Thursday, December 12, 2013
Night and day, Maine is ripe with incredible attractions for grazing or gazing on gorgeous food at night to stunning coastal scenery by day.
This past weekend presented a perfect spell of summer weather for both pursuits where I enjoyed the scene at some of Portland’s best restaurants followed by pleasure seeking of a different sort the next day on a food trip from Portland to Port Clyde to Damariscotta and a few other coastal stops in between.
It's a crush of the young and restless at Portland's new wave of cooly expensive dining and drinking halls; here the scene at Eventide
Our ever-urbanized city of Portland is adrift with night-crawlers jamming the newest and best downtown dining establishments, which as the evening grows late is decidedly a scene for ascendant big spenders. It’s where neo-foodie-hipsters mingle en masse with money to burn. By comparison the old prowl along Fore Street’s night-club bar district is a shrinking, seedy byway nowadays, one which will probably be gobbled up by stylish new haunts in the works with a focus on food instead of beer and binging.
Looking from outside in, the soigne scene at Hugo's is complete with fashionable "food-istas"
I went around from place to place this past Friday and had incredible food. The next day, perhaps a bit weary, yet under a sky of picture-perfect Maine weather, it was a different kind of eye candy with some of the most breathtaking coastal scenery anywhere.
In town, getting into the city’s newsworthy dining haunts is not easy on a Friday night. From banquettes or bar seating at Back Bay Grill, Fore Street or Five Fifty-Five to a berth along the Middle Street strip (East Ender, Duckfat, Eventide or Hugo’s) you must have advance reservations or you suffer the vagaries of SRO.
The procession along the East End of Middle Street invariably centers around Eventide and Hugo's, two dining estabishments where patrons pay dearly for exquisite food
Two-deep at the sidewalk tables and shoulder to shoulder inside, Duckfat's energy never let's up; even at lunchtime lines of diners have to wait outside
The Middle Street brigade is an urban Mecca of affluent Portlanders who crave incredible eats and craft cocktails along this restaurant row. I’m somewhat wistful that one can no longer slide into Hugo’s, for instance, for serendipitous dining at the bar on anything less than a multi-course prix fixe. Nonetheless, the place was rife with culinary hijinks until closing time.
The same goes for Eventide (or “everyonestide,” its new nickname), Duckfat and East Ender, which were all swarming with ravenous gastro-revelers on Friday night.
I managed to get into Outliers to dine at the bar and to dine very well indeed. But there, too, the outdoor porch was at capacity as were the bar banquettes and dining room.
By the time you get to the far end of York and Brackett streets, you feel you're far from the madding crowd; but think again — here the Outliers Eatery is a certain beacon for culinary daredevils
The much photographed rippling copper waters wall at Outliers bar room
Who needs another Chinese eatery when you can enjoy Outliers' superb spring rolls with soy dipping sauce?
On the Outliers menu it might be simply described as roast pheasant; on the plate it's a beautifully prepared bird with roasted local vegetables -— carrots, tomatoes, fingerlings and braised garlic
At dusk the Outliers bar room banquettes are bathed in a flattering light; after dark it's an intime place to dine
I swooped past Longfellow Square after dinner where LFK, Pai Men Miyake, Petite Jacqueline and Boda had their own high-octane scene going on. My last stop would be for dessert. I tried to get into Fore Street (nearly 10 p.m.) but they were full too, so I happily assuaged my sweet tooth at Five-Fifty Five.
At Fve Fifty-Five, I enjoyed "broken apple pie," which is a sugar-coated disk of puff pastry, stewed apples, raspberry ice cream and creme anglaise — fabulous
The following day my travel partner and I set out on a day trip to experience some lobster in the rough and other good eats and vistas while meandering along the coastline.
First stop before hitting the farmer's market at Crystal Springs in Brunswick was breakfast at the Brunswick Diner and this retro dish of chipped beef on Texas toast
That day long trip had its magical moments too from visiting an incredibly old-fashioned beach house in Martinsville, dropping into Miller’s Lobster near Spruce Head, which was surprisingly quiet, then down to Port Clyde’s Dip Net (now too relentlessly gentrified from its funky past under Linda Bean’s reign) to the Slipway on the Saint George River in Thomaston, where, alas, a private party had reserved the entire outdoor dining deck. I thought of going to the newly outfitted Grey Havens Inn on the ocean in Georgetown, but instead we pulled into Damariscotta for a late afternoon bite at the Damariscotta River Grill, the perfect spot to enjoy some very good food.
On a secluded stretch of ocean, this Martinsville beach house is old-fashioned Maine to the hilt
Down to Port Clyde's General Store and Dip Net, the crowd crams the covered deck at Linda Bean's Perfect Maine empire; it may not have the sizzle and charm of the old Dip Net but some people like it
Back to Route 1 through Thomaston we headed over to the Slip-way on the Saint George River; unfortunately the place was mobbed with a private party cramming the choice seats at the end of the deck so we left and headed to Damariscotta
I forgot how picturesque Main Street Damariscotta is with its classic architecture, beautiful churces and frontage on the Damariscotta River; we headed over to the Damaricotta River Grill for a late afternoon lunch, which was not disappointing in the least
A bracing bruschetta of Maine shrimp, garlic and local cherry tomatoes at the River Grill
We also enjoyed a delicate crepe filled with spinach and crabmeat at the River Grill
Damariscotta is not all about haute fare and you can still have a grilled cheese sandwich and a cup of coffee at the Rexall lunch counter on Main Street
To end this perfect weekend on Sunday afternoon we headed over to Bresca and the Honeybee for lunch, but they were totally sold out of food having been slammed by visitors all day. We settled on Krista Kern Desjarlais' great ice cream and a swim at her Outlet Beach on Sabbathday Lake where the water was warm and soothng
John Golden has written about food, dining and lifestyle subjects for Downeast magazine, the Boston Globe, Cottages and Gardens magazine, Gourmet magazine, Cuisine magazine, the New York Times and the New York Post.
In his highly opinionated blog, John reports on his experiences dining out all over Maine and his visits with food personalities, farmers and farmers’ markets throughout the state.