Sunday, March 9, 2014
From staff reports
More choices are a good thing.
Green Elephant Vegetarian Bistro has fans among readers and our staff.
Staff file photos
Longfellow Books in Portland s Monument Square is the staff pick for best bookstore.
Staff file photo
We collected your opinions on everything from your favorite restaurants and bars to nail salons and tattoo parlors, and compiled the results for our 25th annual Readers' Choice poll.
But if you want even more choices -- more ideas for places to go and things to do during the short Maine summer -- we're offering up this list chosen by the Features staff of the Maine Sunday Telegram.
BEST TAKE-OUT RESTAURANT
El Rayo Taqueria
101 York St., Portland
Quick, inexpensive, tasty. That's what a take-out restaurant should be, and El Rayo fits them all. The Champion Burrito ($7.50), with portobello mushrooms, peppers and caramelized onions, is heaven. The tacos ($3.25 to $3.95), quesadillas ($4.95 to $6.95) and rice-and-bean bowls ($7.50 to $7.95) are good too.
BEST DINE-IN RESTAURANT
388 Cottage Road, South Portland
A funky and quaint neighborhood restaurant located at the top of South Portland's Meeting House Hill and under the same ownership as David's in Portland. The food is creative and very thoughtfully prepared.
BEST DATE NIGHT RESTAURANT
58 Pine St., Portland
Time stands still at Caiola's, a neighborhood restaurant in Portland's West End. It's small, private and perfect for impressing someone special.
BEST OUTDOOR DINING
Broad Arrow Tavern, Harraseeket Inn
162 Main St., Freeport
Downtown Freeport may be best-known as a retail destination anchored by L..L. Bean, but it also has fine-dining establishments with award-winning chefs. After a day of shopping, relax on the patio of the Broad Arrow Tavern in the historic Harraseeket Inn and order off the menu or take advantage of the luncheon buffet, served 11:45 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday to Saturday.
BEST ICE CREAM SHOP
Beal's Old Fashioned Ice Cream
With locations in Gorham, Scarborough, South Portland and two in Portland, Beal's is Greater Portland's best-known and most-loved destination for local ice cream.
BEST COFFEE SHOP
Arabica Coffee Co.
2 Free St., Portland
Whether it's fancy espresso-based drinks or just a cup of old-school drip, Arabica is the place to go. Plunk down with your favorite hot or cold elixir and maybe an order of the shop's legendary toasts, and people-watch, read or enjoy the free wi-fi.
Scratch Baking Co.
416 Preble St.,
Willard Square can be like Times Square on Sunday mornings, when people flock like moths to a flame in search of Scratch's highly coveted bagels. Sold out when you get there? Fear not -- the bakery's spread of delicious pastries and other baked delights will have your mouth watering while you decide whether to have an espresso from the coffee bar.
BEST RESTAURANT FOR VEGETARIANS/VEGANS
Green Elephant Vegetarian Bistro
608 Congress St., Portland
Any restaurant in Portland with a dose of creativity offers vegetarian and vegan fare, but when plant eaters want more than one or two menu choices, they head to the Green Elephant. Serving lunch and dinner in a modern, chic space, Green Elephant cooks up Asian-inspired meals. Because the restaurant always attracts a crowd (and doesn't accept reservations), go early or be prepared to wait for a table.
BEST FOOD CART
Mark's Hot Dogs
Middle and Exchange streets, Portland
A hot dog cart as local landmark? That's Mark's, located near Tommy's Park in the Old Port since 1983. When owner Mark Gatti celebrated his 25th anniversary, city officials turned out to hail his hot dogs, and people have continued to hail -- and inhale -- them since.
Portland Pie Co.
The most important part of pizza is the dough. Portland Pie offers basil, beer, garlic, wheat and gluten-free, in thin crust or regular crust. All are flavorful with a substantial texture. Portland Pie has 15 pizzas named for Maine locations, with wonderful combinations including seafood, vegetarian and varieties of meat. If they don't do it, you can create your own.
BEST FRIED CLAMS
Dolphin Marina & Restaurant
End of Basin Point Road, Harpswell
Food with a view. The Dolphin serves up awesome fresh seafood at the end of Harpswell Neck, with spectacular water and island views. The eatery just relocated to a new building on the same property with more seating and lots of windows.
BEST WHOLE LOBSTER
123 Main St., Freeport
Remember when we said earlier that Freeport boasts award-winning restaurants? This is one of them. More specifically, it holds the title of Maine Lobster Chef of the Year by the Maine Lobster Promotion Council, and is in the running to defend its title during this year's competition in October.
