A quick trip through Mid-Coast Maine
29.07.2009 - 02.08.2009
“Oh ayuh….it’s hard say-in which is better not know-en what you like….but you need to go about 5 miles and turn…you cahn’t get there from hea….”
The car rental agent patiently stood with a map trying to direct us to the closest lobster pound. We had just landed at the tiny Bar Harbor airport on a sunny afternoon in late July and we had lobster on the brain. The Bar Harbor airport was about the size of your average fast food joint, covered in shaker shingles, with one gate and a waiting area so small that we saw the folks heading out on the next plane being herded outside as they cleared security because there was literally no room inside to wait.
We had arrived in quaint, picturesque Coastal Maine and it was a beautiful day. Let the eating begin.
Don’t get me wrong, there’s a lot more to do in Maine besides eating, eating just happens to be my favorite thing. Eating lobster just happens to be my most favorite thing.
Starving, we opted for the closest place: Maine Luau Lobster Pound. Depsite a name that conjured up images of tiki torches and flower leis, what we found was a down home, old fashioned, honest-to-goodness dive of a lobster pound. It was perfection. Big washtubs were set up outside with hot fires going underneath. The smell of woodsmoke filled the air as brightly colored wooden lobster buoys clanked together with the wind. Red picnic tables with flapping umbrellas were scattered about the grass. We had a seat, ordered up a couple of lobsters, and sat back to enjoy the afternoon sunshine.
Within minutes, two glorious steamed lobsters and heaps of fries, corn, and cole slaw were set on the table. A couple of lobsters and blueberry pies later….we were on our way.
We made the drive to Camden, Maine. Camden is a coastal town of picture postcard perfection filled with colorful cottages along a boat strewn harbor, seagulls perched on rooflines, and signs advertising “Wicked Cheap Lobster.”
After a stroll through town, we rested on our harbor front balcony at the Lord Camden Inn and watched the boats make their way back in for the night. We could have sat there enjoying a glass of wine and the salty breeze all night, but it was my birthday and we had reservations at Francine Bistro.
Francine’s welcomed us with a warm little patio covered with flowers and twinkling lights. We were ushered inside to a warm and cozy little restaurant where the tables were flanked with old wooden pews scattered with pillows and soft candlelight. I was presented with the menu, which changes daily because they take the freshest, most local ingredients possible from nearby farmers, cheesemakers, fishermen, and foragers and create a new daily menu, complete with 4 starters, 4 entrées, and 4 desserts. When I looked down at the menu, I saw “HAPPY BIRTHDAY” printed in big letters at the top! Feeling mighty special, I ordered the drink of the day which was a vodka lemonade with fresh strawberry puree. Oh my.
Because I knew the days to come would hold plenty of fresh seafood opportunities, I opted for the sweet corn soup with basil and crab and the steak frites, a pan roast of sirloin steak with garlic herb frites. Artisanal, artistic, and organic describe the food at Francine’s. Everything was so fresh, so well prepared that I could taste Mid-Coast Maine on every bite….
We walked back slowly to the Inn savoring the perfect evening. When we got back, Matt had a beautiful birthday cake for me from Sweet Sensations Bakery. Can you say yum?
The next morning, after sleeping in, we went down for the breakfast buffet at the Inn which was fantastic. My favorite was their signature homemade granola. I thought about trying to sneak some of it into my pockets but decided the trail of raisins and coconut that would no doubt follow me out of the dining room would give me away.
After breakfast, we wandered over to the Merryspring garden and took a morning stroll through the flowers. I have never seen day lilies so big! Maine is replete with wildflowers. There are little pockets of color literally bursting everywhere, on the side of the road, in abandoned fields, growing up through cracks in the sidewalk. I don’t think you can take a step in Mid-Coast Maine without stepping on a wildflower.
As the sun rose higher in the sky and the day began to turn hot, we headed to Rockland for the 62nd Annual Lobster Festival. Having been to the 60th two years ago, we knew it was lobster heaven….well for us…not the lobsters. Situated right on the harbor front in Rockland, Maine, the lobster festival is like an awesome state fair with lobster. Seriously, where can you get meat on a stick, a funnel cake, AND lobster?
We made our way to the Maine Food Tent. $15 for a single, $26 for a double, or $35 for a triple lobster dinner….we went for two doubles. A huge steaming vat of lobsters was opened up and 4 giant red lobsters were pulled out and piled onto a try piled high with corn on the cob, rolls, and slaw.
Lobster pick? Check. Bib? Check. Melted butter? Check. Handi-wipes? Check.
Let the feast begin.
When lunch was over, we wiped the butter off our chins, untucked our shirts to hide our now unbuttoned pants, and waddled through the festival grounds. We saw pie stands piled high with flaky blueberry pies. We saw oysters being shucked by the dozens. We saw ice cream cones piled so high that they were melting as fast as the kids could eat them.
Heading back to Camden, we decided to head up to Mount Battie to take in the view. From that vantage point, you could see all the way down to the town of Camden, and all along the coast. The rest of the afternoon was spent strolling the little shops of Camden. Places like the Unique One Sweater & Yarn Shop, The Owl and Turtle Bookshop, or the Smiling Cow.
