After nearly 50 years of driving by, we finally made the left turn off Route 1 into the parking lot of the Montsweag Roadhouse. And liked what we found.
All photos by Ted Axelrod
It’s happened to you, I’ll bet. For years, you’ve driven by that place, a little voice saying in your head (or even out loud) every single time: “One of these days I’m gonna stop there.” But the days, and the years, go by — and you don’t.
That’s how it was with me and the Montsweag Roadhouse in Woolwich. And my wishful drive-bys started when I was belted into the back seat, decades before Ted joined me in the car.
Beginning when I was about 2, my parents and I, and later my two brothers, made an annual summer sojourn to Maine from wherever we happened to be living: Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Washington D.C. Our trip to Boothbay Harbor took us right by the Montsweag Farm Restaurant, which from what little history I could dig up, occupied the old red barn from the late 1950s until sometime in the 1980s. The place was vacant for a while, then changed hands a few times before the current owners acquired it in 2006.
Even when I was old enough to make the decision to stop on my own, it was never the right time of day. For the 20-plus I drove to Maine from New Jersey, by the time I reached Montsweag it was either late morning (this was an energetic period when a much younger me packed the car the night before and set off at 4 a.m.) or late in the evening — in either case after an 8-hour drive plagued by traffic. All I wanted at that point was to get to our rental cottage on Southport Island, still a good 40 minutes up the road.
But this summer, we were only driving from Portland and it was time for dinner. Ted made the left turn into the Monstweag’s parking lot and just like that, 50 years of wondering were over.
It was a Monday and the place was packed. The hostess led us through the lounge with its large oval bar, every stool occupied, and into the dining room in the back, where we gratefully plunked down in a comfortable booth. A beamed ceiling, pale yellow barn-board walls hung with a few signs and old farm tools, simple wooden tables and schoolhouse chairs give the room a simple, homespun feel.
On Mondays, Montsweag offers $5 burgers and half-priced bottles of wine — perhaps the reason for the crowd — but we were thirsty and happy to find locally brewed options on tap.
The menu is heavy on pub food but has a smattering of more sophisticated options as well. I had heard good things about the tacos, so ordered them with carne asada, going what I knew would be over-the-top by choosing the intriguing “Roadhouse Style” calamari to start. This was a wide shallow bowl of tender, lightly fried squid — rings and the crunchier tentacles — on a bed of lettuce, with chopped tomatoes, Kalamata olives, pepperoncini, and shards of Parmesan cheese, all drizzled with balsamic vinaigrette. Sort of a salad and appetizer in one — and except for the fact that the tomatoes could have been riper, quite good.
Ted’s Buffalo wings, served with what the waitress accurately assured him would be a large helping of blue cheese dressing, were the buttery, hot sauce-slicked classic.
I saved a little room for the tacos, which arrived piled with nicely seasoned steak, pico de gallo, lettuce, a chipotle-ranch sauce and on top, a tangle of the thinnest, crispiest onion rings. Montsweag calls them “onion crisps;” on the menu, they appear as the “Montsweag Farm Haystack” appetizer, or as a side dish).
The bacon cheeseburger Ted ordered was generously sized, cooked to medium rare just as he asked, and very good. That tater tots were one of the potato options was a huge plus. According to a colleague, the servers at Montsweag used to ring a bell every time someone ordered tater tots, but if it happened, we didn’t hear it.
After 50 years of driving by, Montsweag was better than I expected and everything you want in a place with “roadhouse” in its name: warm smiles, cold beer, and a burger cooked the way you like it. To quote the website: “It’s worth the left hand turn.”