Monday, September 14, 2015

Eating BIG in Maine

Eating like a local:
Regional food specialties

- Eating up Vacationland 

I do this thing where I throw all of my silver change into a plastic bottle and wait until it gets full. When it does, after a couple years, I take it to the bank and turn it into paper cash which I use for a trip somewhere I might normally not choose if not for the fact a big chunk of the trip is "free". I've used it to go to places like Deadwood. This past Labor Day weekend I decided it was finally time to do Maine the way I wanted to aka eat up everything that intrigued me. I went with a massive list and was able to check most of them with the help of my lovely lady who puts up with stop after stop. But she gets her cocktails so it all evens out. Overall impressions of Maine were great. I will say that I didn't think the people were all that welcoming but the few that were really stood out. I started bringing up the idea that maybe this should be an annual end of summer trip as there's plenty more for me to see and eat. Portland was our camp for three nights but we did get up and down the coast a bit. Enjoy.

Exploring Maine's coastland and it's abundance of seafood shacks has always been high on my list
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Bob's Clam Hut

Kittery, Maine

We flew into Boston and rented a car for whats about a 1.5 hour drive up into Portland. Bob's Clam Hut is one of the first stops you can make upon entering Maine on I-95. It sits amidst an outlet mall that feels more like a village. As seen on Diner, Drive in's & Dives this place is pretty much the classic example of a New England style seafood shack. The specialty of the house being clams. On that DDD episode there was a lady who went onto to become a star amongst customers. Sadly she passed away a couple years ago but her preferred version of fried clams lives on. She got the owner to start dipping them in egg white before rather than after. So now customers have the choice of which style they prefer. We got the dueling clams basket which came with both. These were pretty good but there would end up being better. Still it was good to finally be back be in Maine.

Dueling Fried Clams Basket
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Flo's Hot Dogs

Cape Neddick, Maine

Finally! This was maybe my most anticipated stop for a spot not selling some sort of seafood dish. It's considered by many to be the best hot dog shop in the country. So popular that theres never a time when theres not at least one person inside ordering some. Flo's got its start in 1959 and is still in the same family. Generations of families eat here with people known to drive 2+ hours to get some.

Flo's is literally a hut, if you're over 6"2 you'll have to bend your head to get inside

I have a little secret. The best time to go here just so happens to be the time I arrived. That's before Noon on a Sunday. They're closed on Wednesdays and during the warmer months you can pretty much bet there will be a line. This place has a cult following and the reason being is their hot dogs are unlike any other. Perfect natural casing wieners are probably in the 14:1 category so people will order anywhere from 2-6 for themselves. The ladies behind the counter, one of them Flo's grandaughter on my visit, mean business so no messing around. Be ready to order when asked and follow the flow of others and you'll be fine. The reason these are unlike any other is due to their unique relish that's made with onions yet has the look of a chili sauce. When you get one Flo's Way you get the relish, mayo, and celery salt. It didn't sound appealing but there's plenty food folks who swear by them. Indeed I could taste why. I cant believe it works but it really does. Everything put together on a little New England style roll makes for what might be best hot dog outside of Chicago. Enjoy a few at the tables outside with a Moxie, New England's love it or hate it soda which I'm impartial to. They ask if you've had it before when asking for a can. Classic Roadfood for sure.

Flo's Hot Dogs and Moxie
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The Clam Shack

Kennebunk, Maine

Another spot I was really looking forward too. Some of these places had been on my radar for years, many of them being Roadfood approved. The Clam Shack is a cute little walk up stop located right before the bridge in the charming town of Kennebunk. Though they're called the Clam Shack the lobster roll is supposed to be where it's at. They won the NYC Lobster Roll Cookoff a couple years back. One of the only spots to use a hamburger roll, which is baked down the street, they also use a ton of mayo that just gets slathered onto the top bun. The most common way of ordering one is with mayo and butter so thats what I got but the mayo was too much. The lobster meat was a little tough and despite eating all of it this one gave Maine's rolls somewhat of a bad impression to start as it was the first one we ate on the trip. Its a great little shack right on the water and they serve cold Shipyard beer but I would just recommend going with the fried clams. Those looked really good.

Lobster Roll

Right down the street is Rococo which is a great little ice cream shop pushing some very unique flavors. The carrot curry was surprising. Absolutely refreshing on this hot summer day.
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Portland, Maine

The vibrant city of Portland would be our base for the three day vaca and I was really surprised by how much I liked the place. I thought there was a little bit of a feel in the air as far as excitement. I'm not sure if this was because it was a holiday weekend or what but it was a very vibrant city. Walking around the Port District you could smell the ocean water while feeling history in the old buildings.

