Fall Entertaining Tips from Maine’s Coolest Culinary Couple
'Tis the season for channeling northern hospitality—the ethos driving the duo behind Portland favorite Hunt & Alpine Club, and the title of their new book.
If you’re dreading the arrival of fall’s first frost, here’s something that might help: Andrew and Briana Volk’s new book, Northern Hospitality with the Portland Hunt + Alpine Club: A Celebration of Cocktails, Cooking, and Coming Together.
Because if anyone knows how to make cold weather living look good, it’s the husband-and-wife team behind Portland, Maine hotspots Portland Hunt + Alpine Club and newer sister restaurant Little Giant.Through their inspiring book, the Volks share secrets to getting hygge-with-it (sorry) Northern-style, blending inspiration from their Maine lifestyle and Briana’s Scandinavian heritage.
The guide includes formulas for cocktails from their lauded Hunt + Alpine Club, recipes for some of their favorite dishes, plus entertaining tips and inspo-worthy photos by Peter Frank Edwards, who also photographed Heritage by Sean Brock. Think: Applejack Stingers by the fire. Apres-ski smorgasbords. And oven pancakes cooked in cast-iron skillets.
Despite the stereotype of New Englanders being a reserved bunch, “the cold certainly does not deter us from going out and having a good time,” Briana says. “Nobody really talks about the idea of Northern hospitality, but Northerners are just as welcoming [as Southerners] in a lot of ways,” Andrew adds. “Sometimes we just show it differently.”
Indeed, although they log long hours at their businesses and have two young children, the Volks still regularly host gatherings with friends and family at home, particularly post-Labor Day, when the crowds of out-of-towners who flock to Portland for lobster, oysters, and the city’s countless other culinary delights have retreated home.
Just last week, in fact, the Volks invited a group of friends and former employees to a dinner party to celebrate Hunt + Alpine Club’s fifth anniversary. Other times, the gathering takes the form of an intimate board game night with “really fancy bottles of wine.” “The whole gamut, we love,” Brianna says. “Entertaining at home is our favorite thing.”
Here’s their advice if you want to follow their lead:
Start with good lighting
“I love setting up sexy lighting,” Brianna says. As far as placement goes, avoid having direct lighting on anyone’s face, she advises. “You want almost this diffused look, so I would always recommend making the house a little dimmer than maybe you think is comfortable, and lighting a few more candles than you think you need.”
Pandora is not enough: make a custom playlist
Look ahead to the weather that day, and create a playlist in advance to complement it. In the fall, the Volks aim to create a cozy-moody feel with tunes. Some of their go-tos? Shuggie Otis’ Strawberry Letter 23; Wilco’s Kingpin; Billy Joel’s You May Be Right; Devil Makes Three’s Gracefully Facedown; Magnetic Fields’ Kiss Me Like You Mean It; and Nick Cave’s Do You Love Me? (Part 1).
Embrace the outdoors, even if it’s chilly out
“When you have the right tools and mindest, entertaining outside in the snow can be pretty amazing,” the Volks write in the book. Ok, you might not want to go that far, but a pre-meal bonfire outside on a crisp fall evening can be a lovely way to kick off a dinner party. “It feels relaxed and romantic,” Briana adds.
Go ahead, invite the kids
Most of the time, when the Volks—parents to Oona, 4, and Rockwell, 18 months—host, children are welcome. Not only that, but they’re encouraged to sit at the table with the adults. “I hate the idea of a kids’ table,” Briana says. “I think it’s important that they are part of it, and bringing them in at an early age hopefully teaches them good manners because they see our example.” But, she adds, it’s also a good idea to hire a babysitter to “chase the kids around,” so the adults can spend time socializing.
Favor the flavors of the season, but in unexpected ways
“People want to feel cozy, and warm flavors help them feel that way,” Briana says. And there’s a lot more to that than pumpkin spice. For instance, the Volks are big fans of the caraway-forward Scandinavian spirit, aquavit, and the book includes a DIY recipe, incorporating cardamom, anise, and coriander.
Have festive low- and no-ABV options, too
Or, as they write in the book, “be kind to your guests’ livers and make sure to moderate their intake.” Their suggestions for making your company doesn't “get too wasted,” include paying attention to glassware sizes (opt for serving cocktails, or even wine, in four-ounce vintage coups instead of pint-sized glasses); inviting them to try lower-alcohol libations such as vermouth with soda water and a lemon twist; and offering plenty of booze-free drinks such as seltzer with bitters or a flavored syrup like Maine-made Royal Rose Syrups. [https://royalrosesyrups.com/]
Send them home with something
The Volks love to give guests “care packages” on their way out the door. Come fall, that could include something as simple as a bag of heirloom apples from a local farm, or something to eat for breakfast the next day, like a jar of cider-spiked overnight oats. “With the morning meal ready, they can sleep in that extra half-hour, so nobody has an excuse to leave before midnight,” Brianna says.