Restaurant review: The Inn at Fox Hill
The restaurant scene in Camden, Maine, ranges from the presumptive to the precious, with most national cuisines represented for better or for worse depending on parking. In late May, a new restaurant, The Inn at Fox Hill, was opened on Camden's Bay View Street by the Fox Hill Investors in association with Boston's McLean Hospital. Neighbors of the new eatery have raved about it right from the start, so early in July my dining companion and I drove carefully around the corner onto Bay View Street, just missing a lhasa apso leashed to a jogger, to check it out for ourselves. We had reservations. And still do.
Turning by GPS into a signless steep driveway leading up to the Inn, we were halted by an auto mechanic in a "Camden Taxpayer" T-shirt who politely asked us to prove that our car's emergency brake would hold at extreme angles. Satisfying that question, we proceeded further up the driveway past several landscapers, some of them wearing "I walk to work" T-shirts, others sporting "My bucks stay in Camden" sweatshirts, all of whom were spraying expanding foam into fox dens found under large boulders on the expansive lawn. We learned later that this work commands generously high overtime pay, every cent of which is pledged, as are the workers' triple minimum-wage hourly earnings, to Camden merchants who for too long have been stuck with a local clientele of senile seasonal residents. [NOTE: A copy of the Fox Hill Employee Economic Pledge to Camden can be found, filed under "If pigs could fly," at the Camden Town Office.]
At the top of the hill, stopping at the Inn's entrance, we were greeted by a tuxedoed Vehicle Valet wearing a starched, stud-shut white shirt on which he, or someone, had written "I'm not from out of town" in cursive script, which is again being taught in Camden schools, thanks to the Inn's Wednesday breakfast receipts being turned over to the School Board by management "after expenses for gas and oil, both purchased locally." (Near the Inn's door, a sign providing that information depicts a grinning cartoon fox in a cap and gown brandishing an oversize ball-point promotion pen from a local bank.) After examining our "Brake OK" coupon, the Vehicle Valet allowed my dining companion and me to exit the car, which he then drove away down the driveway at high speed, but not before attaching a rear bumper sticker reading: "TOOT IF YOU CARE ABOUT CAMDEN'S SOLVENCY. FOX HILL DOES. LOTS."
Entering the Inn's lobby, we were greeted by a middle-aged woman dressed in an apparently self-sewn gown of Camden property tax receipts. She ushered us into The Spare Room, a dining venue of uneven flooring, formerly the building's small-scale bowling alley, and seated us at a wobbly table next to a window. We were to discover later that the view from the room was so breath-taking that we had to turn our backs to it in order to speak coherently, let alone to eat safely. Our hostess dropped two folio-size menus on our table and then disappeared, not to be seen again. While waiting for a server, we each read the menu's front page:
HISTORY OF THIS PROPERTY
In the summer of 1787, on the main deck of a schooner entering what is now Camden Harbor, a boatswain, being keel-hauled because he spoke funny, looked up quickly at the high land to starboard and gurgled loudly, "There, that's my vulpium collis." For a few weeks afterward, sharp-eared locals on shore downwind of his remark called the land mass he saw "Caucasian Hill." But then a trapper with a Cassell's Latin Dictionary passed through town and looked up the boatswain's gurgled words. Ever since, the land has been called "Fox Hill." Today, from the hill's peak, visitors look out over Penobscot Bay, including "The Dire Straits," waters newly-named by the Inn's owners to express caring concern for Camden's pathetic position financially.
We had just finished reading when our server, Irma, a Camden Hills Regional High School cheerleader in full costume, approached with two glasses of the Inn's special pre-meal iced drink, "The Windjammer," a secret mix of grapefruit and prune juices which sounded great both then and the next morning. Irma then invited us to peruse the menu and said she would be back in a few minutes to take our orders.
Much to our surprise when we opened the menu, the two inside pages directed us in large print spanning the fold to "Order anything you want!" This was a restaurant first for both of us and we were eager and ready when Irma returned. I ordered a goosefish reuben on garlic bread accompanied by a ramekin of barely-breathing Mongolian minnows. My companion chose General Tso's Chicken When He Was a Corporal and a side dish of crab rangoon, easy on the cream cheese. Irma thanked us for the orders, did a back flip, and disappeared.
The table service broke down after that. We had been waiting for our dinners for almost two hours when we heard what sounded like the screeching of a braking vehicle outside the entrance to the Inn. Three or four minutes later, Irma wheeled up to our table a cartload of styrofoam containers smelling not so nicely of fish, garlic, and crab. I immediately said to her, "This will take care of our two drinks. Keep the change and please summon our car immediately."
Outside, the Vehicle Valet held open both car doors and his palm, on which he had written "Camden in our cause" in indelible ink. I slapped him a low five. Descending down the Inn's drive, my companion asked: "Do you smell fish, garlic, and crab in the car?"
Charles Packard is a Camden resident.