We walked over to Cappy’s Chowder House for dinner. Serving up “chowda” since 1979, Cappy’s is warm and inviting with a pub-like atmosphere. An old boat motor that has been converted to serve draft beer sits behind the bar. Cold drinks are served up in Mason jars (which us folks from down south are kinda’ used to…) and they have the best chowder around. Matt had the chowder and I had the seafood stew. Both are served with super-sized oyster crackers.
It’s hard to say which was best. They were both that good. For dinner, I had the baked lobster mac-n-cheese. Noodles….cheese….and lobster…..my idea of perfection. We skipped out on dessert at Cappy’s and had some more of that decadent chocolate birthday cake.
Friday morning was a slow and sleepy affair. I think I was becoming lethargic after consuming such large quantities of lobster, cheese, butter, and pie. Did that stop me from waddling down to the breakfast buffet? Of course not. I needed a blueberry muffin.
After breakfast, we checked out of the Lord Camden and planned to make our way, at a leisurely pace, back to Bar Harbor. Our plan was to drive and stop at anything interesting along the way. I was so distracted by fields of wildflowers and decaying old houses that I think Matt had to make at least 3 U-Turns in the first 10 miles.
The drive was nice. We stopped to visit fields of flowers, to stroll through tiny Lincolnville Beach, wandered through the Belfast Farmers Market and stopped to visit Blue Jacket Shipcrafters, the oldest ship model company in the US, established in 1905. Matt, proving that all men are just very large boys, stared at wooden model ships for what seemed like an eternity while I rolled around in the floor with their V.P. Of Customer Relations, Mr. Shanteyman.
Don’t worry, Mr. Shanteyman is the Portuguese Water Dog that pretty much lays in the floor and demands to be pet with his flopsy topknot and begging eyes. Did you know that Portuguese Water Dogs have webbed feet to help them swim? You do now.
It was at this point that Vicki got it in her head that she wanted to pick wild Maine blueberries and we spent the next 45 minutes crawling all over some back roads trying to find a couple of You-Pick-Em blueberry farms. We were like the 2 Stooges. We’d find a sign that said “Wild Bluberries…THAT WAY-->” and we’d head off. Fifteen miles of hilly backcountry Maine later, we’d see a similar sign that said, “Wild Blueberries….THAT WAY <--.” We finally just gave the hell up.
Looking for non-existent blueberry farms made me really hungry. Yes, I was already hungry again. So we stopped at the Trenton Bridge Lobster Pound just before we got to Bar Harbor. In most of New England, a casual restaurant where you eat steamers, fried clams, or lobster at harbor-side picnic tables is probably called a “clam shack” or “lobster shack.” In Maine, though, it’s a “lobster pound.”
Typically, you walk up to a counter and order your lobster by size. You then find a comfy picnic table outside while they boil the lobster roadside in vats fired by wood. I loved savoring the wood-scented breeze while eating sweet lobster chunks dripping with melted butter. I became a big fan of the lobster pound.
We made it to Mount Desert Island and drove into Bar Harbor that afternoon. We checked into the Saltair Inn, a B&B with only 4 suites that sits right on the water. I can’t say enough good things about this place. With a huge, 3 room suite that had 2 fireplaces (one by the tub!) and a balcony that overlooked the water, the best 2 innkeepers ever, and a perfect location on a quiet street that still allowed us to walk to all that Bar Harbor had to offer, Saltair was wonderful.
After checking in, we strolled down to Main Street and drifted up through vibrant Bar Harbor. Shops and restaurants littered the street with brightly striped awnings as wildflowers ruptured through every crack and crevice. We found what I was looking for: MDI Ice Cream. There are more “popular” ice cream places in Bar Harbor for tourists, but I tend to go for the less common. MDIIC makes ice cream in small batches, no more than 5 gallons at a time, to use the freshest ingredients they can. Their ice cream has a higher percentage of butterfat (mmmm….fat….) and low amount of air, resulting in a dense, creamy, and rich ice cream. Not to mention their unusual and creative flavors: stout with fudge, chocolate wasabi, bucket of truth (wtf?), neato doritos (yes…doritos…like the chip….), or dude.
I sampled. Dude tasted like a white russian. Chocolate Wasabi was really yummy in a “that tastes good but my sinuses are burning” kind of way. I settled on Coffee Oreo. Matt tried a PB&J Milkshake. It was to die for.
Later that afternoon, we met up with Keith and Sydney, friends from Canada who had come down for the night. As luck would have it, it started POURING when they got there. We headed to Rupununi for dinner, a restaurant we chose because it had a great patio! Oh well. Dinner was still good. Needing something in my mouth besides lobster, I had a good old cheeseburger and fries. Known more for its drinks than its food, I tried a something that I loved and everyone else thought was completely vile. Called a “cucumber thingy,” (I think I just liked the name) it was some crazy concoction of pepper infused vodka, cucumber infused vodka, passionfruit puree, and lime.
