WINTERPORT, Maine — From the hollandaise on any one of The Bacon Tree’s eggs Benedict choices to the sauerkraut atop the River’s Edge Reuben on the lunch menu and toast made with homemade bread that comes with an omelet, Leslie Wilson puts a strong focus on homemade food in the Winterport restaurant.
Now that The Bacon Tree has settled into its new location at 279 South Main St., where it reopened June 1, there’s more opportunity than ever before to try the handcrafted fare. Open for breakfast, lunch and dinner from Wednesday through Saturday and for breakfast on Sunday, The Bacon Tree’s menu and food purview has expanded to include lunch selections and a revolving dinner menu that changes each week.
“We try to make everything in house here. Right now we’re not there yet, but we eventually we want to be making our own mayonnaise, our own ketchup,” Leslie Wilson said. “Right now we make all the breads, the muffins. The corned beef hash is made here. The sausage gravy is made here. The hollandaise is made here.”
Leslie Wilson takes care of the duties as head chef while her husband, David Wilson, helps out with the baking, making everything from the breads and dinner rolls to the muffins, biscuits, pies and scones. What some may not know is that neither of them is professionally trained.
“I’m not a professionally trained chef,” Leslie Wilson said. “I was trained by my family and different restaurants I’ve worked at. I’ve been doing this since I was 8 years old. It’s different than having culinary training, which I’m trying to beat out of the chefs we have right now. My style of cooking is made from scratch — homemade, like you’re coming to my house.”
And it’s Leslie Wilson’s style of cooking — particularly showcased through reservation-only Friday night dinners The Bacon Tree held at its old location down the street — that has garnered the restaurant “a cult following,” she says.
“We did a different menu every Friday night. We did a homemade pasta, a meat choice of some sort, seafood and a vegetarian choice, along with a couple of appetizers and a couple desserts. But it literally changed every week, so our customers that became our following, they knew they would get something different every time, and they loved that,” Leslie Wilson said.
At the new location, dinners on Friday nights will remain reservation only. But from Wednesday through Thursday and on Saturday, dinner at The Bacon Tree will be offered and patrons can expect new offerings each week.
A recent dinner menu featured bruschetta haddock, a haddock filet topped with housemade pesto, tomato and Parmesan served with rice and a choice of a garden or Caesar salad, as well as chicken cordon bleu, bacon-wrapped meatloaf and grilled swordfish. Other dishes included lobster-scallop risotto, a dish with freshly shucked Maine lobster; baked-stuffed shrimp; and David’s homemade lobster mac and cheese.
There’s no guarantee those entrees will show up again in the coming weeks, however. Dinner can be a new and exciting surprise every week for patrons.
Leslie Wilson said the restaurant is best known for its breakfast, which offers everything from homemade buttermilk pancakes and thick-sliced french toast to eggs Benedict, sausage gravy and biscuits and homemade corned beef hash. The new location is still offering those favorites for breakfast.
But what about bacon? Leslie Wilson said the name wasn’t chosen in honor of the food but instead after the restaurant’s hometown: Winterport. The story goes that The Bacon Tree, a symbol of Winterport, is an important part of the town’s history.
On the town’s website, an excerpt from Benson Lossing’s “Field Book of the War of 1812” reads as follows: “It derived its name from the circumstance that when the British landed, a citizen of Frankfort, having a large quantity of bacon, carried it to this tree, and hung the pieces in the branches to conceal them from the foe. The measure was successful. The British passed along the road a short distance from the tree without observing its savory fruit, and the man saved his bacon. In a cove off Oak Point, two or three miles above Frankfort, we saw the ribs of the Warren, one of the Massachusetts vessels destroyed by the British when they took Castine in 1779.”
It was this story that led Winterport resident Leslie Wilson to name her restaurant The Bacon Tree as a way to honor the community’s history. Formerly called The Rise and Shine Cafe, Leslie Wilson took over in 2011, when the building was located at 111 Main St. The restaurant was renamed in 2013.
Over the years, since purchasing the restaurant, it has evolved as the couple’s life has evolved. At the original location, which had only Leslie, David and a waitress, the two started off offering breakfast and lunch, but with four children the task became daunting.
“We had to stop doing lunch because all the kids were in four different schools at the time. It was difficult. We were open until 2 [p.m.] and all the kids got out of school at 2. It was activities, activities, activities, and we had to run errands and prep for the next day, so we decided to stop lunch,” Leslie Wilson said.
That’s when they started offering the reservation-only dinner Friday nights.
Now that they are in their new, larger location, they’re able to expand their offerings again. But the move was a bit bittersweet. The previous location was special to the family.
“The old location has a lot of family history,” Leslie Wilson explained. “David’s family started a business there.” The Dry Dock opened in 1976 under the leadership of David’s grandmother.
“She ran it for a couple years, and my parents bought it from her in ’78. They ran it for about five years, breakfast lunch and dinner. … They ended up selling the Dry Dock in ’84,” David Wilson said.
The building went through several owners, including David, when he was in his 20s. Eventually, Leslie ended up there as well.
That was when the building, an important part of David’s family’s history, fell back into the Wilsons’ hands as The Rise and Shine Cafe.
“We’ve been in the restaurant business for a long time and figured it would be silly of us to turn down the opportunity to kind of fall into our own place. So even though I was 8 months pregnant [with our fourth child], we were like, ‘Let’s just do it,’” Leslie Wilson said.
“Honestly, when I was younger I wanted no part of it. But once I actually worked with my father and my mother, I grew to love it,” David Wilson said. “I was 11 years old when my grandmother had it, and to just be out back and watch her make all these beautiful pies and cakes and breads and muffins and biscuits — there are so many memories.”
However, when the opportunity arose to move to the new, larger location, they couldn’t pass it up. The offer from Michael and Joan Anderson, owners of the Winterport Winery, Penobscot Bay Brewery and Pairings, to use the restaurant space came at an opportune time. The popularity of the breakfast spot had grown so much that they were having a hard time accommodating all the folks who wanted to eat there.
“We were starting to get on the weekends like 45-minute waits, hourlong waits, just for people coming in for breakfast. Over a month’s time we were getting a decline of people wanting to wait the 45 minutes to an hour. We were staying open later just to accommodate people,” Leslie Wilson said.
Now with an employee count hovering around 10 people, not including Leslie and David, the two anticipate they may eventually have some more time on their hands. But in the first week at the new location, they both put in 120 hours, Leslie Wilson said.
And they’re bringing with them a bit of the family’s history as restauranteurs. David Wilson has kept a sign that once hung outside The Dry Dock and plans for it to put up in new location.
As for the kids, they are growing up as part of the restaurant family, just like Leslie and David did — and their parents have learned to juggle their duties as restauranteurs and parents without too much difficulty.
“It’s really not that difficult. We’ve been doing it now for 4½, five years, so we’ve pretty much got it figured out now,” David Wilson said.
“It’s our lifestyle,” Leslie Wilson added.