Thursday, June 30, 2016

Postcards from Maine: Popovers

So, as everyone in New England knows, when you're on Mount Desert Island, you must have popovers (and, traditionally, tea)  at the Jordan Pond House in Acadia National Park. It's a time-honored tradition that I've loved for years. My husband remembers running around the tables chasing butterflies 50 years ago, at the very first JPH that later burned to the ground. 

We look forward to going every year. Aside from driving around the park, it's the only activity that doesn't call for a trail map and bug spray (but bring it just in case).

The popovers at the JPH on recent visits have not been the transcendent experiences we remembered. They were rather tough and they didn't always arrive hot, but they were okay. For one thing, they are never as good in June as they are in August because the kitchen is still getting into its groove. But I remember that last August's popovers weren't so swell, either. The place has been under new management for a couple of years and, even though a lot of the staff remained, things are different. The previous concession, a local corporation, had run the restaurant for decades and there was shock, sorrow, and bitterness when they lost the contract to a lower-bidding parks outfit from out West.

But many things remain the same. The view across Jordan Pond of two almost-embarrassingly "bosomy" peaks called The Bubbles is always lovely. Also eternal, it seems, is the long circling and waiting for a parking spot (even in the outer lot, and even in June, the "quiet" month). It serves to whet your appetite, as will browsing in the gift shop as you wait for your reservation beeper to startle the heck out of you. When you get to your table, it and chairs are plastic now, not green- and gray-painted wood. The menu is simpler and more expensive — and liquor is available during the day now, which surely makes hiking off one's lunch more challenging. But the servers are still the same cheery, polite college kids who take their hard job seriously and do it well.

But I'm here to tell you that there are better popovers to be found on the island. In fact, there is popover nirvana.

The thing is, I can't bring myself to say where it is because the parking lot is very small and there aren't many tables, and the reservation list is rarely full. If you recognize this view, you will know. (If you are a friend of mine or a reasonably nice person, leave me a comment with your email and I will tell you. Maybe. If you're heading up in July and not in August when we're there.)

The tables and chairs at this other place are the former tables and chairs of the Jordan Pond House, so it feels like home. And the popovers are uniformly hot, tender, flavorful, and perfect. 

And then there's this: at the JPH, you have a choice of butter, strawberry jam, or strawberry jam and butter. At this other place, they introduced some enticing options this year. There's blueberry jam, for example. You would think the JPH would have that, since it must be Maine's state fruit: blueberry this, blueberry that.... But no. This other place also has lemon curd. And blue cheese sauce plus bacon bits. Chocolate and caramel sauces. Dulce de leche and Granny Smith apples. Or be a stick-in-the-mud and have boring old strawberry jam and butter.

We timidly ordered blueberry jam and butter (we were trying to be "healthy") but the server insisted on our trying the house-made lemon curd, too, saying it went too perfectly with blueberry jam. She was right; thanks to her, we are now lemon-curd junkies. The combination (with plenty of butter, of course) is outrageously good. It is the taste of happiness, I think. The two flavors also have better painterly qualities than strawberry jam, which tends to be thick. So one can also make bold abstract-expressionist swirls on the popover — very satisfying if short-lived:  

This place also has cheerful young servers, a beautiful water view, and a very good non-popover menu for those rare people who actually want to eat food rather than air, butter, and sugary fruit goo. But — listen — don't go there! Go to the Jordan Pond House for the legendary Acadia experience. Everybody goes there; people back home will look at you funny if you say you didn't go. Because you have to see the Bubbles. Because it supports the park. Because strawberry jam is historically correct. Go, have many beers, and then stagger up the Beehive Trail. Please.

Leave this other place to me.

1 comment:

  1. that sounds absolutely delicious. Maybe one of these times we'll head up to visit you while you're up there.


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