August 1, 2021

Southern Comfort Food Meets Maine Classics at Peter Trout's Tavern

Originally published in Maine magazine, August 2021.

The western half of Mount Desert Island, known as the quiet side, is a bit removed from the summertime hustle and bustle of Bar Harbor, Cadillac Mountain, and Sand Beach. Since June 2019 it’s been the home of Peter Trout’s Tavern and Inn. To find the tavern, meander west across the island through downtown Southwest Harbor to Manset, where, down the road from the Hinckley Yachts yard, the low-slung, gray-shingled building overlooks the town’s dock, the waters of Somes Sound, and beyond that, the Cranberry Isles.

Peter Trout’s co-owner Alex Loftus half-jokingly describes the area as the “Times Square of Southwest Harbor,” but in the high season it’s quite busy at the waterfront, as the Cranberry Cove ferry stops on its way to and from the islands, lobstermen unload their catch, and pleasure boats dock. With a location just across the street, the restaurant has easy access to some of the best seafood in the world.

Loftus’s husband and the restaurant’s chef, Ryan Lamon, describes Peter Trout’s as a “from-scratch, American tavern.” The wide-ranging menu contains classic Maine seafood dishes and Southern staples like Nashville fried chicken and flaky biscuits. Ingredients are locally sourced, from Wee Bit Farm’s beef to lobsters, oysters, and scallops harvested from the island’s surrounding waters. Lamon says these Maine foods are already “perfect,” and his goal in cooking them is to avoid messing them up.

Loftus and Lamon met in Los Angeles, where Loftus was a woodworker and professional photographer and Lamon owned and operated Poppy and Rose, a restaurant that serves American comfort food. In 2018 the pair moved to Maine to open a restaurant together. Loftus, who grew up in nearby Northeast Harbor, was reticent to return to the island and originally began her search in southern and midcoast Maine. But after the couple found themselves frequently visiting the area for weekend hikes, they began to look for a place on Mount Desert.

When the eight-room inn with a 70-seat restaurant came up for sale, Loftus and Lamon were attracted to the steady income that the inn offered, as well as the opportunity to offer staff housing in the island’s tight rental market. Lamon says he was shaped by watching his father lose his north Georgia barbecue restaurant in the Great Recession and doesn’t want his “family’s future” riding on the success of his restaurant.

Lamon has cooked across the country, in food trucks and high-end restaurants and for James Beard Award–winning chefs; he’s racked up accolades from magazines and websites. At Peter Trout’s, he aims to source the best ingredients, prepare them with care, and generally stay out of the way. When he mentions chef Thomas Keller as an influence, Loftus is quick to add, “but there’s no tweezers!”

However, that same attention to detail is evident in Lamon’s preparation of dishes, like his fish chowder. A thin broth covers hearty chunks of haddock, rich shreds of pork belly, and corn kernels. A crispy, smashed fried potato provides crunch while a slab of grilled sourdough bread adds smokiness. Lamon says the recipe is sous chef Ian Merchant’s grandmother’s, with one small update: they swapped in heavy cream in place of Coffee Mate creamer.

Due to the property’s location and Loftus’s local roots, Lamon has access to some of the freshest seafood in the state. A former grade-school teacher of Loftus’s relies on the honor system to supply Peter Trout’s with lobster. The lobsterman parks his truck at the dock, and Lamon helps himself to what he needs for the restaurant that day. Oysters come from a high-school friend in Islesford, while another friend provides scallops in season. Matt Brown of SoPo Seafood, whom Lamon met while working at Browne Trading Company in Portland, supplies the fish and crabs.

From the giant crab cake made with Jonah crab on buttery brioche to the cheeseburger with its sharp pickles and Raye’s mustard, Lamon says he wants the tavern’s food to have “clean flavors, plenty of acidity and texture, and that’s it.” Even seemingly simple sides like onion rings get the royal treatment at Peter Trout’s, where Lamon batters and fries thick-cut Vidalia onion slices (he’s partial to Georgia’s official state vegetable) to order. Lamon makes a fresh beer batter for every order, a practice he describes as “insane,” but says the results are “the best you’ll have.”

It’s worth it to head to the quiet side of MDI this summer, to wind your way down to the town dock, and to take a seat at one of Peter Trout’s picnic tables. Lamon is humble about his contribution to the incredible fare at Peter Trout’s, crediting his restaurant’s great location: “At the end of the day, we’re a bar with really good food across the street from an ocean.” A meal at Peter Trout’s Tavern shows what’s possible when you put the right ingredients in the right hands.

Peter Trout’s Tavern + Inn | 48 Shore Rd., Southwest Harbor | 207.244.8619