For those who make dining out an experience and don’t mind driving a few miles to get there.
The Velveteen Habit in Ogunquit is housed in a farmhouse built in 1765. The restaurant sits on four acres of land, where you’ll find 300 year old heirloom apple trees and a very extensive organic garden — a garden any chef would love to have outside their kitchen. It is this kind of New England authenticity and the terroir that attracted Benjamin Goldman and his wife Cristine to the property.
As most people know, owning a restaurant is a huge risk financially and usually means a tremendous time commitment. I asked Ben what motivated him to purchase this property. “We wanted to create something where we could make a real splash — something where we could make an impact and a true experience for people. The farmhouse is so New England authentic — when I bought the property in the fall of 2014, I took the structure back to floors and walls and built everything for The Velveteen Habit; new paint, light fixtures, a brand new bar speakeasy-style wall full of copper and mahogany, new banquettes for seats, antique mirror walls, Brooklyn style factory windows, tables, and chairs.”
Ben and Cristine encourage their guests to arrive early so that they can explore the property. They would like for guests to see what the growers are growing, check out the chickens in the coop — they’d like for them to see, smell and touch everything. Guests can then meander indoors to select a special wine from an extensive list compiled by Ben himself.
Ben completed the sommelier course at the International Culinary Center in New York City. Truth be known, few restaurant owners study wine as extensively as Ben has. I asked Ben if he expected ownership of a restaurant to follow the taking of his sommelier exams. He assured me that he never expected wine to be more than a hobby; it was his love of restaurants and hospitality that drew him to restaurant ownership. Ben is proud of his comprehensive and eclectic wine list. He’s been very thoughtful about the customer he is serving and the food the wine is paired with. Staff training on wine is Ben’s job and he’s serious about getting it right. I could not help but wonder if one more restaurant with a good wine list is what Maine needs.
Ben feels strongly about the absence of cutting edge restaurants in his area, growing food on site and showing local products - he believes his restaurant accomplishes a high level of sophistication with a metropolitan flair. “We are 35 minutes from Portland and 90 minutes from Boston. And we sit directly between two hubs of great food from great restaurants; Portland and Portsmouth. We feel we can fill a void for folks who don't want to drive to a city or deal with parking.”
Ben interviewed 16 chefs while in the middle of the buildout. He decided on Chris Wilcox because he felt that Chris understood farm-to-fork cuisine as well as he understood the palate of an educated diner. The menu is completely collaborative; both he and Chris are curious about food in general and they both like to push the envelope as far as they can. Ben provides Chris a great deal of freedom and has been very pleased with the food that ends up on the plate.
The menu is a combination of what is tried and true, seasonal and also includes dishes you may not have tried before. An extensive charcuterie program and cheese selection will not disappoint. And if you’re a local, you’re in luck; Ben and Cristine keep a few tables aside for guests living in the area. They maintain a strong relationship with local inns and B&Bs and Ben and Cristine have made it their business to participate in charity auctions, museum fundraisers, and the Kennebunk Food Festival to name a few.
I attended theirsecond annual Memorial Day Pig Roast. Last year 150 people attended the Roast and this year more than 200. This was a casual event which took place outside the restaurant. It felt like a neighborhood block party — lots of good food and beer or wine. Ben and Cristine are pleased to take advantage of Maine’s mild spring and summer weather and they cannot resist throwing a delicious party.
I asked Ben what we can all expect from the Velveteen Habit in the future:
“Everything we do now but edgier, more inventive and more pronounced. As our following grows and our staff gets stronger, it will allow us to focus on being more creative in all ways — menu, cocktails, drinks, food, events, etc.” I for one am looking forward to treating myself to a Velveteen experience again and again.
- Published in Food + Drink