PHIPPSBURG — Until you reach Bath, a dozen miles up the peninsula, there aren’t many options for a meal when driving back from a day at Popham Beach State Park, one of Maine’s best seaside spots.
But keep your eyes peeled for a sign on Route 209 that points to Anna’s Water’s Edge restaurant. Take Route 217 to Sebasco Harbor Resort, and head past it a mile to the very end of the road.
You’ll get to an unfussy cabin on a wharf that for decades was the site of a seafood processing plant and then a fishermen’s coop. In an adjacent outbuilding, you’ll see old wooden seafood pens and the immense scale once used to weigh a catch.
Outside Anna’s, the view across Casco Bay is stunning. Malaga Island is in the foreground, West Point to the south, Ragged Island in the direction of Portland. You can order at the take-out window and sit at a picnic table on the grounds, or eat inside.
This spot is unadorned and true to its roots. The restaurant is housed in a former clam depuration plant, and there is plenty of room inside. You are surrounded by weathered wood and authentic cast-offs, including a shelf of simple, wood-and-string fishing reels.
The details are not kitschy or cute, but reveal the setting’s history. Atmosphere? Five stars.
We were warmly welcomed by one of the young staff. Our waitress still had a few things to learn — clearing the salad plates and soup bowls before bringing the next course, and giving our messy dining spot a quick swipe before dessert, for instance — but for the most part, we were well-accommodated. Three stars for service.
As in many restaurants, it helps to know what to order. Here, the food was uneven.
The Fried Malaga Medley, a heaping platter of seafood, was quite good — fresh, meaty clams, large pieces of fish, scallops and Maine shrimp nicely coated and fried just right to arrive golden and very hot, with steamy air pockets between seafood and exterior.
The platter held an enormous quantity, as well it should for $26.95. Many guests will find nirvana with this meal unless they are picky about french fries, which were processed and tasteless.
Another winner was the Baked Stuffed Seafood Combo for $23.95, bearing plenty of scallops, Maine shrimp and lobster over a crabmeat stuffing and topped with a Parmesan cream sauce. Delicious, fresh and perfectly cooked seafood took center stage in a dish that was not too saucy or bready. Our waitress had guided us to the baked stuffed options, and it was a good call.
But clam chowder missed the richness mark, bearing a consistency of the milk you’d pour on morning cereal ($4.95 for a cup). A homemade vegetable soup was dense with chunky vegetables such as green beans and summer squash, but lacked much character ($3.95). Fresh but similarly bland was the cole slaw.
A special of blueberry salmon on spinach ($18.95) was no more than a pretty picture. The fish portion — heaped with a dark blue mound of saucy fruit and placed on scattered, raw baby spinach from a supermarket bag — was tasteless and overcooked. Yes, it’s probably best to avoid fancy-sounding entrees at a restaurant that is more like a seafood shack, but sometimes you can be surprised.
Kudos to the waitress who, upon seeing that this entree had only been nibbled at, asked if it had been satisfactory. My friend told the truth gently, and we were charged half the price. Excellent public relations.
Salads are the eatery’s healthiest options. I ordered a plate that had chopped bell peppers, sliced summer squash and croutons on a lettuce mix (a couple of greens were too far gone to merit serving) topped with lobster ($16.95). The seafood was chunky and reasonably portioned, and came with the lightest touch of mayonnaise. It was fresh and tasty. With or without the undistinguished house vinaigrette, the ensemble would have been no more than the sum of its parts.
Old-fashioned Brownie Pudding was a mushy bowl of chocolaty bread served with syrup and lackluster vanilla ice cream.
The blueberry crisp, a trademark Maine dessert, was another disappointment; the fruit had an unforgivable freezer taste, and the crisp layer was decidedly uncrisp. ($3.95 each.)
Wild blueberries had another week yet before harvest, so these were likely last year’s. This can be OK as long as they are stored well, but it would have been better to bake with fresh high-bush blueberries, which are in season.
For a grand finish to your beach outing, my advice is to get a basket of fried seafood or baked stuffed something at Anna’s Water’s Edge. Eat inside or out, and enjoy a cheap glass of wine at this splendid, tucked-away setting. Then head uptown for ice cream.
Nancy Heiser is a freelance writer. She can be reached at: