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Susan and Ted Axelrod

Susan and Ted are a writer and photographer team who met while working for a magazine — Susan reviewing restaurants and writing food features, Ted photographing them. When Ted left the magazine for a freelance career, they launched their blog, Spoon & Shutter in 2010 as a way to keep doing what they love, together. After many years in Northern New Jersey, they are thrilled to be living in Maine, where Ted's clients occasionally include restaurants and food businesses. When they're not working, cooking, rehabbing their old farmhouse or hanging out with their two cool dogs – Ella and Dixie – they're having a blast exploring this spectacular state. To reach Susan, email saxelrod [at] mainetoday.com or follow her on Twitter: @susansaxelrod To reach Ted, email ted [at] axelrodphotography.com or follow him on Twitter @TedAxelRodPhoto .

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Spoon & Shutter with Susan and Ted Axelrod
Posted: July 29, 2014

Stopping (finally) at The Montsweag Roadhouse in Woolwich

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.

Montsweag Roadhouse on Route One

Montsweag Roadhouse on Route One

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.

The bar at Montsweag Roadhouse.

The bar at Montsweag Roadhouse.

Mug-club mugs on the bar ceiling.

Montsweag mug-club mugs on the bar ceiling.

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.

The bar and a refreshing local beer.

The bar and a refreshing local beer.

The dining room.

The dining room.

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.

Simple table settings.

Simple table settings.

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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.

"Roadhouse-Style" calamari

“Roadhouse-Style” calamari

Traditional Buffalo wings.

Traditional Buffalo wings.

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.

Carne asada tacos topped with onion crisps; bacon cheeseburger with tater tots.

Carne asada tacos topped with onion crisps; bacon cheeseburger with tater tots.

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.”

The remains of the very good cheeseburger.

The remains of a very good cheeseburger.

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