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The Best of Down East Maine
Excerpts from his review August 2004
There is no consensus as to which is the prettiest and least discovered of Down East Maine’s coastal settlements, though we would certainly nominate the exquisite and peaceful little town of Castine, 90 minutes north and east of Camden. Its great good fortune is to be at the end of a solitary peninsula far off Route 1, which means it isn’t on the way to anywhere. Visitors don’t just drive through; they have to make a decision to go there. In short, Castine remains a timeless and innocent place not yet invaded by the usual corporate logos of modern commerce.
Pentagoet was one of Maine’s original summer hotels, back in the days when wealthy “rusticators” would arrive by steamship. Embellished with a grand turret and odd-angled gables, the Victorian manor is trimmed by a delightful wicker-furnished wraparound porch overlooking Main Street, just a short walk from the waterfront. Today, the vintage structure sports a new outlook on life under the aegis of innkeepers Jack Burke and Julie van de Graaf. Jack has amassed an astonishing array of black-and-white photographs, lithographs and other memorabilia of historic world leaders, which now covers the walls of the inn’s utterly fascinating Passports Pub. Amid twirling overhead fans and Malaysian rattan stools, you can sip a drink under the gaze of Queen Victoria, Gandhi and even a rare oil of Lenin found at a flea market in Tajikistan.
Jack proved to be a charming host during our incognito stay, his refreshingly enthusiastic and affable personality convincing us that he intends to make this property a place to be reckoned with. Although in some respects the inn does not offer the high level of refined amenities we customarily search out for Hideaway Report subscribers, it does possess a solid unpretentious Maine comfort with enhancements being made each passing season.
Spread between the main house and an adjoining “cottage,” most of the 16 pleasant guest quarters feature king-sized beds with down pillows, well-chosen antiques, old prints and lace curtains. Admittedly, the baths are a little old-fashioned and not overly large, and there are no phones or TVs, which may or may not be a disappointment depending on your inclinations. The sunny and spacious “Turret Room” is quite nice, its renovated marble bath containing a claw foot tub with a shower.
Julie oversees the candlelit dining rooms and Chef Gina Melita’s exceptional cuisine. One evening we enjoyed a curried mussel and spinach soup followed by a succulent pork shoulder, the meal ending with a dark chocolate budino — a sumptuous Italian pudding that should probably come with a health warning from the Surgeon General! Other typical entrees include whole grilled lobster, Stonington crab cakes, herb-roasted salmon, a slow-cooked lamb shank and seared duck breast on a Belgian endive salad. On warm summer nights you have the option of dining alfresco on the beguiling flower-trimmed verandah, which also provides a memorable setting for leisurely breakfasts.