BEST LOBSTER ROLL
Corner of Main and Water streets, Wiscasset
Sure, the line is always long, but it's well worth the wait. Each lobster roll contains meat from more than one lobster, nestled in a toasted bun. Add drawn butter on the side and an order of Red's homemade onion rings, and you're in heaven.
725 Broadway, South Portland
Despite a name change from Beale Street Barbeque, this South Portland eatery still serves up smokin' barbecued meats and spicy Cajun favorites. There's a great beer selection, and blues music always seems to be playing.
Scratch Baking Co.
416 Preble St., South Portland
Incredible bagels that are chewy and crusty enough on the outside, but heavenly light on the inside. This lively neighborhood bakery in Willard Square has lots of other great treats as well.
BEST HOT DOG
271 Park Ave., Portland
There's a reason hot dogs are the most popular item at Hadlock's concession stands (tied with the wildly popular Sea Dog Biscuit). It doesn't matter what brand they serve at Sea Dogs games, hot dogs just taste better at a baseball game.
BEST BREAKFAST OR BRUNCH
The Good Table
527 Ocean House Road (Route 77), Cape Elizabeth
The Good Table won the Incredible Breakfast Cook-Off two years in a row with its creme brulee French toast, but this ain't no fancy breakfast joint. Simple but delicious food, reasonable prices and a friendly staff are what bring people back for seconds. Try the Greek Soul Food.
396 Fore St., Portland (Freeport and Auburn locations as well)
Maine is a beer-loving state, so it's fitting that a brew pub is the favorite bar. The superb beer is made on site. If you want a cocktail, a single-malt whisky or a glass of wine, you can get that too. The food is pub fare done well, with a Maine twist, and the service is quick and friendly. Regulars are greeted like friends, and newcomers soon feel like regulars.
BEST SPORTS BAR
Rivalries Sports Pub and Grill
10 Cotton St., Portland
Be it white-knuckle play-off time or just a midweek Red Sox game, Rivalries' two floors have all the action on countless TVs. It also offers a perfectly respectable menu of better-than-average nosh.
BEST HAPPY HOUR
57 Center St., Portland
The deck allows you to get outside on the nice days, but the bar feels authentic in a neighborhood kind of way. The service is solid and unpretentious, and during happy hour, you can actually have a conversation -- and a beer at a reasonable price.
BEST BREW PUB
Sebago Brewing Company
Mainers harbor a fondness for craft-brewed beer, and the state's independent brewers provide a plethora of refreshing options. In this crowded field, Sebago wins fans for brewing more than a dozen regular and seasonal beers, and its pubs score points for their clean, upscale atmosphere and a menu that appeals to everyone from the meat-and-potatoes crowd to vegetarians and gluten-free diners.
BEST LIVE MUSIC VENUE -- INDOOR
20 Myrtle St., Portland
Portland is blessed with a lot of terrific venues for music. But as good as some of the others, it's still hard to beat Merrill Auditorium because of its acoustics. If there is a show you really want to see, regardless of the musical style, Merrill is the place you want to see it. That said, the State Theatre in Portland is fast on its trail.
BEST LIVE MUSIC -- OUTDOOR
Bangor Waterfront Pavilion
1 Railroad St., Bangor
A great outdoor venue on the scenic Penobscot River in downtown Bangor, with seating for 8,000 and more room on the grass. In its short existence, it's attracted a slew of big-name acts, from B.B. King to Bob Dylan.
BEST KARAOKE/OPEN MIC
Kill the Karaoke at Bayside Bowl
58 Alder St., Portland
Tired of the boring old karaoke machines and their cheesy graphics and uninspired song selections? Need a better option to make your Portland singing debut? Kill the Karaoke at Bayside Bowl features a live band that can play just about anything. They may even be able to drown out your voice, if necessary.
BEST MOVIE THEATER
183 County Road, Westbrook
It took years for Maine to catch up with the rest of the country, but we finally got a clean and comfortable theater with stadium seating so you don't have to dodge the heads in front of you while watching the new Harry Potter movie. Now if we could just get rid of those big-screen commercials.
Prides Corner Drive-In
651 Bridgton Road, Westbrook
Prides Corner Drive-in opened in 1953, and it still has the feel of the 1950s and '60s, except that it shows popular, newly released movies. Admission is $7 for adults, $4 for ages 4 to 11, and free for children under 4. The 35-mm film provides high quality pictures, and the sound quality is good through FM radio. Simple snacks of popcorn, hot dogs, hamburgers, french fries and pizza are reasonably priced.
