You have to trust me on this. I know the exterior of the Country Charm Restaurant, in Steuben, is rather forlorn, perhaps neglected looking is more apt. But this li’l spot has survived going on 15 years not on its good looks, nor its charms, but rather on its good home cooking and cheap prices.
When you’re this far down east, cooks aren’t judged on their burgers, roast chicken, or meatloaf (well, maybe a bit), but rather on their fried fish. And Country Charm earns accolades for it’s tender and flavorful renditions.
First you have to find it. It’s situated a couple of miles off Route 1 in Steuben (where’s Steuben, you ask? It’s between Gouldsboro and Milbridge, northeast of the Schoodic Peninsula). Country Charm is on the road leading to the Petit Manan section of the Maine Coastal Islands National Wildlife Refuge. If you’re heading down to the refuge to bird watch, hike, or simply pick blueberries, Country Charm makes a fine stop for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. But again, you need faith to guide you inside. Even though we love the joint, we gave each other the “are you sure about this” look before heading inside.
Inside, the pine-paneled front room has, well, a bit of country charm. It’s the place to sit if you want to jaw with the locals or hear the local gossip. The other dining rooms, added after a real kitchen replaced the original blue trailer (faith, remember faith), are purely functional.
We split an order of fish and chips. Now the fries are just that, fries. Crinkle cut and crispy, they were good but not extraordinary. And the tartar is those Kraft plastic tublets. The slaw was fine. The fish, however, was like biting into tender air: outside crispy and light, inside, moist and ultra fresh.
And cheap. It’s easy to get out of here for less than $10 per person. Far less, if you order burgers, which go for less than $4. If we’d arrived for breakfast, we could have had the Country Charm special: eggs, pancakes, bacon, sausage, and coffee for $4.95. Now that would power me through a few hikes in the refuge neighborhood.
Our waitress was friendly and efficient. The place was clean. And afterward we talked with the owner who said he’s ready to sell. What! “No, you can’t do that,” I said. He replied that a relative was likely taking it over, so nothing would change. Whew!
Country Charm currently opens at 5 a.m. Wednesday through Saturday, closing at 2 pm. Wednesday and 8 p.m. the rest of the week. It’s also open 5:30 to 7 p.m. Sunday.
Another must-stop in Steuben is Wildflour Bakery, on the Steuben loop off Route 1. (open Fridays and Saturday mornings only this season). Auto-mechanic-turned-baker Rich Chevalier turns out hearty, creative breads and sweets. Also on the loop is Shaw Place, for gorgeous sweaters and a barn full of antiques and what not. And just off it is where chainsaw carver Arthur Smith creates his detailed sculptures of animals. Not just the usual bear, but also eagles and great blue herons and even porcupines. When it comes to folk art, Arthur’s the real deal.