplant confit. Among the entrées, there’s something for everyone: ribeye steak, pork tenderloin, and rack of lamb for serious carnivores; chicken and duck (the duck is so tender you could cut it with a spoon) for more delicate sensibilities; shrimp, scallops, salmon, and lobster dishes for seafarers; and special-request dishes for vegetarians. A squash ravioli comes in a light, exquisitely calibrated pine-nut cream sauce with a hint of sage. The veggies, too, are a treat: sweet potatoes thickly cut and wonderfully roasted; maple-glazed baby carrots fetchingly presented, tops still on. (The waitperson calls them “Beatrix Potter carrots,” befitting the room’s Victorian flavor.) Desserts include an inspired espresso crème brûlée and a just-sweet-enough apple pie with cinnamon ice cream.
Everything — everything — is sublime, even the house wines (a peppery Lockwood “Block 7” pinot noir and a Cimicky “Trumps” shiraz) and the after-dinner teas, a dizzying, aromatic array of Stacey’s special blends. The Sahins are wine enthusiasts who host regular wine dinners throughout the year. They’ve also started “beer dinners” to showcase Maine beer.
How, one wonders, did a Turkish engineer get hijacked by the restaurant biz? “Twenty-five years ago, I came to Ohio for a training,” Kamil explains in his soft, accented voice. There, he met and married Stacey, and after living a year in Turkey the couple returned to Ohio, where Kamil had to wait three years for a green card. “I couldn’t work, but Stacey’s family ran two restaurants, so I helped them out.” He smiles shyly. “I started out washing dishes, and things went on from there.” The couple opened a bakery, visited Maine every chance they got, and twenty years later could no longer resist this state’s tidal pull on their hearts. Their house and business sold “miraculously” fast, almost before you could say “Let’s find that inn in Maine.”
The Victoria Inn is located at 32 Main Street in Bethel. The restaurant is open Monday through Saturday 5:30 to 9 p.m., year-round. Entrées $18-$29; desserts $6. Wheelchair accessible. 207-824-8060. www.thevictoria-inn.com
- By: Monica Wood