Random Pics from Portland
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Eventide Oyster Company

Located in the East Bay neighborhood

Always on the prowl for good oysters this place is commonly mentioned when the best bars in the country to eat them at is discussed. Maine has quite a few oyster farms but because they're small in total crop you rarely see them outside of New England. We slurped a couple dozen of a variety of Maine offerings finding the biggest in size to the the best. I forget the names but they were all damn good. We also enjoyed a tuna tartare with some Asian spice from the specials board and then their famous lobster roll which comes served with warm lobster meat mixed with a brown butter vinaigrette that was stuffed into a roll with the consistency of a bao bun. It was worthy of its hype.

a selection of excellent oysters from Maine

Daily Special Tuna Tartare

Hot Lobster Roll with Brown Butter Vinaigrette
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Fisherman's Grill

Portland, Maine 

This is the spot that comes up often when you look up best seafood in Portland, which is pretty much what every visitor to the town does. It's a small little shack across the street from a big city park. It's not a hidden gem by any means so expect a wait. We got there right around Noon (opening time) and there were at least 4 or 5 groups of people already in line. Despite the fact it's a shack attached to a retail outlet for fresh fish you aren't going to be getting any crazy deals as far as pricing. It's quite possible that this place could end up being the most expensive meal of any in Portland including those from the hip modern spots with cocktails. But it is damn good and you are on vacation. We passed on a lobster roll as we were heading for one after but were very happy with what they called the "best chowdah" as I have no dispute for that. The fried clams were on point and the seared scallops were good but a tad too seared. All in all there was a $50 bill thrown down on it. Cash only.

The Best Chowdah EVER!

Fried Clams

Seared Scallops
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Vena's Fizz House

We stopped into this quirky bar with a very interesting owner for some pre-dinner drinks one night. They make lots of different fizz related drinks in house and the owner has a bitter collection that only the obsessed could keep. Many of which are sold in the store downstairs. Fun stop.
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Duckfat

This popular casual eatery is owned by the guy who won both a James Beard and also three different matches on Food Networks 'Chopped' The menu features some nice local beer, good looking panini sandwiches and cones of fries fried in the restaurants namesake. The fries were pleasing but could've been crisper. This place is really popular and you can expect a wait over Summer. I'd go back.
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Vivian's Drive-In

On the corner of a residential neighborhood

Here's a place that I feel many people in Portland don't even know about. I just found this lunch only walk-in and walk out drive-in online and there wasn't much on them except that the burgers were really good. That's an understatement. I've had some great old school burgers this summer and this one was as good as the rest. Little balls of beef are smashed down and half griddled and steamed before being topped with potent fried onions, relish, mustard and white American cheese. The bun is steamed and the whole thing is a greasy in a good way delight. Best two bucks you can spend in the city. You could tell by the clientele that this was a locals place, the type of local who's been there their whole life. I found this cool little story on looking up the address for this post. Check it HERE.

Classic All-American Cheeseburger
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 Boda

This place was mentioned as having some of the better late night food. We stopped in and tried the Goi Moo salad made crispy pork belly mixed with chili, shallots, fish sauce, lime juice, mint, long-leaf coriander, and roasted rice powder. Served with raw vegetable. No shyness on the flavors.
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Empire Chinese Kitchen  

Modernized Dim Sum with Cocktails, I can get down with that. Especially when that includes lobster dumplings. Though they were good we liked the pan fried potstickers, shu mai, and the steamed shrimp offerings a little more. Good service and some potent inexpensive drinks to boot.
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Bite Into Maine

Parked atop the hill at Cape Elizabeth’s Fort Williams Park

One of the things many visitors to Portland want to do is eat the best lobster roll in town. There are a couple spots that get mentioned when the topic is discussed and one of them is this permanently located food cart in the heart of an outstanding public park that used to act as an army base. The cart is called Bite Into Maine and they offer five different lobster rolls as well as a grilled cheese and couple sides. The Maine style lobster roll consists of a little bit of mayo mixed into the room temp meat while the Connecticut style comes with hot butter. I opted for the latter over the others and came to learn that as important as the lobster meat is the bun also plays a big role. Which makes sense since they're basically the only two ingredients needed to make a sandwich. The butter laced toasted buns were money. The lobster was nice and fresh but without the bread it would've just been good, with it was great. It's a little bit of a wait but the view is as good as you'll get waiting for food.

Connecticut Style Lobster Roll with a Lighthouse in sight 

You can eat your lobster roll at one of the tables outside of the trailer or walk over to one of the many other ones scattered throughout the park. Your best bet is to grab one near the shoreline with the Portland Head Light in sight. The surroundings were every bit as good as the lobster roll.

