Maine | July 2017
In July, I rang in the start of my thirty-third year with family and friends in Portland, Maine. Rather than journal about an extended weekend, I have decided to try something a bit off-brand, but (hopefully) no less insightful. These are my Maine attractions, if you will.
Mainestay (the lobster roll)
1. Bite into Maine. We happened upon this food truck posted up at the Portland Head Light in Cape Elizabeth, shortly after our first roll from Lobster Shack. For those less inclined to follow its movements on Twitter (or simply hoping for the best), there is a second airstream permanently parked at Allagash Brewery. The menu features several distinctive rolls, including Maine (mayonnaise and chives) and Connecticut (warm melted butter) styles. Our gang split a picnic style roll - a warm, toasted, buttery bun overflowing with huge melted butter-covered lobster chunks piled high on a bed of coleslaw. Best in show!
2. Eventide. This lobster roll is the most refined of the catch, featuring a delicate Asian style steamed bun filled with finely chopped lobster meat sautéed in rich brown butter. Keeping in line with overall trends, the roll is overpriced and undersized, but absolutely delicious and worth it all the same.
3. Harraseeket Lunch and Lobster Company. This bustling joint, located in Freeport, was visited in route to the L.L. Bean flagship store. This iteration features well-seasoned lobster salad with the perfect mayo to meat ratio heaped upon a bed of crisp leaf lettuce. Harraseeket is located right along the marina. Diners order at a takeaway window (cash only), then flock to outdoor picnic tables. Whole live and steamed lobsters are served around the corner.
4. The Lobster Shack at Two Lights. This roll was tasty and satisfying. Being our first of the trip, it did not disappoint, though it would be eclipsed in subsequent sampling. The lobster is topped with a large dollop of mayonnaise and sliced pickles. We also ordered a cup of New England clam chowder, which was unsatisfying thin. The restaurant has plenty of indoor and outdoor seating and beautiful coastal views. Our weather was inclement, and drove us to a table inside.
Maine Squeeze (the libations)
1. Allagash Brewing Company. Free brewery tour reservations can be made online. The tour includes lessons on the brewery's history and distinctive Belgian brewing process, and the pleasurable opportunity to sample all the current releases starting with their signature beer Allagash White. Due to liquor licensing issues, the brewery cannot sell pints on the premises (bottles are available for takeaway). But these renegade brewers have found a loophole in giving tastings (four ounce pours of each of their four beers) away for free. The grounds also feature a great outdoor patio with a cornhole pitch, fire pits, and Bite into Maine lobster roll truck. I say skip the tour and just hang outside sampling delicious beers and bites. You can complete your brewery crawl with visits to Foundation Brewing Company and Austin Street Brewery, both just across the street.
2. Bissel Brothers. This craft brewery's specialty canned release parties bring enthusiasts lining up out the door. On non-release days, the taproom provides a very pleasant tasting experience. Beers are available in five and ten ounce pours, so you can easily build your own flights. Be mindful that customers can only purchase up to ten ounces of beer per person each time they go up to the bar. I recommend their flagship Substance Ale and hazy Baby Genius.
3. For locals (and us by affiliation), neither queuing for Bissel Bros nor the commuter ferry should prove a waste of time. Cold beers from Flatbread Company's togo bar window, which is located just across the way from Casco Bay Ferry dock, make for a much more pleasant wait. "Time for a pint," indeed!
Maine Course (non-lobster notables, in no particular order)
1. Banana cream pie at Becky’s Diner. No offense to my grandma’s recipe, which has been successfully reinvented by my aunt, this is the best banana cream pie I have ever tasted. Becky’s is also the spot for an old school greasy spoon breakfast. Mornings bring in local fisherman and dock workers. The later brunch crowd is more touristy, and may prompt a wait for a table. Even so, you should hold out for seat at booth or bar inside, not the upstairs patio. The breakfast sandwich and blueberry short stack are worth it. Plus, it’s never too early to grab a slice (or two or three) of pie for the road. I even carried a piece through airport security upon departure.
2. Raw oysters at Eventide. This restaurant touts the freshest, most delicious raw oysters along with creative New England fare. The Bloody Mary is not bad either.
