Old World Comfort
A Bethel B-and-B offers down-to-earth Italian food in a cozy setting.
- By: Virginia M. Wright
Photograph by Heather Perry
"Come Have Dinner with The Sopranos,” the promotion beckoned, and whether drawn by the notion of dining fictitiously with Tony and Carmela or the desire to aid a local cause, scores of people came. John Amann, innkeeper at the Gideon Hastings House in Bethel, played host and chef, teachers from Telstar Regional High School tended bar, and the football team served dishes from the satirical, yet enticing, Sopranos Family Cookbook. The weeklong affair netted $9,000 for the team — darned good dough for a fundraiser in a small western Maine mountain town.
But that wasn’t the end of it. No sooner had Amann put away his saucepots than his phone started ringing. “We want to make dinner reservations,” callers pleaded. “We want to come for Italian food.” What else could he do? He opened a restaurant.
Now in its sixth year, 22 Broad Street specializes in simple, flavorful Italian cuisine served in the romantic dining room of the Gideon Hastings House, a temple-style Greek revival home facing Bethel Common. “I come from a family of great cooks,” says Amann, who grew up in northern New Jersey eating home-cooked Italian-American food and took classes at what was then Peter Kump’s New York Cooking School in Manhattan and is now called the Institute of Culinary Education. “I like good food, and it was a real challenge to find it around here ten years ago.”
With a passion for Italian food of his own and a background cooking for hotel restaurants across the country, chef Don Hauser was lured from Sunday River Ski Resort by the opportunity to indulge his creativity in Amann’s kitchen. “John likes to use the best and freshest of everything,” Hauser says. “It’s a pleasure to be able to work with those kinds of ingredients.”
Hauser shops locally for produce and fish and reaches into Boston and New York for prosciutto, pancetta, and other cured meats, and for Italian cheeses, like the sheets of fresh mozzarella that he rolls with chopped artichoke hearts and house-made pesto for the mozzarella involtini salad.
Amann was a Manhattan labor negotiator and Sunday River weekender in the 1990s when he bought the Gideon Hastings House, named for the Civil War Union Army major who built the home. “It had been vacant for seven years,” he says. “It was pretty much a knock-down house. There was two feet of standing water in the basement and all the plaster had fallen in.”
Guided by historic photographs of 1840s Bethel homes, he began a multi-year restoration — he even hired a St. Louis foundry to recreate the decorative tin ceiling from vintage dies — and in 2000 he opened the inn, along with a restaurant specializing in continental cuisine. He closed that restaurant after a few years when work called him back to Manhattan.
His current venture, 22 Broad Street, is elegant, yet cozy. Vintage photographs of Amann’s family grace the walls, and in winter a log is usually burning in the fireplace, making the varnished dark wood molding gleam. As for Amann, he channels most of his culinary energies into the Barking Dawg Market, a gourmet store near Sunday River, but a few of his creations do appear on the menu, including a zesty arugula salad with fried gorgonzola balls, which are a wonderful blend of crunchy and creamy textures.
The menu offers several pasta dishes, including Hauser’s handmade ravioli — the filling was ricotta and prosciutto on a recent evening — and potato gnocchi. Recent additions include a classic, rich braciola, in which prime flank steak, pounded thin, is stuffed with a mixture of provolone, prosciutto, fresh parsley, and focaccia crumbs, and a white wine-and-garlic-roasted half chicken that has been marinated twenty-four hours in a paste of lemon juice, garlic, rosemary, parsley and cracked pepper. One of 22 Broad Street’s most popular dishes happens to be vegetarian — an earthy version of lasagna in which long slices of eggplant are layered with pesto, Portobello mushrooms, and roasted red peppers. Steaks are prepared with Italian flourishes, such as the garlic butter, parmesan, and hot cherry peppers that transform an ordinary ribeye into “Ribeye Alla Crazy Bastard.”
Handmade desserts include biscuit tortoni, made with meringue, toasted almonds, and whipped cream flavored with almond and vanilla extracts; New York-style cheesecake; and, of course, tiramisu and cannoli.
The Martini Bar, which serves a hot and dirty martini that’s to die for, is a great place to relax before or after dinner. And relaxation, along with good food, is what 22 Broad Street is all about. “This is a place to come and have a nice meal and not feel hurried,” Amann says. “There’s no problem wearing jeans here. This is a resort town. It’s Maine.”
22 Broad Street is located at 22 Broad Street in Bethel. It opens Thursday through Monday at 4:30 p.m. Appetizers $4.50-$11.50; entrees $13.50 to $25.50; desserts $6. 207-824-3496. www.22broadstreet.com
- By: Virginia M. Wright