September 20, 2020

Destination: Millinocket Don’t knock it till ya ‘Nocket Autumn is a magical time in that little city at the foot of Mount Katahdin

Everyone I know has a different nickname for Millinocket.

Some call it simply “The ‘Nocket.” Others refer to it as “Milladelphia.” And, despite the fact that there’s no casino there that I know of, I’ve also heard it called “Mill Vegas.” This might have something to do with the nearby gentlemen’s club, La Casa de Fiesta, but that’s a story for another day.

The most fitting nickname I’ve heard for Millinocket, however, is straightforward and pretty, much like the region itself: The Magic City.

Never is this more true than in late autumn when the blazing orange and crimson maples shed their foliage, leaving the golden birch leaves to cast a warm glow that even the grayest day can’t dull.

This is a magical time in the Katahdin region, when all the tourists have gone and the locals are starting to tuck things in for the winter. Instead of scrambling to make it to Baxter State Park in time to climb Katahdin, there are plenty of excuses to spend a long, leisurely day puttering around.

That’s just what I did last week, on a cold, brisk, overcast afternoon. I was on a mission of sorts – to pick up a gift certificate to the Big Moose Inn for a wedding present. I was a bit disappointed that I couldn’t stay for dinner at Fredericka’s – the restaurant and the inn are both closed until Memorial Day, though the cabins open for snowmobile season. Still, the warm conversation and the fire burning in the stone hearth made the stop worth it.

Next door, at the North Woods Trading Post, I picked up a trail map and some postcards to make the wedding gift complete, then, with only mild trepidation, I set off in search of moose on the Golden Road. To my right, Katahdin was shrouded in a cotton top of clouds, but glorious nonetheless.

I drove. And drove. And drove. The upshot? In October, there are no rubberneckers to slow down traffic. The downshot? It was the last week of moose season, and the only one I saw was riding in the back of a pickup. At that point, I was so hungry, even a dead moose couldn’t quell my appetite.

There are a few tasty lunch stops in downtown Millinocket, and a windy day makes a stop at Angelo’s Pizza or the Appalachian Trail Cafe even more enticing. If you’re hungry and you can find it, Orvieto in the city’s Little Italy neighborhood is a real Italian treat – my favorite are the pizzelles, a delicate, anise-flavored cookie.

There’s no better way to burn off a big lunch than a round of power shopping, and a walk up and down Penobscot Avenue immediately helped me lose weight – in my wallet, anyway.

At Thirteen Moons, I sipped a cup of green tea before browsing the jewelry, and while I was there, I even got to meet Lynn Winters, a Maine artisan who makes beautiful fulled (like felting) wool handbags. On Central Street, Gracie’s Aunt’s Closet is the place to go for whimsical home decor, primitives and new and gently used clothing.

Next door is the very cool Katahdin Rock and Gem – a must-stop shop where visitors can pan for gems and mine their own on site. Unfortunately, my timing was all wrong, because I visited on a Wednesday, and the shop is only open Thursday through Saturday for the cooler months.

Not to downplay the natural scenery, but the views from the local galleries are spectacular. I stopped by Memories of Maine, where photographer and painter Jean McLean displays her sweeping vistas of Katahdin, along with a handful of boldly graphic abstract works by Frank LaMontagne.

Up the road apiece at North Light Gallery, painter Marsha Donahue purveys a city-slick assortment of artwork with a common rural theme: Katahdin and its environs. Her artist roster is impressive, and for the holidays, she plans to offer not only originals, but a selection of prints as well.

By the time I finished taking in the local color, the sun was starting to fade. I was tempted to stop for dinner at one of my favorite dining spots in all of Maine, River Drivers Restaurant at New England Outdoor Center, but the idea of meeting a moose after dark just isn’t my idea of fun.

Besides, I’d already seen and done enough to become completely bewitched. Like I said, they don’t call it the Magic City for nothing.

Still not convinced?

Don’t ‘Nocket till you try it.

Kristen Andresen can be reached at 990-8287 and

Destination: Millinocket

Angelo’s Pizza: 118 Penobscot Ave., 723-6767

Appalachian Trail Cafe: 210 Penobscot Ave., 723-6720

Big Moose Inn-Fredericka’s restaurant, Baxter State Park road (Route 157), Millinocket Lake, 723-8391 (closed for the season)

Gracie’s Aunt’s Closet, 555 Central St., 723-6006

Katahdin Rock and Gem, 551 Central St., 723-4483

Memories of Maine, 80 Penobscot Ave., 723-4834

North Light Gallery, 256 Penobscot Ave., 723-4414

North Woods Trading Post, Baxter State Park road (Route 157), Millinocket Lake, 723-4326 (closed for the season)

Orvieto, 67 Prospect St., 723-8399

River Drivers Restaurant, Medway Road, (800) 766-7238

Thirteen Moons, 230 Penobscot Ave., 723-6146

Correction: The “Destination: Millinocket” box in Saturday’s Living section incorrectly listed the address of Thirteen Moons. The correct address is 256C Penobscot Ave., Millinocket.

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