The Portland Head Light
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 Slab

Over on Eater I had read a list with some of the best new restaurants in the country and it included some pizza spots. One of which was Slab located in downtown Portland. They're doing Sicilian style street food and fresh tapped local brews amongst other stuff. The space is big and they stay open late. I was able to try a slab of the meat pie which came with pepperoni, peperoncini, red pepper sauce, oregano, cheeses, house blue cheese dip which was totally not needed. Loved the pepper cooked into the dough which I thought was fantastic. Probably the best cheap eat in the city at just five bucks.
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Gilbert's Chowder House

We passed by this popular Chowder house downtown near the Port and couldn't resist a bowl. New England style clam chowder is a childhood favorite of mine that I fell in love with on a family vaca one summer down in Humarock, Massachusetts. There was this place there that specialized in it and it was so good. Gilbert's was pretty tasty too. The addition of bacon does nothing but good.
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Lolita Vinoteca + Asador

Portland, Maine

I didn't think to make reservations until it was too late at a few spots but most of the popular places in Portland will keep a few spots open for walk-up. I was able to grab a reservation at this place for a later time in the evening which is what we wanted. It's another spot on the wood fire grill train. I chose it because the menu spoke to me and it was a great change of pace from the seafood even though they had a few dishes with it that were tempting me. The surprise was the fact both of our pasta dishes ordered ended up being more than enough and they were so good we ate it all down. The torchio with nduja and peas was simplicity as it finest while a bucatini mixed with currants, sardines, and pinenuts was just what the doctor ordered as far as wonderful Mediterranean flavors.

Wood Fired Grill and Pastas at Lolita's in Portland
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Scarborough Lobster Co.

Scarborough, Maine

I stopped into here on the way back to Boston where we were catching our flight home. I'd read about them on Serious Eats where they were mentioned for having one of the best bang for your buck lobster rolls ($11) in the Portland area. Having passed it the day before it had already caught my eye. I stopped in right around 9:30a as they open for biz at 8:00a. They were already taking order for fresh and steamed lobsters on the day. There's a bar outside on the side for those looking to eat in.

a peek inside

Nice tip. It was a very good roll with about a 1/4 pound of perfectly cooked fresh lobster meat with a tiny bit of mayo and a dash of paprika on top. This had the feel and prices of a spot I would frequent if I lived or vacationed in a home near there. They have it all as far as fresh seafood goes.

Lobster Roll
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Palace Diner

Biddeford, Maine 

You cant do a vacation in New England without breakfast at an old diner. I found one that was a quick 15 minute drive from Portland and tried to get over one Sunday morning right around opening time. "The Palace Diner was built in Lowell, Massachusetts in 1927 by the Pollard Company. It has been in Biddeford, Maine for its entire life and is one of two Pollard cars remaining in America. Greg Mitchell and Chad Conley are its sixth proprietors."

a peek inside 

They do lunch and breakfast but I was a tad bit late as all 12 seats had just been filled upon my entry. The menu is small and consist of dishes made with as many local product as possible. It's chef driven with stuff like the breakfast sausage being homemade. They have corned beef hash on the menu, another childhood favorite of mine, so I knew what I wanted. In order to not lose some of the day I decided to take it away. While it was somewhat of a small portion for a side it was very good. Unique in that the corned beef was basically molded around the cubed potatoes making a patty. Excellent.

Corned Beef Hash
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Harmon's Lunch

Falmouth, Maine 

Always on the prowl for the best burger in the area I'm visiting, this place is a local landmark. They've been dishing out their New England style burgers here since 1960. I stopped in one morning and enjoyed the show. The walls are studded with old milk bottles from many generations. I haven't mentioned it yet but chocolate milk seems to be Maine's favorite drink to enjoy with meals. 

a peek inside 

Simplicity reigns supreme as you can see in the menu up above. Hamburgers, Hot Dogs, Grilled Cheese, and Fresh Cut Fries are what they do here. Of course there's chocolate milk too. The burgers are McDonald's size so its best to go with more than one if you're hungry. That I was.

Cheeseburgers from Harmon's Lunch 

The patties of fresh beef are griddled before going into a well steamed bun. Everything here includes mustard, onion, and their special relish which had a little bit of a sweet kick to it. I usually don't like sweet mixed with my meat but combined with the salty cheese this burger worked just right. It was one of the better old school burgers I've come across and I've been to lots of spots. Worth a stop.

