Frenchville is only a few hundred yards from French Canada, and yet even in this small Aroostook County town, only a portion of the locals still speak the area’s once-ubiquitous French patois. And as went the language over the past half century, so went Franco-American cuisine, slipping away in Frenchville and around the state. Dolly’s Restaurant, on Route 1, looks unassuming enough — outside, old marquees promise Budweiser, Coca-Cola, and “a great place to meet and eat,” while inside, the dining room is tidy but plain. The kitchen, though, is one of the last great bulwarks against the decline of a key part of Maine’s culinary heritage.
Franco-American cooking is hearty: stews, meat pies, and a holy trinity of poutine, ployes, and cretons. Quite a few Maine restaurants serve poutine, fewer serve ployes, and still fewer serve cretons. Dolly’s Restaurant is the rare — perhaps only — place in the state to regularly offer all three, which has made it somewhat of a destination for locals and out-of-towners alike (hence the branded T-shirts, beanies, and hoodies for sale at the register). When I showed up for a late lunch one recent afternoon, all of the couple of dozen tables were taken. Two men who came in after me chitchatted about snowmobiles while they waited. A woman got up from her booth, put on her coat, and, recognizing I was next up, wished me a good meal.
I ordered the classic poutine: French fries smothered in cheese curds and gravy. At Dolly’s Restaurant, there are versions with steak or ground beef, and with tomato sauce or barbecue sauce, but at some point, I figured, that’s not really poutine anymore. The gravy was deep brown and silky smooth, the cheese curds fresh and springy, the fries thick-cut and crispy. The menu lists poutine as a side dish, available in either small or large format. I’d ordered a large, and it would have sufficed as a standalone meal.
Menu Medley Franco-American dishes are the main draw at Dolly’s Restaurant, but other offerings include bologna sandwiches, liver with bacon or onions, and spaghetti and meatballs. Almost everything but steaks costs less than $10.
DIY Ployes Dolly’s Restaurant owner Keith Pelletier has his own time-tested ployes recipe, but for people who can’t make it to the diner on the regular, Bouchard Family Farm, in nearby Fort Kent, sells a delicious mix (ployes.com).
Ployes at Dolly’s Restaurant come fresh off a griddle behind the counter, dimpled on top on account of only being cooked on one side, as is traditional. Made with buckwheat, they’re savory, spongy, and pliable, something of a cross between pancakes, crepes, and naan. I ordered mine with molasses. Syrup is an option too. Or just butter. Chicken stew — which I decided I couldn’t put down in addition to poutine — comes with ployes for mopping up excess liquid or pinching pieces of meat and potato.
Cretons is spiced, spreadable pork. In Quebec, it remains a popular breakfast item, most often smeared on toast. At Dolly’s Restaurant, it comes with more ployes. I wasn’t exactly excited to try it, but I felt I ought to, and I reasoned that it’s basically what a fancy Parisian would recognize as rillettes. After I got up my courage, though, the waitress delivered a reprieve: they had run out of cretons. The owner of Dolly’s Restaurant, Keith Pelletier, makes it in small batches with a recipe from his mother, Odette, who started the restaurant 32 years ago. Sometimes, demand outstrips supply.
For next time, at least I now know how to pronounce “cretons,” because when I asked for cree-tins, the waitress promptly echoed crrray-tone back at me, with a guttural French “r” and only the slightest hint of an “n” hanging at the end. When I eventually do try the Pelletiers’ crrray-tone, I hope it tastes as good as it sounds.