For Roger Vire, it's become a ritual. Every Sunday morning, he and his wife, Patti, make an expedition from their home in Freeport to Benoit's Bakery & Wine Cellar in Lisbon to pick up a bag of fresh doughnuts to take on their weekly visit to his parents' house in Old Orchard Beach. The detour to Benoit's takes them an hour out of their way, but they wouldn't have it any other way. The doughnuts are that good.
Nick Benoit, the establishment's 26-year-old owner, gives credit to his doughnut-master, John Frost, son of the founder of the original Frosty's Donut Shop in Brunswick. As might be expected, John spent many years helping his dad out in the shop, and in the process perfected the trick of turning out the type of confection that causes Patti Vire to sabotage her gluten-free diet once a week.
When polled about their favorite doughnut, customers frequently mention the apple-filled, which is not surprising given the filling is made on the premises from apples picked barely a mile away at Nick's family orchard. In fact, a glance at the bakery's display cases reveals an abundance of apple-themed desserts: apple cinnamon cake, apple turnovers, apple muffins, apple “clams” (see the recipe), apple cupcakes with apple butter cream frosting, and mile-high apple pie, which one customer was overheard extolling as “unbelievably delicious.”
Apples aren't the whole story at Benoit's. Thanks to the talents of Benoit's pastry chef, Jennifer Best, the shelves are also full of sundry other delectables: cheesecake, cannoli, cookies and even an assortment of decadent chocolate truffles. Two standouts:
— For lovers of chocolate and nuts there is the “gourmet gorp” bar: a mouth-watering melange of fresh-roasted peanuts, cashews, raisins, dark and white chocolate chips, caramel and honey slathered over a chunky slab of shortbread.
— The winsome acorn cake: a pumpkin-laced delicacy redolent with molasses and ginger, anointed with apricot glaze and painstakingly detailed with chocolate ganache to make it look exactly as its name implies – an acorn — bigger than life-size but easily consumed in three or four bites (if one can bring oneself to eat the adorable tidbit).
Special-occasion cakes are also in demand at Benoit's. Jeff Cronin of Lisbon Falls dropped in with his young son Joshua last Sunday morning to pick up a raspberry chocolate cake, handsomely decorated with raspberry butter cream frosting, as a surprise for his wife's birthday. A UPS driver by day, Cronin has a passion for the culinary arts, and, in fact, so impressed Nick with his homemade pesto, based on a recipe handed down by his Italian grandmother, that Nick now buys batches of it from him to season the bakery's foccacia bread and signature breakfast strudel. (The strudel is a toothsome concoction of eggs, two cheeses, spinach, bell peppers, onions, ham and bacon sauteed with a splash of wine, then wrapped in puff pastry and baked.)
The bakery offers an array of other savory items. Traditional Franco-American tourtiere (meat pie) and salmon pie are available in both the full-size version and as a turnover, which make a perfect hand-held lunch for one. Soups and chowders are made from scratch each day from recipes provided by the bakery's general manager, Greg Hird, and they, too, have earned an enthusiastic following. There is no skimping on the ingredients. (See soup recipe.) The broccoli cheddar soup, for instance, boasts a heady Cabot extra sharp cheese aged for five years, while the broccoli – like the vegetables in all of their dishes – is procured (in season) from local farms.
The food at Benoit's Bakery is definitely a team effort. Nick points to his staff – which he describes as “second to none” – as having a combined total of 155 years of food-service experience. “We're all pretty much cross-trained,” he says, “so we can pinch hit for each other.”
Nick's primary role, aside from covering the counter with Hird, is a bread baker, but he also has a hand in the pastry making. One of his customers last Sunday was, in fact, his middle school home economics teacher, Barbara Mathieu. A resident of Litchfield, she makes it a point to stop by the bakery every time she's in Lewiston, usually to pick up some of Benoit's peanut butter and chocolate no-bakes, which he learned to make from his father.
“I love them,” she said. “And I've tried but I just can't make them myself – not the way Nick makes them.” She smiled over at her former student, saying “I'm so proud of him,” as she happily headed out the door with her bag of goodies.