FORT FAIRFIELD, Maine — With its fertile soil and abundant potato crop, Aroostook County is known more for the food that it grows than the restaurants that serve it. But a Fort Fairfield eatery that opened eight years ago has quickly garnered a reputation as one of the best places to eat in The County. It also has attracted the attention of a website created to serve as a comprehensive culinary guide to dining in Maine.
The Maine Plate has named Canterbury Royale as one of its 50 best restaurants in Maine. It is the only eatery from The County to garner the designation. Its owners, Barbara Boucher and Renee O’Neill, moved to Maine 24 years ago from Connecticut and New York, respectively. Both are chefs at the establishment.
“We were very excited when we learned that,” Boucher, who owns the establishment with O’Neill, her half-sister, said this week. “Before they picked us, they came and dined anonymously and we had no idea they were here.”
Stepping into Canterbury Royale takes you to a place that history didn’t allow you to see. The restaurant is decorated with silver and other pieces from the 1800s, with goblets and a ceiling medallion and chairs handcrafted by O’Neill. A knight stands in a corner.
“People come here for the food, but the ambiance plays just as big a role in the dining experience,” Boucher explained. “We don’t just want to give them food. We want to give them an experience. As soon as they walk in the door, we want them to feel like they are our only guests. We want them to feel like they’ve been invited to a delicious meal with friends.”
Canterbury Royale specializes in high-end French cooking. Boucher said that she and O’Neill like to offer about 20 entree choices per night and they base their menus around foods and ingredients that are in season. The multicourse menu allows people to taste many different foods, she said.
“One night our theme could be ‘a trip through France,’ and we would offer foods from different regions,” she explained. “Or it could be based on a region, such as La Provence. Our guests seem to like that. They want to try different foods and go outside of their comfort zone a bit.”
Reservations are required to dine. The main dining room can seat up to 12 people. A second dining room, “the niche,” is more private and seats two.
Once seated, guests are treated to dishes featuring pheasant, lobster, quail, lamb, souffle and more.
The success they have seen runs contrary to what they were first told when they started their business.
“We were told that people here would never eat the food we served,” she recalled. “Some people kind of looked at us in disbelief when we talked about serving lobster souffle and duck and different beef and chicken recipes. But once we opened we were always busy. Even the recession didn’t touch us.”
Boucher said that the restaurant sees a lot of business from Canadian diners, along with out-of-state guests of local residents.
Boucher and O’Neill buy as many local ingredients as they can, but look elsewhere for cuts of duck and pheasant.
“We still use our butcher in New York, and our duck comes from France or New York,” Boucher explained.
Along with the accolade from the Maine Plate, Canterbury Royale also was named “Best of New England” for the spring by Boston Magazine last year.
The restaurant is open Tuesday through Sunday for evening dinners and also offers weekend brunches. It also hosts special teas.
Boucher said that they have tried to open a bakery but are too busy to run it. In the future, she said that their goal is always to bring in more customers and keep making them happy.
“We want our guests to feel like we cooked the food with them in mind,” she said. “And I think our customers appreciate it.”
For more information, go to their website, canterburyroyale.com or call 472-4910.