Photography by Nicole Wolf
Chef Lex Godin can pinpoint when they fell in love with Maine cheese. It was 2017, and they were working as the executive chef at 45 North, a ski resort restaurant in western Maine, which served Kennebec Cheesery’s Sugarloaf, an aged, Alpine-style goat’s milk cheese. Due to a delivery hiccup, Lex needed to pick up the cheese at the creamery, so they made the hour-long drive southeast to the 100-acre goat farm. They remember meeting cheesemaker Jean Koons, taking in the pastoral scene as baby goats frolicked around them, and most of all, the cheese: “I couldn’t get over the Maine cheese. This is some of the best cheese I’ve ever had, and it comes from this little tiny creamery,” they said. That visit eventually inspired Lex to make Maine cheeses the centerpiece of their own restaurant’s menu.
A year after their creamery visit, Lex and their wife Laura opened Alice and Lulu’s, a 26-seat wine and cheese bar in Sugarloaf Mountain Hotel. This fall, on the second weekend of October, the couple is celebrating their restaurant’s fourth anniversary. This particular weekend is known as Homecoming and is one of Carrabassett Valley’s busiest as it marks the kickoff to ski season. Skiers and snowboarders from all over New England and Canada visit to ready their homes and gear for another season on Maine’s tallest ski mountain, situated in the northwest corner of the state near the New Hampshire and Canadian borders.
Laura, who was born and raised in a suburb of Paris, met Lex in Boston, where they were working as the sous-chef at Oak Long Bar in the swanky Fairmont Hotel. The two moved to Los Angeles seeking a break from New England winters and gained considerable experience in the food and wine industry. After a few years of beach weather, the allure of New England’s seasonality called Laura and Lex back to the East Coast. They landed in Maine, burnt out and looking to recharge at Lex’s parents’ cabin, about 30 minutes from Sugarloaf. The two married, Laura learned to ski, and despite the vow to take a break from food service, they both began working on the mountain— Lex as the executive chef at 45 North, and Laura as the beverage director at another restaurant on the mountain.
Ideas for their own eatery began to percolate. They envisioned opening a small, intimate wine bar in Portland—Maine’s largest city—to take advantage of its renowned restaurant scene. Laura yearned for the Alpine cuisine she enjoyed with her French grandmother Lulu every Sunday, and Lex was eager to implement their culinary vision under their own direction. When a deli at the base of the mountain went up for sale, including some of its equipment, the couple decided to take the plunge and open their own restaurant at Sugarloaf.
Alice and Lulu’s, named for their grandmothers, features French classics such as escargot, niçoise salad, and sweet and savory crêpes. Lex showcases their Italian roots with handmade pasta dishes, such as orecchiette with local pork sausage, broccolini, and a Maine- made, beer-washed cow’s milk cheese called Terzetto. But the real stars of the menu are the cheese and charcuterie boards. In the winter, the restaurant’s busy season, Alice and Lulu’s offers a selection of up to 30 cheeses, most of them from Maine. Rather than listing specific cheeses, customers choose from categories like “ash-ripened,” “washed- rind,” “the blues,” and “longer-aged.” This flexible approach allows Lex to offer a variety of cheeses from many of Maine’s 75 licensed cheesemakers in an easily understood format.
Diners might enjoy Cosmic Goat Farm’s Feta marinated in olive oil with herbs and peppercorns; or Boreal, a nutty tomme- style raw cow’s–milk cheese from Tide Mill Creamery, which has the distinction of being the country’s easternmost cheese producer. The fresh Rosemary’s Waltz from Smiling Hill Farm outside of Portland offers a rosemary-tinged tanginess; while the creamy interior of Fuzzy Udder Creamery’s Small Craft Advisory offsets its funky, bloomy rind. Lex says they initially planned to serve imported French and Italian meats and cheeses, but the variety and depth of Maine’s cheesemakers swayed them: “I didn’t expect to find the wealth that I found here.”
One import, however, always appears on the menu once the snow flies: raclette, the Swiss or French melting cheese. An Alpine après-ski tradition descended from a simple mountain shepherd meal, raclette was originally melted next to an open fire and scraped over boiled potatoes. Alice and Lulu’s serves Jean Perrin Raclette de Scey from France’s Jura region, along with a plate of roasted carrots and shallots, Maine fingerling potatoes, and long stalks of charred broccolini. The rich, meaty cheese melts under the grill’s heating element and pours easily over the cooked vegetables. Maine-made raclette cheeses such as Crooked Face Creamery’s Bonfire or similar styles like Winter Hill Farm’s mild Collinsbrook are also available as add-ons.
Laura loves the serendipity of serving the food of her childhood at the base of a mountain in Maine. “We didn’t know we’d end up in Maine, much less at a ski resort,” she says. Reflecting on four years of her wine and cheese bar, Laura tells me it feels like they’ve had four different identities due to the impact of COVID-19 and the varying pandemic restrictions each year brought. But the couple’s commitment to serving their Maine-inspired interpretation of Alpine- style cuisine, complete with French wines, cheese and charcuterie boards, and raclette, has remained a constant.
RACLETTE AT HOME
After a day on the slopes, Sugarloafers love the raclette experience at Alice and Lulu’s. But you can enjoy raclette at home with a few tips from Lex and Laura Godin. First, the cheese: raclette, imported from France or Switzerland, is available at specialty cheese shops or online retailers. Domestic options from Vermont include Reading from Spring Brook Farm, and Whitney from Jasper Hill Farm, which won Best in Show at this year’s American Cheese Society Awards. Other cheeses with a low-melting point like cheddar and Swiss also work well. Plan on about 6 to 8 ounces of cheese per person.
Different styles of raclette grills are available, from the party-sized machine that accommodates a quarter wheel of cheese to smaller versions with two to eight individual trays. Not looking to invest in a specialty appliance? A cast iron pan can stand in. Just thinly slice the cheese and lay it over cooked vegetables and meats. Place the pan under the broiler until cheese melts and the vegetables are warmed through. Serve with plenty of hearty bread, pickles, whole-grain mustard, and a crisp wine. Laura recommends dry, minerally whites from the Savoie region of France or a light bodied, high-acid red like Burgundy or rosé.