The Hartstone Inn, a gourmet getaway in coastal Maine
Hidden in the small town of Camden, Maine the Hartstone Inn is perfect for a weekend foodie getaway.Housed in a converted Federal style home built in 1835, Chef Michael Salmon (a former recipient of Caribbean Chef of the Year) and his wife Mary Jo run their inn with a focus on comfortable luxury and gourmet cuisine. Rooms are comfortably appointed with sumptuous linens and french provincial touches while the common spaces retain a Victorian feel with a nod to the building’s historic charms. During my travels through Maine I became increasingly convinced that all Maine residents have a sixth sense when it comes to gardening and the Hartstone was no different. Hydrangeas, with their white fluffy blooms greet me at the entrance while cheerful lilies and demure daisies line the path to my room. Mary Jo’s love of orchids is on also display with the delicate flowers gracing nearly every space.
Guests of the inn will be treated to a delectable 2 course breakfast featuring seasonal and local ingredients while Mary Jo and Chef Michael help you plan your day around Maine’s beautiful mid coast.Dessert is always a good start to the day in my opinion and the lemon-berry trifle that greeted us was kissed with the best of Maine’s midsummer blueberry harvest. A savory ham and swiss crepe, an elevated take on the omelet, justified breakfast’s reputation as the most important meal of the day.
I had the chance to speak with Chef Michael as he graciously gave me a behind the scenes tour of his kitchen. He still blushes when asked about the time he and Mary Jo welcomed Julia Child as a dinner guest at the inn. While visiting her summer home in nearby Deer Isle Julia, her beloved husband Paul and a good friend spent an evening in Camden to dine at the Hartstone. (They originally wanted to stay overnight but the Inn was completely booked. Can you imagine having to tell Julia Child no?). Chef Michael took obvious delight in recounting the culinary icon’s overflowing personality and gracious warmth as she complimented dinner and asked to meet the couple’s two feline children, holding and petting both of them. Before leaving she posed for pictures and signed Chef Michael’s 1966 copy of Mastering the Art of French Cooking.
The kitchen is not only the studio for the restaurant’s daily creations but also serves as the classroom for the Inn’s weekend cooking classes. Classes cover a wide variety of culinary topics and techniques from how to best showcase Maine’s famous lobster to holiday favorites. Foodies looking for a more personalized experience can sign up to be a Chef for the Day, with one-on-one instruction as you help prepare that evening’s dinner. I’m tempted to join Mary Jo and Chef Michael on their next Foodie Adventure Tour, which in recent years has explored Tuscany, Catalonia and France. Their small group tours explore local villages and markets in search of the region’s best fare before returning to a luxury villa for hands on instruction preparing regional specialties.
Be sure to save room for the Hartstone’s 5 course chef’s tasting dinner. Chef Michael marries classic French technique with global influences, each course better than the one before. The standout of the night for me was the butter poached lobster with vanilla buerre blanc, the fragrant sauce a perfect foil for Maine’s succulent lobster. Of course you simply must end the meal with one of Chef Michael’s signature souffles(If they’re good enough for Julia Child you better believe I had to try one). Perfectly airy, the rich chocolate souffle was topped with toasty macadamia and finished table side with a cappuccino creme anglaise.
Follow in Julia’s footsteps and head for this charming culinary retreat in Maine. The good food and luxurious quarters in this quintessential coastal New England town have me longing to return.