We did a little soggy shopping in the rain and then we said our goodbyes for the day.
Did I mention that the Saltair Inn Acadia Suite has the softest bed EVER? Zzzzzz……
Saturday was supposed to be the day we hiked the Beehive in Acadia National Park, but Matt had busted his knee just before the trip, so hiking was O-U-T. We decided to do the park loop drive while Syd and Keith did some shopping and went to see some boats. After a fantastic breakfast at the Inn (fresh blueberry muffins, baked french toast with pear and brie compote, and chicken sausage), we headed toward the park.
I think Acadia National Park has so many varied offerings. You have several mountains that offer wonderful hiking with views of the coast, there is a sand beach, plenty of streams and ponds, lush green forests, and a rugged coastline with sheer cliffs and crashing waves. We drove all the way around the park and stopped at several points along the way to enjoy the sights.
We took a walk through the Wild Gardens of Acadia, where native plantlife and streams sit under a lush green canopy of trees. While we were strolling though….guess what I saw? Freakin’ blueberry bushes. There was a sign that said, “Don’t pick the blueberries.” We were in a national park, after all. These were U.S. Government protected blueberries. I didn’t care. After spending an hour chasing blueberries that could not be found, I was going to pick a damn blueberry in Maine. I picked. I ate. I enjoyed.
We also stopped at Sand Beach and took a nice long walk. Depsite the fact that the water at this beach never gets above 60 degrees, there were people all in it. They were shrieking with the cold, but they were in it.
We walked back to the stream behind the beach that offers a beautiful view of the Beehive, the site of our “almost” hike.
Other stops included Otter Cliffs, Jordan Pond, and the Cadillac Mountain Summit. We stopped and walked out onto the coastal cliffs and sat for a while.
The waves crashed ferociously into the rocks and gulls soared overhead. Red, blue, and yellow wooden buoys bobbed everywhere. These lobster buoys marked the lobster traps. Did you know each fisherman has his own color? That's how they find their own traps.
Having exhausted all the park had to offer by car, guess what time it was? It was time for me to eat again. We met Syd and Keith at Stewman’s Lobster Pound in Bar Harbor. This place has some great frozen drinks and a darn good lobster roll. The lobster roll came out, lobster meat in a mayo-based dressing heaped on a nicely toasted, buttery roll with a side of salty sweet potato fries.
You know the only thing better than a lunch like that? MDI ice cream after a lunch like that. We hit MDIIC for another great scoop. This time I went for good old peanut butter. You can’t beat peanut butter ice cream.
To walk off my new layer of butterfat, we decided to walk the sand bar over to Bar Island. About a block from the Inn is the Bar Harbor sand bar. At low tide, the sand bar is exposed for several hours, allowing one to walk over to Bar Island. I felt like a kid exploring this natural playground, studying little seashells and stones, going from wildflower to wildflower to see what each one looked like, and just sitting on an old log watching the soft waves drift up on the rocky beach.
After some long naps in the super cozy bed at Saltair, we cleaned up and made the short drive to Seal Harbor, about 7 miles from Bar Harbor on Mount Desert Island. Seal Harbor was a quiet little gem with all the classic quaintness of a small Maine coastal harbor.
We were able to walk out onto the deserted docks and sit quietly as the water became glassy and smooth, reflecting the fiery sunset as the fishing boats nodded in the water. Fishermen came in and out for the day and we got entertained for a while by a group of kids from a local camp came to jump off the pier into the ice cold water.
We stayed just until the sun passed beyond the horizon, in a golden fury, and we headed back to Bar Harbor. We had decided to hit Reel Pizza that night. Reel Pizza was Reel Fun! It’s a small movie theater and Public Enemies was showing. We paid $6 and headed into the retro lobby where we ordered a large pizza and 2 cokes. We were given a number and headed into the theater, filled with old sofas, recliners, and T.V. trays. We picked out a tatty but comfy old sofa and got us a T.V. tray. About 15 minutes later, the Bingo board on the wall flashed “64” and that meant our pizza was up. Matt came back a minute later with an oven mitt and an AMAZING large pizza. It was delish. We set it on our T.V. tray and watched the movie. Reel Pizza rocks!
Sunday morning rolled around and we enjoyed apple crisp, sausage and egg casserole, and muffins at the Inn before heading into Bar Harbor for some shopping. We bought some stuff that couldn’t possibly fit into our already overstuffed luggage, but where there’s a will, there’s a way and we managed to cram just a little more in before we checked out and headed toward the airport.
Yes, it was time to go home, but first….one more lobster. We stopped at Lunt’s Lobster Pound, pretty much across from the airport. I ordered a regular and a basket of fried shrimp and Matt ordered a JUMBO. We found a table in the back next to a flower garden, under a big shade tree and I was in lobster heaven one last time, up to my elbows in butter. When there was nothing edible left, Matt cleared the table and told me he’d be back in a minute. A second later, he came out with two big pieces of blueberry pie.
What a sweet ending.