Instead of heading out to play after school as a kid, Ron Stephan spent afternoons in his mother's kitchen, rolling chicken cordon bleu for the catering business she ran from their home. Today, Ron continues his family tradition of freshness at his own restaurant, Ricetta's, where every dish is made from scratch daily. "I guarantee you my freezer is smaller than your freezer at home," Ron says with a laugh, "unless you have a really small freezer."
The restaurant’s accolades speak for themselves. Since it opened in 1989, Ricetta's has won the Maine Sunday Telegram's readers' poll for best pizza a whopping 20 years in a row, as well as earning a spot on USA Today's 51 great pizza parlors in 2010. At its current location, which it has occupied since 2000, two hand-built brick ovens fire up each pizza, giving the crust a crisp outside and a soft, pillowy center.
Though the food is crafted with care, the lifeblood of Ricetta's, according to Ron, is its employees, many of whom have been with him for over 10 years. They have helped create all of the menu's dishes, including the Bolto pizza, loaded with pesto, roasted chicken, and broccoli, and named after the manager who would make it for himself for lunch every day. Ricetta's first employee, Skip, lends his name to the popular linguini Scipollo, which he fashioned from chicken, sometimes shrimp, with prosciutto and tomatoes in lemon-cream sauce. To show his gratitude, Ron celebrates each staff member's anniversary by printing a mention in the newsletter and cooking them a pizza with monogrammed pepperoni slices.
The dough wizards at Papa John's hand toss circular masterpieces with original and thin crusts made from high-protein flour to support warm bouquets of toppings. Hand-cut produce crowns all of Papa John's pizzas, mingling with the sun-soaked sweetness of sauce made from fresh, California-grown tomatoes. By adhering to its brand promise of "better ingredients, better pizza," Papa John's grew from a back-tavern pizzeria into more than 3,500 restaurants within three decades' time, or the amount of time it takes to grow a single pizzeria from a small seed.
Pat’s Pizza’s menu, which carries on a culinary legacy that began in 1931, arrives at tables bursting with Italian classics and hearty takes on family fare. Diners can test out recently sharpened incisors with a mexican pizza topped with sausage and salsa ($8.25) or challenge a 14-inch greek pie ($16.25) to a duel with taste buds. Nine different salads ($3.25–$6.75) fill gaps in nutrition or in brick walls, and cheese-packed calzones ($5.50+) cradle fresh ingredients in the warm embrace of house-made dough. Diners can also eschew more circular fare for a range of burgers ($3.25+) and sandwiches, including meatball ($3.75+) and classic ham, cheese, and bacon hoagies ($4.25+).
For more than 20 years, Willows Pizza & Restaurant's marinara maestros have quelled orbicular cravings with hand-crafted pizzas and a plentiful array of scrumptious Italian dishes. The pesto chicken pizza ($16.99 for a large) dresses fresh chicken breast in a camouflaged coat of basil pesto to protect against bushwhacking pizza poachers, while the Clams Casino pizza’s white clam sauce sings a wistful sea shanty to accompanying bacon, garlic, and romano cheese ($20.99 for a large). Acrobatic calzones flip pizzas inside-out, with savory meats and cheese ensconced in fresh-dough pillows ($7.49), and myriad pastas and salads and hot or cold subs round out the feasting festivities. Willows slakes parched tongue buds with a selection of wine and beer poured into glasses, pints, or hollowed out life-size replicas of the Leaning Tower of Pisa.
Bonos Pizzeria Grille puts its own gourmet spin on Italian culinary tradition. In an open kitchen, executive chef Anthony Guerriero and his team use local ingredients to craft specialties such as slow-braised short ribs with pappardelle, fingerling potatoes, and peas, and juicy burgers crowned with Boursin cheese and wine-poached pears. They also layer pizzas with specialty toppings such as fig jam and hand-picked lobster before firing the pies over flaming Maine hardwoods. A children’s menu offers kid-friendly options like peanut butter and jelly pizza.
Lost Valley Ski Area founder Otto Wallingford was known for creating innovative solutions to everyday problems. Winter came around each year and left him with nothing to do on the family orchard, so he turned the surrounding area into a ski center in 1961. With that problem solved, Wallingford moved on to tackle a few other issues. He put together the state's first snowmaking system, introduced the locals to night skiing, and developed a powder maker by towing a cylindrical steel grate behind his tractor.
Skiers and snowboarders can reap the benefits of Wallingford’s efforts at Lost Valley Ski Area, which encompasses 15 trails and a terrain park. The ski area also hosts lessons and a shop offering gear tuneups and yeti decoys.