Brunswick | Maine

Posted by on April 29, 2008

Maine at the end of winter is not everyone’s dish of tea, but I beg you all to reconsider.

Actually, it’s an excellent choice.  Not many tourists, open highways, calm scenery, and muted winter landscapes, in addition, of course, to the chance to see some old friends. – and maybe read a book in front of a roaring fire.

We’ve driven up there to Mid-Coast Maine many times, as those of you who read this column will know, but always in the summer or fall.

Each time we have passed through Brunswick, but never have we stopped to look around.  Not sure why, but my guess would be that we were concentrating on our first lobster roll. Turns out Brunswick is an interesting destination, winter or summer.

This time, while visiting further north, we went back down to Brunswick to meet some other old friends for lunch.

A restaurant called the Frontier Café was suggested.  It is located in the Fort Andross Mill complex, in downtown Brunswick near the Androscoggin River.

It sounded a little strange, but I did remember that I had noticed in passing that there was an old New England Mill building in the downtown area of Brunswick.  I was given to understand that it had been rehabilitated to offer office and retail and art studio space.

Sure enough, there were all sorts of new enterprises in this former mill, not the least of which was the Frontier Café & Cinema & Gallery, as it is correctly called.  Frontier has taken over a huge area at the back of the mill, which had been born as a cotton mill.

This former re-cycling center has certainly had a transformation.  At the same time its bones are clearly visible.  The space is huge, with extremely high ceilings, massive windows, rough wooden floors, and long picnic style wooden tables.

The views over the Androscoggin’s lower dam are just staggering, and the food is pretty amazing also.  This is important to note, since one’s first impression might lead one to believe that this is an old factory full of re-cycled furniture and salvage, and maybe not your first choice for a meal.

YUP, it’s true, and it doesn’t take long to figure out that these folks have really got something right.  They’ve put together a great little casual restaurant with world class views, and terrific local food – slow food – organic food.

Casual is the watchword here, where one steps up to a counter lined with sample beer and wine bottles, a global selection, to order from the various blackboard menus covered with mouthwatering items from which to choose.  The owners use local organic produce to celebrate food combos from various parts of the world.

Soups, paninis and salads are available, as well as wonderful combinations such as: Middle Eastern Marketplate: Feta, Dolmas, Cucumber, Tomato, Kalamata Olives, Preserved Lemons, Date, Hummus, Minted Yogurt & Pita; or the Cheese Marketplate: Three cheeses, Dried figs, apricots & dates, golden raisins, cashews & almonds, Apple or Pear, Manzanilla olives, Belgian chocolate, Baguette & crostini.

All entrees are served on large maple cutting boards, the napkins are re-cycled brown paper bags, and the wines and beers are delicious, making this a meal we won’t soon forget.

We decided to have a look at the new Bowdoin College Art Museum while we were in town, but first we had to wander around the hallways of the Fort Andross buildings, having heard about the fabulous Brownie Bakery.  We managed to find it, AND to buy a bag of “seconds” for the road, but unfortunately I can’t remember the name of it, so you’ll have to go your own treasure hunt through the mill.

The whole town of Brunswick deserves AT LEAST a day to see, partly because of the beautiful 18th and 19th century homes, partly because there are so many restaurants of all ethnic sorts. AND there is a great bookstore worth a few hours. It’s called Gulf of Maine, and it’s right on the main street.

But for me, the piece de resistance was the Bowdoin College Museum of Art.  It has had a recent renovation and expansion, introducing a contemporary entrance, the architectural details of which change the entire focus of the building.  The original home of the museum, an 1894 McKim, Mead, and White design, called the Walker Art Building, is itself “extraordinarily handsome,” and is featured in the National Register of Historic Places.

The new glass pavilion now welcomes visitors from both the campus side and from the public side of the building.  If you like architecture at all, I would say this addition is a must.  To be able to preserve the “jewel box” of the original building, and simultaneously create a strikingly contemporary entrance, be accessible to the handicapped, make room for at least five more galleries, and much more storage, while inviting the public more noticeably, is no mean feat.

Inside, the modern bright colors and the well placed skylights make the whole collection more accessible.  We feasted on Photographic Portraits, Japanese Prints. And Ancient objects come to life in the mustard colored room adjacent to the rotunda.  The giant Assyrian relief fragments can now be seen from the street as they take their place at the top of a stair facing a glass wall.

I was also wowed by another Bowdoin renovation.  Imagine turning the old indoor swimming pool in to a recital hall!  Well, the old Curtis Pool is now the Studzinski Recital Hall, with 280 seats and near perfect acoustics. – and they say, not a whiff of chlorine left!!

So there we have a very nice day trip, if you happen to live closer to Brunswick. I can still recommend it, if you are driving Route One in Maine.  Stop for lunch or stop for art, either one would be very rewarding.  You might see me there again in Brunswick, I really want to see the old swimming pool renovation at Bowdoin.

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