Cheeseburger in the Flesh
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The Pier

Old Orchard Beach 

One early afternoon we took a ride a couple towns over to visit the iconic summertime hangout known as "The Pier." It first "opened to the public on July 2, 1898, offering entertainment of all types - including concerts, dancing, lectures, and a casino located at the very end of the pier. The 1825 foot structure was built with three pavilions by the Berlin Iron Bridge Company for a cost of $38,000."

For the Kids Amusement

It was a nice day when we visited so there were plenty of people out and about getting one last gasp of summer. If you've ever been to Atlantic City or ant other pier area with entertainment they pretty much all feel the same. There's a carnival like area, they got plenty of shopping and of course food. I tried the iconic eat which is a place selling fries and nothing else since 1932. In a state that takes their fries so seriously this place is beloved and I could see why. Perfectly fried with hints of beef tallow.

View off The Pier

The Original Pier French Fries (Since 1932)
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Ken's Place

Scarborough, Maine 

This longtime stand turned full fledged sitdown was often mentioned as a spot to find great fried clams, which along with lobster rolls were my most desired dishes of the trip. Just like oysters do, good belly clams come with a little taste of the ocean inside of them. I opted for a half and half from here which was half battered and half cornmeal coated. I was given some big thick bellies that went great paired with their homemade tartar sauce which is something most places didn't do. A really good one at that. Not a cheap snack but there's a reason they've been open since 1952. I'll be back.

Battered Clams at Ken's Place
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Cameron's Drive-In

Brunswick, Maine

I'm a big fan fan of old school drive-in's and wasn't going to let the chance to try one that doubles as a lobster house pass. Cameron's isn't as old as one might think but it does feel like it's been around much longer. Just like the classic ones left you turn your lights on for car service. There's also some booths inside and some tables outside. I tried a mini roll Connecticut style which means hot. It came served alongside a bag of Utz chips and hit the spot but not in the same way some of the others did.

Mini Lobster Roll Served Hot
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Bet's Fish Fry

Boothbay, Maine 

Another spot on my must get too list. Yet another shack with no seating inside and a menu where you better like whats on it or else you can go find something else. What's on the menu here is fried fish. The lady who owns the place buys fresh haddock each morning from her brother. The menu is limited to fish sandwiches, “fish in a dish” (i.e no roll) and freshly cut fries. The fish fry comes in two sizes and the half is easily enough for two. This would also be the spot I tried Maine's signature snack known as a whoopie pie. They can be considered cookies, pie, or cake and they're all over the place.

Locally Made Whoopie Pies for sale 

The fish fry was phenomenal. When the breading easily displaces itself from the flesh I usually don't like that but the fish was so good it didn't bother me at all. The fries were as good as the rest I tried around the state. I think this plate was something like $8 and easily worth more than that. Must stop.

Bet's Fish Fry
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Wasses Hot Dogs

Damariscotta, Maine 

Wasses is a regional institution that started up in Rockland, Maine back in 1972. Today they have multiple locations and a new one was open in the town of Damariscotta so I seeked it out when there. I found a small little hut sitting by itself in an empty field with a big parking lot on one side and Main street on the other. Judging by the looks and then the smell this was the real deal as far as stands go.

a peek inside 

It's here where I came across one of the more odd people on the food trail. The old guy with his hands on his hips in the pic of the shack asked in a not so friendly tone "What's your interest in our establishment?" as I snapped a pic of the outside. I told him "I like hot dogs" and that I was "from Chicago" to which he replied "uh huh."I continued on and told him they have a "really good one" as he stood there for 5/10 seconds before saying "well thanks for stopping in" in a very monotone voice. Oh well. Like I was saying the people in Maine aren't the friendliest but the hot dogs are the real deal. This one had major snap and was lightly fried on a flattop with chopped onions. Everything at Wasses includes mustard, onion, and relish. We're in New England so that style of bun is standard.

Hot Dog Everything at Wasses 
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Shannon's Unshelled 

Boothbay Harbor, Maine

Red's Eats is regarded by many, I'm guessing mostly out of towners, to serve the best lobster roll in Maine. I tried to go but despite getting there right around opening time there was already a line around the corner and after waiting in it for 20 minutes we barely moved up. I just couldn't wait there all day when I had other spots on my list that wouldn't take time away from enjoying a daytrip up the coast. Enter Shannon's Unshelled.  

