The Quarry in Monson was nominated for Outstanding Hospitality for the 2023 James Beard Awards. Credit: Courtesy of The Quarry

A restaurant in the Piscataquis County town of Monson won a James Beard Award on Monday night for Outstanding Hospitality, making it the seventh restaurant or chef in Maine to be honored with the award.

The Quarry, owned by chef Marilou “LuLu” Ranta, received the award, given to restaurants that offer an exceptional level of hospitality throughout the dining experience.

During her brief acceptance speech, a visibly elated Ranta thanked her husband, and expressed immense pride over her little Maine town being honored with such an award.

“Now people know where my town of 670 residents is. And now we have 671,” she said, pointing to her medal. “I never in my wildest dreams would believe I would be standing here. I have my restaurant in the boonies, and Mr. Beard still found me.”

The Quarry, which opened in 2018, offers classic American fine dining with a Filipino twist, honoring Ranta’s home country of the Philippines. Ranta graduated from the Eastern Maine Community College culinary arts program in 2016, making her the first graduate of a Maine culinary school to win a James Beard Award.

Another Maine establishment was also honored with a James Beard America’s Classic award this year, given to family-owned restaurants and food producers that have operated for at least a decade. Nezinscot Farm in Turner, Maine’s first organic dairy farm and a long-running shop, cafe and bakery, was announced as the Northeast Region America’s Classic winner earlier this spring.

Ranta, the youngest of 12 children, at age 16 left her small town on the island of Mindanao to move to Manila, and soon after married a U.S. Air Force member and moved to the United States. Her second husband, Billy, was an army paratrooper and Monson native, and they moved to his hometown more than 20 years ago.

After running an Asian food stand at the Monson General Store and working at the Blair Hill Inn in Greenville, she got her degree from EMCC. Not long after that, she was approached by the Libra Foundation, which has invested millions into Monson, about opening a fine dining restaurant in town — something Ranta said she’d dreamed about for years but never thought would actually happen.

Now, her restaurant has been honored with a prestigious national culinary award. Ranta has said that while she caters to many out of towners, she wants locals in Piscataquis County to feel just as comfortable coming in — even if it’s just for tea and dessert.

That sense of warmth and family extends to her staff as well.

“It’s like a family…I’m the mother for every one of them, because I give them a pep talk,” Ranta told the Emerson Collective, as part of   a photo essay on BIPOC people in Maine. “I’ve worked at a restaurant before and I promised myself: No drama.”

Other nominees for Outstanding Hospitality were The Black Cypress in Pullman, Washington; Bottega in Birmingham, Alabama; Lula Drake in Columbia, South Carolina; and Sepia in Chicago.

Ranta was the only one of 10 Maine chefs and restaurants named as James Beard semifinalists to advance to the finals. Other Maine semifinalists include Jason LaVerdiere from Flux in Lisbon Falls, Sara Jenkins from Nina June in Rockport, Courtney Loreg from Woodford Food & Beverage in Portland, Tony Pastor from Fore Street in Portland, and Isaul Perez from Isa in Portland, all of whom were nominated for Best Chef Northeast.

Krista Cole of Sur Lie and Gather, both in Portland, received two nominations, in the Outstanding Hospitality category, and in the Outstanding Restaurateur category. Wolfpeach in Camden was nominated for Best New Restaurant, Atsuki Fujimoto of Norimoto Bakery in Portland was nominated for Outstanding Pastry Chef or Baker, and The Jewel Box in Portland was nominated for Outstanding Bar.

Emily Burnham is a Maine native and proud Bangorian, covering business, the arts, restaurants and the culture and history of the Bangor region.