In Maine

As an admittedly provincial New Yorker, I was not surprised to bring home memories of scenic splendor from an extended holiday in Maine; bringing home memories of truly delicious meals at wonderful restaurants, however, came as something of a surprise. After all, isn’t this the state where Moxie was invented and purple seaweed (dulse) is eaten as a snack?

Nonetheless, traveling around the far northeastern corner of the country recently, I discovered that the food was often spectacularly good and I have plenty of suggestions for anyone lucky enough to be planning a visit to the Pine Tree State. And in order to make these jottings as useful as possible, I’ve also questioned a number of friends who know the state better than I and their recommendations are included as well.

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The first place that comes to my mind when considering superb food in this part of the world is Peabody’s at The Asticou Inn in Northeast Harbor (15 Peabody Drive, 207-276-3344). At this jewel of a restaurant located in a gloriously anachronistic hotel, you’ll find delectable fare along with an excellent wine list, first-rate service, and a postcard-worthy view. In short, it’s in a league with any other four-star restaurant I’ve tried anyplace. The executive chef, Roger Gustavson, is to be complimented. Memorably tasty were the pan-seared lobster cakes served with a whisper of smoked tomatoes and warm cabbage slaw. (Note to dog lovers: “well-behaved” dogs are welcomed to join their families at their table on the lovely terrace.)

Another delightful place I came across on my recent holiday was the chef-owned Angelina’s Ristorante in Ogunquit (655 Main Street, 207-646-0445). The courtly service at this comfortable and welcoming restaurant was memorable (some New York establishments should send their staff here for a lesson on how to treat customers), and the food sampled was old-fashioned scrumptious. Consider the Eggplant Tower (lightly fried slivers of eggplant layered with perfect tomatoes and fresh mozzarella) or classics like the spaghetti and meatballs or the penne with sausage and broccoli. Mmm. Could anything really be more deliciously satisfying?

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Still in Ogunquit, for an absolutely perfect example of a real Maine lobster roll, weather permitting, try the Captain’s Catch (414 Main Street, 207-216-9687). It should be noted that the other seafood sampled here was equally fresh and delicious, but that the seating is limited to a few outdoor picnic tables. A reviewer on the website Trip Advisor summed it up this way: “Unpretentious, down-to-earth, and wonderful seafood. One of the best meals of the entire holiday.”

A similar restaurant, Red’s Eats in Wiscasset (41 Water Street, 207-882-6128), only reached number four on Travel and Leisure’s list of the best lobster shacks in the state, but almost everyone I know who goes to Maine on a regular basis swears it’s the very tops. Personally, I feel it would have quite a way to go to best the little place in Ogunquit, and if you noticed the “almost,” well, one dear friend who has summered in Maine for her entire life claims that it’s “the biggest disappointment in Christendom.” She adds that “in season, dealing with the surrounding traffic is a nightmare.”

Other suggestions from my own trip: the Boon Island Ale House in Wells (124 Post Road, 207-216-9611) for some raunchy local color and absolutely first-rate hamburgers and the Looking Glass Restaurant in Bar Harbor (50 Eden Street, 207-288-5663), a circular space boasting floor-to-ceiling windows that might easily be said to offer the best view on Mount Desert (and, if this is of interest, an outdoor terrace that also welcomes canine friends).

As mentioned, friends who know Maine far better than I have generously offered a lot of informed tips for other eateries worth discovering in this land of breathtaking panoramas.

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Dick Pike puts 76 Pleasant Street in Norway (207-744-9040) at the top of his list of suggestions and notes its “great food and wine paired with excellent and friendly service.” He adds that 76 Pleasant Street is “perhaps better than anything else around.” Located in the 1896 Judge William Jones house, this restaurant in a generally less-traveled corner of the state has been applauded by well-respected magazines like Yankee and Down East and it also unanimously merits five stars on Trip Advisor.

Dick, a Maine native and Bowdoin College alumnus, also suggests the Center Lovell Inn (1107 Main Street, 207-925-1575), a traditional New England bed and breakfast but one which boasts a first-class restaurant . . . Black Horse Tavern in my own favorite corner of the state,Right Side - top of 10th Paragraph Bridgton, (26 Portland Street, Rt. 302, 207-647-5300) . . . Frontier, which is located in an old warehouse with a wonderful view of the Androscoggin River, in Brunswick (14 Maine Street, 3 Fort Andross, 207-725-5522) . . . and Maurice Restaurant Francais in South Paris (109 Main Street, 207-743-2532).

Still more suggestions from other pals include Francine Bistro in Camden (55 Chestnut Street, 207-230-0083), which offers local organic meats, produce, cheeses, and seafood . . . the restaurant at the Nebo Lodge Inn in North Haven (11 Mullins Lane, 207-867-2007) . . . vegetarian Chase’s Daily in Belfast (96 Main Street, 207-338-0555) . . . Rustica Cucina Italiana in Rockland (315 Main Street, 207-594-0015) . . . and Primo, also in Rockland (2 South Main Street, 207-596-0770).

By Maine standards, Portland is a big city but this didn’t stop it from being anointed “the foodiest small town in America” by Bon Appetit magazine. Justin Smith, a local architect who was born and brought up in Rockport, is currently living there and has offered some knowledgeable comments about some of the most universally applauded restaurants.

First on his list is Vignola Cinque Terre (10 Dana Street, 207-772-1330), a marvelous Italian restaurant where the chef and owners are big supporters of the farm-to-table movement—fruit, vegetables, and herbs are all grown on their own farm. According to this gentleman, “the restaurant can hold its own with the best of them in New York City. The setting is a beautiful ivy-covered brick building with a rustic interior which matches and the food is highly sophisticated.” Those who check out their menu online will even learn that guests are offered a tasting of three premium estate olive oils. Now that certainly sounds intriguing.

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Another of Justin’s favorites, the Front Room (73 Congress Street, 207-773-3366), is popular for its refined comfort food that incorporates local produce. The menu changes with the seasons and “the atmosphere works for that special occasion as well as the casual, last minute, ‘I don’t feel like cooking, let’s go out’ moment.” He adds that the always lively Shepherd’s Pie in Rockport (18 Central Street, 207-236-8500) is that city’s equivalent of the Front Room although the menu is a bit more eclectic.

Other Portland restaurants that should be mentioned include the celebrated and newly remodeled Hugo’s (88 Middle Street, 207-774-8538) and Duckfat (43 Middle Street, 207-774-8080) where Rob Evans, the original chef/owner of Hugo’s now presides. (Evans perfected his trade at well-known eateries on both coasts of the country—the Inn at Little Washington in Virginia and the French Laundry in the Napa Valley).

So many lip-smacking suggestions, it’s clearly time for another visit—one entirely devoted to eating well. There’s a lot more for foodies in this beautiful corner of the country than they might expect. And you don’t have to limit your choices to the renowned and unquestionably delicious local blueberries and lobster.

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Issue Twenty Two