My husband, Chris, and I have one real date night a year. Sure, we may technically go out more than that—for our anniversary, for a Broadway play—but I barely count those as dates because we spend half the time worrying about getting home in time to relieve the sitter so we don’t have to pay extra.
But once a year, when we’re in Western Maine visiting my husband’s family, we go to Jonathan’s at the Oxford House Inn in Fryeburg, a quaint town of about 3,500 along the Saco River. We started this tradition seven years ago, the first summer after our son, Calder, was born. Chris’s parents insisted we go out, just the two of us, and we chose Jonathan’s, an inviting stone-walled pub in the basement of the inn, rather than the fancier restaurant upstairs because we prefer the intimacy of dining at a bar.
That first dinner there felt like such a luxury. We were alone, devouring smoked deviled eggs with bacon and talking about something other than sleep training. We were relaxed, laughing at each other’s jokes, listening to each other’s stories. The lighting was just dim enough, the other diners convivial but not obtrusive, the bartender friendly and funny. And the food was delicious—and not cooked by me.
We knew we’d come back.
Each year since then, as soon as the days turn warm, I start looking forward to our annual pilgrimage to Jonathan’s. I don’t need the GPS anymore; I know the turns, the lakes we pass, the farms, the signs for October’s Fryeburg Fair. By the time we park and walk up to the screened-in porch of the 113-year-old Mission-style home, we can breathe a little easier. We’re not on the clock. The grandparents will put Calder to bed, no doubt after an extra scoop of mint chocolate chip and another chapter of Harry Potter.
We’ll grab one of the few seats at the bar. I’ll order whatever variation on a Manhattan is on the menu and Chris will try a blueberry soda or maybe mandarin. The menu has changed over the years—one time the deviled eggs were deep fried—but it’s always exactly what I want, thought up by chef Jonathan Spak, who owns the inn with his wife Natalie, and who relies on the local farms for the fresh veggies and meats and the Maine fishermen for that day’s catch. We’ve had fish and chips, hanger steaks, grass-fed burgers, mussels, and littleneck clams. Always, always deviled eggs. We never have room for dessert, but we order it anyway. Housemade sorbets and ice creams, maybe a crème brûlée and a cappuccino. We’re not in a rush.
I’m not sure when we’ll make it to Maine this summer, with the world being the way it is. And I know our date night won’t be the same, but I’m still looking forward to it. For now, the Oxford House Inn has limited indoor dining, as well as take out, where patrons can either drive home, boxes of hoisin-braised pulled duck and turkey pot pie tucked safely in the trunk, or choose to enjoy their dinner at the picnic tables out back. I can picture myself there, sharing those deviled eggs with Chris outside, watching the sky turn pink as the sun dips behind the White Mountains. Soon. Soon.