March 23, 2012

TRAVELIN' MAINE(RS): RED BARN: Great food with a healthy side of generosity

George and Linda Smith

We knew the Red Barn in Augusta was special. Friends and family members have raved about the food for years. Red Barn has great food at low prices — let’s get that right out there. But we had no idea that the real story here is one of generosity, community spirit and family.

click image to enlarge

click image to enlarge

WHAT A FEAST: George Smith, left, samples his Seafood Stew while members of his party enjoy other menu items.

Contributed photo

Additional Photos Below

IF YOU GO . . .

RED BARN — AUGUSTA
WHERE: 455 Riverside Drive, Augusta
HOURS: Monday: 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Tuesday-Friday: 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Saturday & Sunday: 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.
ON THE WEB: www.redbarnme.com
CALL AHEAD: 623-9485

RED BARN DRIVE-THRU — WINSLOW
WHERE: 50 Bay St.
HOURS: Sunday & Monday: Closed
Tuesday-Saturday: 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.
CALL AHEAD:  873-9005 or 873-9006

Be Laura’s friend on Facebook!

WORTH NOTING

On Saturday, March 24 from 11 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. at the Augusta Armory, you can find out why we’re raving about Red Barn’s seafood chowder. The 11th annual Chili Chowder Challenge — a benefit for Augusta’s Children’s Center — is scheduled with lots of local restaurants competing for awards.

For just $10 per person, or $25 for a family, you’ll get to sample the food and vote for your favorite chili and chowder — including awards for most original chili and chowder and best display— and bid on a lot of great things in a silent auction. At 12:30 p.m.,  Gary Crocker will host a live auction. We expect bids on Gary will go high, so bring your credit card.

The Senator Inn’s culinary artists will be at the Chili Chowder Challenge, too — stiff competition for Red Barn because the Senator’s seafood stew has been George’s favorite for more than a decade. Other participants include Maple Hill Farm B&B Inn, Texas Roadhouse, Wings Hill Inn and Restaurant, Red Robin, Liberal Cup, Hi Hat Drive-In, Ground Round, Fat Toad’s Pub and Al’s Pizza.

Take the kids. Special activities for them are planned including face painting, arts, crafts and games, while you feast around the Armory. Terrie Kee and friends will provide music.

You won’t go home hungry! And you’ll contribute to a great cause.

 

The Travelin Maine(rs), George and Linda Smith of Mount Vernon, have spent their lifetimes enjoying all that Maine has to offer. Now they’ll tell you all about it — their favorite inns, restaurants, trips, activities, experiences, and travel books and websites — in their own personal style. They’ll be offering anecdotes, tips and all the details you need. So join them in exploring, experiencing and enjoying the great state of Maine.

Every month, the staff directs all of their tips to charities. All the sales of whoopie pies go to charity, too. And every other Monday night, Red Barn hosts a fundraiser for a worthy cause — the staff donates their time and the restaurant donates all the food.

Go there for the food. Keep going there to encourage this generous and caring team of wonderful people.

George

My brother Gordon and his wife Janet , sister Edie, Dad Ezra and his friend Irma, joined Linda and me for a Sunday luncheon feast. Normally the tables turn over quickly at Red Barn, but we managed to spend two and a half hours there.

One hour was spent in a fascinating conversation with Red Barn’s owner, Laura Benedict, an energetic and entertaining lady with a heart a lot bigger than her restaurant. Laura, from a family of 11 kids, started working at her brother Robert’s restaurant at age 11 and took over the Red Barn in 1986 at the age of 19.

Dad and Irma eat here often and when asked for menu recommendations, Irma said, “Everything is good.” With a big group, we were able to try a lot of choices, including scallops, clams, shrimp and chicken. And Irma was right: Everything was good!

While Gordon, Janet and Linda had never eaten here, I’ve been a Red Barn fan for many years, almost always ordering their famous seafood stew. I started Sunday’s meal with a cup just because I could not eat here without a taste of this yummy chock-full-of-shrimp-scallops-haddock-and-lobster stew. It’s Laura’s signature dish.

I was impressed with the staff — friends and family of Laura, whose brother Peter is the manager. On Sunday, Peter’s wife Christina, a Gardiner teacher, was taking orders at the counter. A lady who Laura befriended during a health crisis was cleaning tables.

Larry Stewart seems typical — an Air Force retiree who called on Laura to sell her a TV ad, then convinced her she needed an assistant. Now, he handles promotions and charitable events — and was working in the kitchen when we visited, “just to help out.”

Two years ago, the family got together and — for Laura’s birthday — built an addition onto her at-that-time-tiny restaurant. Both rooms were packed all the time we were there. Time for a new birthday present!

The Benedict family also owns Augusta Seafood, helping Laura serve only fresh seafood — nothing frozen here. “If I need something, I’ve got a key to the store,” she exclaimed.

We saw lots of people picking up take-out, and Laura also offers a catering service. She’s a marketing genius. During a blizzard, worried about lost business, she sent out a Tweet offering home delivery of all orders — and got tons! While most restaurants wring their hands over the loss of business during a storm, Laura’s storm troopers now hit the road. Today, she also delivers to specific locations like the new hospital worksite.

When the woman who took care of Red Barn’s Facebook page left, they had 200 online friends. Laura started telling stories on the page and in 15 months, has expanded her list of friends to 7000. In 25 countries! With a mother who was Norwegian, Laura has found a real connection to that country — and now flies its flag alongside the American flag outside the restaurant.

(Continued on page 2)

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Additional Photos

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Red Barn recently held a fundraiser for Iraq war veteran Jeremy Gilley, whose legs were crushed between two vehicles as he tried to help an accident victim. The crash occurred Dec. 19 on Route 3, just west of the Cushnoc Crossing bridge.

Contributed photo

 


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