Inside a Portland chef’s newest restaurant on Sunday River

chef slates

Chef Harding Lee Smith plates up cured meats and smoked cheeses for hungry skiers.

It’s a bit of a climb from the Old Port, but once you reach the Mountain Room you don’t have to worry about parking. Harding Lee Smith’s newest kitchen has killer views and hearty nosh prepared at 2,100 feet.

Open for a month at Sunday River’s mid-mountain North Peak Lodge, the fifth restaurant by the Portland chef, who owns a string of successful restaurants, such as the Grill Room and Corner Room, is perhaps his most ambitious yet. Ingredients arrive by Chondola and his kitchen resembles a ship’s galley.

“It’s like camping every day,” said Smith, slicing bread baked in Portland for sourdough toast to which he’ll add oxtail marmalade and truffled pecorino. Taking a break to take in the alpine scene all around, he smiles. “This is my new office.”

Don’t ski? No sweat. There is no charge to take the Chondola and trek through the snow to try pork belly buns prepared on high. Last Friday when we visited at high noon, the place was rocking. Smith was busy pressing Iowa ham and cheese into powerful paninis and loading up wooden boards with the finest smoked meats and local cheeses. The spread looked like a Swiss Alps mirage, New England style.

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Gourmet ski grub

Skiers and families still chow down on typical fast fuel like soup bowls and nachos at the lodge cafeteria, but in the corner, the Mountain Room’s black diamond fare is carved out with chef-driven focus. “On Saturdays it’s like the Old Port Fest every weekend,” said Smith, who splits his time between Boone’s Fish House and his new perch this season.

As if on cue, a trio of Portland chefs arrived in ski togs and ordered up a feast. Sipping wine and beer, owners of Nosh and Eventide Oyster Co. gave it a thumbs up.

Taking over a section of the Peak Lodge that was underutilized, Smith is working on phase one. A bar in the center serves top-shelf booze and beers that go down nicely with meats, sandwiches and salads. The second phase, to be completed in time for the next ski season, includes full service dining and an expanded menu.

“The food is amazing,” said skier Jeff Gray polishing off a bowl of tomato soup served with mini grilled cheese made with bacon jam and local goat cheese. “It’s delicious and high end for a mountain.”

Mountain Room is open through April 1. Food is served Friday and Saturday from 11 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. Bar is open seven days a week. 

Kathleen Pierce

About Kathleen Pierce

A lifelong journalist with a deep curiosity for what's next. Interested in food, culture, trends and the thrill of a good scoop. BDN features reporter based in Portland since 2013.