3. Fries at Duckfat. I do not know what to say other than the restaurant specializes in Belgian fries fried in duckfat and served with a variety of creative dipping sauces. Pretty good local beer list and panini sandwiches. Also, the milkshakes are legendary. This restaurant is located just down the street from Eventide, making for a convenient stop on our food crawl.
4. Almond Croissant at Standard Baking Co. Best of luck to foodies seeking out these famed baked goodies - the daily hand-rolled pastries sell out almost immediately. But do not be discouraged, the old brick warehouse on Commercial Street, has plenty of other offerings. I would also recommend the pistachio shortbread cookies (sweet, salty and nutty) and rye chocolate chip cookie.
5. Just about everything at Street & Co. I had the skillet scallops, which were delicious. I think my favorite was my mom’s filet of sole, also served in a piping-hot skillet with wild rice and seasonal vegetables. Our celebratory meal was rounded out with fresh oysters on the half shell, warm bread and butter, and pecan pie for dessert. Reservations are booked weeks in advance, but the restaurant saves a few tables each night for early bird walk-ins, who beginning lining up around a quarter to five. We start with drinks at the bar. The restaurant is located in an old brick building on an old cobblestone alley. The interior is darkly lit (with few windows), yet warm and inviting.
6. Donuts at The Holy Donut. The blueberry cake donut was delicious - maybe the standout. But I, for one, could not stop eating the maple bacon one, which so precisely hit my sweet and savory spots. There are three locations throughout the city, and each closes once the donuts are sold out. It is best to come by before noon.
7. All the blueberry things. I had no idea Maine blueberries were a such a thing, but they are. And rightly so.
Ed. Note: Whoopie pies are also a really big thing in Maine. With so many other interesting and amazing options, I did not partake in these confounding sandwich cake cookies.
1. Portland Head Light, informally know as Cape Elizabeth Headlight. Completed in 1791, it is the oldest lighthouse in Maine. The light station is automated, and the tower, beacon, foghorn are maintained by the Coast Guard, while the former lighthouse keepers' house is a maritime museum within Fort Williams Park.
2. L.L. Bean (aka Beans). The flagship campus in Freeport has retail stores for every imaginable item of gear. My favorite offerings were the mistakenly monogrammed backpacks and totes sold on clearance. If L.L. Bean isn't your thing, there are plenty of other retail stores in the area.
3. Lucky Catch lobster boat tour was an interesting experience. After being suited up in heavy aprons and gloves, we are taken around the bay to collect previously set lobster traps. The crew is made up of well-intentioned and enthusiastic educators, but we didn't catch anything other than a few factoids.
Mainland Maine is surrounded by over 4,600 islands, each with their own distinct vibe and reputation. The Mailboat is a true working boat carrying passengers, mail and freight from downtown Portland to the islands of Casco Bay—Little Diamond, Great Diamond, Long, Cliff and Chebeague. During low tide, you can even walk across the sandbar from Great to Little Diamond. During summer, they host a 5k race across the sandbar, with the ocean's tide setting the pace!
1. We were headed to a home on Long Island, though the mailboat ferry makes for a memorable tour on its own. Long Island - located six miles off the coast of Portland - features a museum, a community garden, one small general store, a gift shop, and an ice cream shop, meaning that visitors must pack in and pack out everything they'll need for their stays. Long Island is one of 15 Maine islands with a year round community, thus the elementary school. The Market boat docks every Saturday morning with much fanfare. The days are otherwise spent swimming and sunning, biking or boating around the island, or reading and playing games on patios and porches. We cart a sunset picnic to Fowler Beach, where a quick cliff jump into the Atlantic calls. Speaking of daring divers, my parent's favorite local tradition was how kids and teens, having gathered in groups on the islands' docks, would jump from their high perches into the wake of departing ferryboats.
2. Mackworth Island. The beautiful walk around Mackworth Island is worth the visit. The trail (under two miles, and not strenuous) stays seaside the entire walk with great views of Casco Bay. Don't forget to bring twigs and branches to build a house for the fairies that inhabit the island!