John Wight likes to play with his food. And that’s a good thing.
Wight is the new executive chef at the Asticou Inn in Northeast Harbor. When he says he enjoys playing with food, he means he likes to be innovative and a little adventurous.
The opportunity for that was limited at Jordan Pond House, where he was head chef for many years. But as of this spring, Acadia Corp., which operated Jordan Pond House for more than six decades, is managing the Asticou, and Wight said he is free to be a little more creative.
For example, the appetizers on the lunch menu include lobster potato tots and lobster poutine, a Maine variation of a traditional French Canadian dish.
But the restaurant at the Asticou also features several items that have always been Jordan Pond House favorites including lobster stew, homemade ice cream and, of course, hot-from-the-oven popovers with strawberry jam.
“We’re starting a new tradition of serving afternoon tea and popovers on the deck overlooking the harbor,” said Dave Woodside, president of Acadia Corp.
Said Woodside, “I think a lot of people will be newly discovering a place that’s been here forever, but it hasn’t been on most people’s restaurant list.”
He was only slightly exaggerating about the Asticou having been in business forever.
Built in 1893 by A.C. Savage, it is one of only a few of New England’s grand resort hotels of that era to have survived. In the elegant hotel’s glory days, it catered to wealthy families from places such as New York and Philadelphia who often settled in for a month or two.
“It was not uncommon for people to rent a bedroom, a living room and maybe an entertaining room,” said Ken Savage, a great-grandson of the original owner. “They would come back to those same rooms every year and stay for the summer. Some of them would even bring their own chauffeurs and maids.”
Savage’s father, Charles K. Savage, managed the hotel from 1922 to 1965, and his mother, Katherine Savage, ran the kitchen and dining room. Guests always dressed for dinner in those days — and much more recently, too.
The Asticou’s new general manager, Gabrielle Martina, said that shortly before the inn and restaurant opened this spring, a gentleman called to ask if he still needed to wear a suit and tie to dine there.
“I assured him that he did not,” she said.