Ask any local how long The Bag has been here, and likely he'll scratch his head and hem and haw before responding "forever." Not exactly, but close enough. The Bag (formally The Bag & Kettle) has been fueling hungry Sugarloaf skiers since 1969, first down in Carrabassett Valley, but with a practically ski-in location next to the base lodge since 1972. Indeed, after a hard morning on the slopes, it's difficult to resist the scent of charbroiled burgers wafting from The Bag. Hefty Bag Burgers come loaded with cheese and accompanied by a big serving of fries. If that doesn't fit your needs, perhaps the wood-fired-oven pizzas will. Or the salads, sandwiches or nachos. Or the crocks of homemade soups, including such quirky Sugarloaf favorites as Cheeseburger Soup. Given Sugarloaf's close proximity to the Quebec border, The Bag even serves the French Canadian specialty poutine: French fries smothered in cheese and sauce. Pair your meal with a brewed-on-premises beer. Whatever your pleasure, get there early if you want one of the comfy booths; the Bag's always packed for lunch and après ski, and it's jammed with families at dinner. Mondays are Blues Night at The Bag: showcase for another Sugarloaf institution, The Band from Uncle.
Information: The Bag, Sugarloaf Village Center, Carrabassett Valley, Maine; 207-237-2451. -H.N.
Briar Lea Inn and Restaurant
(Near Sunday River, Mt. Abram)
The Briar Lea strikes the perfect balance between fancy inn and B&B. The 150-year-old Georgian farmhouse, just outside Bethel village, has six guest-rooms, including a two-room suite that's ideal for families. All the rooms ($87-$129, breakfast included) are nicely, but not fussily, decorated; all have private baths and in-room TVs. What sets the Briar Lea apart is its restaurant: excellent food, fair prices, comfortable setting. It's fancy enough for table clothes, casual enough to have a children's menu. Appetizers ($2-$8) include Caesar salad, lobster stew, "crabster" cakes and French onion soup. For entrees ($9-$18): Medi spaghetti, rainbow trout, roast duck and filet mignon. The dining room is also open to the public for breakfast; specialties ($4-$6) include Belgian waffles, French toast and moose-biscuit Benedict, a variation on the classic. Everything is delicious, and the portions make it difficult to dislodge yourself for the trip to the slopes.
Information: Briar Lee Inn and Restaurant, 150 Mayville Road (Routes 2 and 26), Bethel, Maine; 877-311-1299 or 207-824-4714; www.briarleainnrestaurant.com.
The Great Grizzly
(Near Sunday River, Mt. Abram)
It might look like just another big dumb roadhouse, but The Great Grizzly, which opened on the Sunday River access road in '98, has some serious smarts behind it. Owners Patrice and Roger Beaudoin leveled a derelict 18th-century farmhouse to build this literal barn of a place. Half of it houses their popular Matterhorn Pizzeria. (Finally, a bar where you can take the kids!) The remainder is given over to a surprisingly sophisticated neo-country restaurant. A huge 48-star American flag presides over a small sea of plank tables. The atmosphere is studiedly casual-paper napkins, mismatched chairs, etc.-but never underestimate the appeal of a well-chilled salad with real raspberry vinaigrette, a perfectly done steak ($16-$18), or homemade fresh-fruit pie.
Information:The Great Grizzly, Sunday River Road, Bethel, Me. 04217; 207-824-6271.