One Night in Aroostook (And the Tough Guys Tumble): Part III
Sunday morning dawned clear and unseasonably warm in The County. We had decided to double back to Grammy’s, a reader-recommended restaurant, then head west to Baxter State Park, to take on the two hour drive (we are nothing if not ambitious). Grammy’s is kind of elusive, and took us a few passes on The Bangor Road between Houlton and Linneus to finally find ourselves at the spot. We’d had this great notion that we’d live tech-free during our road trip. I hold my atlas close to my heart, and when we are driving, even if guided by GPS navigation, iPad and Android technology, I am studying the routes and towns along the way. I like to know if we are going North or South, and measure the distance with my fingers, converting the inches to miles. When the TOMTOM told us we had reached our destination, outside an extended trailer where a main was working on his truck, eying us warily, we abandoned the disembodied voice and used our senses to follow the windy road to Grammy’s Country Inn.
Grammy’s Country Inn
I heard the record skip, but only for a moment, before the after-church crowd went back to their bulging breakfasts. The tractor boys at the counter pointed us to more tables in back, but we had a seat on stools, between the door and cash register, a great vantage point for viewing the action.
Malcolm: We were quite taken with how patient and friendly everyone seemed to be with us. Grammy’s can look, from the outside, like the kind of place where non-regulars might not be welcome, but nothing could have been further from the truth. While I’m sure it was a different story in the kitchen, where they must have been cursing our lunch orders at such an early hour, out front it was all smiles and warm nods.
Grammy’s ceiling is low, and the walls are paneled in light wood – you can imagine it’s quite cozy in the chasm of a bleak winter. Our courtside seats allowed us contemplate the baked goods overflowing everywhere: whoopie pies as big as my face, hunks of yellow cake streaked with strawberry jam, chocolate frosted peanut butter cookies (these rule), Brobdingnagian muffins and brownies, and I think also pies. We’d read to be prepared for generous portions and already knew this was a place well chosen.
It was 10:30 in the morning and Malcolm was single -minded in his quest for something smothered in gravy.
Malcolm: This doesn’t begin to adequately explain my attitude that morning. I had spent the previous 24 hours quite literally kicking myself (this created quite the scene) over the previous day’s misstep at Dysart’s, and had been mentioning my ordering mistake about every hour or so. After briefly considering a double-breakfast in order to get an extra review in, I settled for one only on the condition that I get the biggest, graviest thing I could find.
I perused, I pondered, I weighed all my options, taking into account context and potential energy expenditure and caloric needs for the day ahead. (We would be in the Jeep from 11:00 AM until 6:00 PM). My calculations led me to conclude what should have been obvious: a fried egg breakfast sandwich ($4.79). Yes. Of course. What this meant for me: more of the whitest, squishiest bread on earth, bread I would be embarrassed to buy in my real life, but the truth is, I love it so much. Two pristine fried eggs and nestled in there almost invisibly, white American cheese. This is living, I thought. Freedom from foodie oppression. I almost wished I had a hangover. I could detect the essence of butter, golden fried butter, and heard a dim chorus sung by a lower order of angels. The hand cut french fries were a low point, sadly, not quite done crisp enough for my taste. But, plentiful. More than sufficient. A ponderous pile of potato. Most appropriate.
Malcolm: Jillian’s fries were weak, but plentiful. I blame this on ourselves; the kitchen was not set up for full lunch service, in spite of our waitress’ protests to the contrary. These seemed like fries that had been plunged desperately into oil that wasn’t quite up to temp. My hot roast beef sandwich ($10.95), on the other hand, delivered on the restaurant’s slogan: I really did “get more than [I] expect.” A huge tower of thick, white bread, piles of roast beef, with two huge scoops of mashed potatoes and a big bowl of coleslaw. Everything was covered in thick brown gravy. It was an outrageous amount of food, and I loved every bite of it…when I finished it the next day.
Onward we drove, past La Casa gentleman’s club, adjacent to the shuttered Adobe Motel in Millinocket, sailed through the abandoned aisles of Mars Hill and, and south on I-95, until finally we had reached the northern entrance to the park. Baxter State Park is the legacy of Percival P. Baxter, the governor who carved out the confines of wild nature for the people of the state of Maine. Entrance to the park is free for all Maine residents. We marveled at America, her sublime landscape, which includes majestic Mt. Katahdin, and all those fore-thinking naturalists and pioneer heroes of the last century, thanking them for this gift. The road was in good condition, far less axle-breaking than described in the guidebooks; we made the journey through in two hours, with a couple of lookout stops and to dip our toes in the icy Allagash.
It was a spectacularly gorgeous afternoon, pine-scented and serene in the 200,000 acre woods. I’m glad I have seen more of Maine, and knowing there is so much left to discover. It is awesome to behold. We feel compelled to be back out there, to see more wildlife up close, walk into the woods, sleep under the stars, possibly touch a puffin, unless it’s illegal to touch a puffin, and then I shall not. We want to continue driving, eating, meeting and making the most of this grand adventure. It isn’t any more or less real than Portland, Mid-Coast, or the postcards. I have been to those places, too, and I can assure you they all have both weight and water. It is as idyllic as it seems in books and I understand why there are so many storytellers weaving warming yarns about this magic state. We came home a little wiser, a little fatter, inspired and tired and happy to be home. It was the best kind of journey, after all.