Sitting at the Harbor

The town of Boothbay Harbor is only about 15 minutes from Reds Eats which is in Wiscasset (45 Minutes NE of Portland). It's a cute summer driven town with ice cream shops, bars on the water, whale watch tours and all the other stuff that attracts visitors it's way. In the time it takes to wait at Red's you can go here, walk around, have a beer and enjoy one of the best bites in the state then go back to Reds and you'd still be waiting. Shannon's Unshelled is a little walk up hut right on the harbor. You can enjoy the only thing on their menu at one of the tables outside or take it go but there is no indoor seating. I've always been of the mindset that if a place only does one thing than you know they do it right. Less so the case with perfect scores on Yelp but when you've had 70+ reviews and still have five stars you're damn near pleasing everyone. Me included. Shannon's Unshelled buys their lobsters from a local guy each morning and picks them twice a day. The meat with chunks of everything is served at room temp with nothing else except a side of hot clarified butter. They use a standard New England style roll which in the picture looks like a mini version of one but that it is not. It's regular sized, it's toasted just right and the lobster meat was as sweet as a Riley Curry video gone viral. This my friends is perfection.

a lobster roll for those in the know
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King Ro Market

Round Pond, Maine 

While on the way to visit the Pemaquid Point Lighthouse I spied a few markets like this one where you can pick up essentials and also stuff to enjoy at the park where the lighthouse is located. This place in particular caught my eye because of some signs advertising cheap lobster and crab rolls. I hadn't had a crab version yet and at just $5 it was something to hold me over while we did some sightseeing. There were no crab rolls wrapped and ready in the case so the guy made me a fresh one and I'll tell you what, it was a really satisfying bite with plenty of sweet crab flavor. I was surprised.

Crab Roll
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Pemaquid Point Lighthouse

View from the Rocks 

What's a trip to Maine without a visit to a lighthouse? I did some searching around and Pemaquid Point was commonly mentioned as one of the best sights in the state. It's located on the edge of town and is surrounded by some beautiful houses. It'll cost you $2 per person to enter which includes entrance to the museums and also a trip up top. Its a large park with plenty of area to enjoy a picnic or just lay out and listen to the sounds of the ocean. Its very, very serene. See ya next time.  

Peak Maine
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Bob's Clam Hut
315 U.S. 1
Kittery, ME 03904
(207) 439-4233

Flo's Hot Dogs
1359 U.S. 1
Cape Neddick, ME 03902
(800) 255-8401

The Clam Shack
2 Western Ave
Kennebunk, ME 04043
(207) 967-3321

Rococo Artican Ice Cream
6 Spring St
Kennebunkport, ME 04046
(207) 251-6866

Eventide Oyster Company
86 Middle St
Portland, ME 04101
(207) 774-8538

Fisherman's Grill
849 Forest Ave
Portland, ME 04103
(207) 699-5657

Vena's Fizz House
345 Fore St
Portland, ME 04101
(207) 747-4901

Duckfat
43 Middle St
Portland, ME 04101
(207) 774-8080

Vivian's Drive-In
948 Forest Ave
Portland, ME 04103
(207) 797-7077

Boda
671 Congress St
Portland, ME 04101
(207) 347-7557

Empire Chinese Kitchen  
575 Congress St
Portland, ME 04101
(207) 747-5063

Bite Into Maine
1000 Shore Rd,
Cape Elizabeth, ME 04107
(207) 420-0294

Slab
25 Preble St
Portland, ME 04101
(207) 245-3088

Gilbert's Chowder House
92 Commercial St
Portland, ME 04101
(207) 871-5636

Lolita Vinoteca + Asador
90 Congress St
Portland, ME 04101
(207) 775-5652

Scarborough Fish & Lobster
697 US Rt 1
Scarborough, ME 04074
(207) 883-5398

Palace Diner
18 Franklin St
Biddeford, ME 04005
(207) 284-0015

Harmon's Lunch
144 Gray Rd
Falmouth, ME 04105
(207) 797-9857

The Pier at Old Orchard Beach
2 Old Orchard Rd
Old Orchard Beach, ME 04064
(207) 934-3595

Pier French Fries
12 Old Orchard St
Old Orchard Beach, ME 04064
(207) 934-2328

Ken's Place
207 Pine Point Rd
Scarborough, ME 04074
(207) 883-6611

Cameron's Drive-In
18 Bath Rd
Brunswick, ME 04011
(207) 725-2886

Bets Fish Fry
20 Common Drive
Boothbay, ME 04537

Wasses Hot Dogs
2 North Main Street
Damariscotta, ME 04841

Shannon's Unshelled
11 Granary Way
Boothbay Harbor, ME 04538

King Ro Market
1414 ME-32
Round Pond, ME 04564
(207) 529-5380

Pemaquid Point Lighthouse
3115 Bristol Rd
Pemaquid, ME 04558
(207) 677-2492

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