BEST PERFORMANCE ARTS THEATER
Portland Stage Company
25A Forest Ave., Portland
Portland Stage wins because of its consistency. Southern Maine has a lot of good theater, but Portland Stage presents the most consistently good performances, with the smartest selection of shows and the best teams of professional producers and actors.BEST LIGHTHOUSE
Portland Head Light
Fort Williams Park, 1000 Shore Road, Cape Elizabeth
Admit it: This is the first place you take out-of-town guests. The stoic 18th-century lighthouse standing guard over the entrance to Portland Harbor, the heady scent of beach roses along the walking paths, the stunning view of the Atlantic -- Portland Head Light is one of the gems of southern Maine. And it's still free. Thank you, Cape Elizabeth.BEST SUMMER FESTIVAL
Yarmouth Clam Festival
Tens of thousands of people flock to this festival every year, and it's not hard to see why, with affordable carnival rides, arts and crafts vendors, live entertainment and more fresh seafood than you can throw a half-shell at covering several blocks. If you missed it this year, you'll have to wait until next July, but now you'll have plenty of time to clear your calendar.
BEST BOWLING ALLEY
58 Alder St., Portland
Bayside Bowl not only has terrific food and consistently great live music offerings, they also do one other thing right: bowling. Rent some shoes and grab an alley at the newest, hippest bowling alley in Maine.
BEST AMUSEMENT PARK
Funtown Splashtown USA
774 Portland Road (U.S. Route 1), Saco
What's the worst part of going to an amusement park? Spending most of the day standing in line. That's not a big problem at Funtown Splashtown, where even during the busiest weekends you can typically get on and off an attraction within minutes. The park is divided into two sections, with the Funtown portion offering traditional amusement-park rides and the Splashtown portion serving up pools and water slides. Whether you're looking for something low-key or adventurous, you'll find it here.
Portland Museum of Art
7 Congress Square, Portland
The Portland Museum of Art is in a difficult situation because of the expectations it has for itself and the expectations of others. It is the most visible museum in a state that is mad about its arts. It must be good -- and it is, year in and year out. The curatorial staff presents thoughtful, scholarly exhibitions that are important locally, and does so without pretension or any sort of false air of sophistication.
BEST ART GALLERY
538 Congress St., Portland
From intricate multi-media installation pieces to smaller works, Space Gallery is home to an ever-changing and always compelling collection of local, regional and national artwork. All this, and it continues to be a live music hotspot as well.
1 Monument Square, Portland
Now that Borders is closing, independent bookstores are more indispensable than ever, but Longfellow Books has always provided a haven for literature lovers with a focus on Maine-bred books and authors alongside national best-sellers. Check out the store's website for information on author talks, book signings and readings.
BEST DOG-FRIENDLY PARK
Myrtle Avenue, South Portland
Try as they might, the anti-dog crusaders cannot keep a good canine at bay. As long as dog owners respect the rules, Willard will remain the best gathering spot for dogs and their owners. Great views and easy access.
BEST BOUTIQUE OR CLOTHING STORE
97 Exchange St., Portland
What woman doesn't need a flirty, functional dress from time to time? Good thing Motifs serves up dozens to choose from. The shop also stocks an ever-changing selection of women's skirts, pants, tops and shoes, along with a colorful line of jewelry and accessories. And should you need a hostess gift to go with that cocktail dress, Motifs has you covered with a selection of home accents that range from the elegant to the quirky.
BEST NAIL SALON
Lucinda's Day Spa
263 Route 1, Cumberland Foreside; 311 Beech Ridge Road, Scarborough
829-3100, ext. 2; lucindasdayspa.com
Whether you need a mani or a pedi, you'll get the royal treatment at Lucinda's. Splurge on a Thai reflexology pedicure or an Aveda Caribbean manicure, or go for the tried-and-true French manicure. The spa offers special services and pricing for kids and teens.
BEST DAY SPA
193 Middle St., Portland
A full-service spa, Akari makes you feel beautiful inside and out. Services include facials, massages, waxing, tinting, injections and naturopathic medicine, all performed in a serene and relaxing space. Make a day of it and take advantage of the light fare on the bistro menu and do some shopping in the boutique.
BEST HAIR SALON
Head Games Salon for Hair & Body
116 Free St., Portland
To get the latest, hippest cut or color, style mavens make an appointment at Head Games. The trendy salon is filled with chic stylists who know how to deliver a flattering cut. The salon specializes in natural hair care and makeup products.
BEST TATTOO PARLOR
Sanctuary Tattoo & Art Gallery
31 Forest Ave., Portland
Ready to take the ink plunge? The five artists at Sanctuary Tattoo offer a wide range of styles and artistic edge to make your vision a living work of art. From the simple and small to the multi-colored and huge, Sanctuary Tattoo has been doing justice to skin for years.
Reid State Park
375 Seguinland Road, Georgetown
Some people like to go to the beach to relax on powder-like sand. Others like to swim or boogie-board in the ocean. And still others prefer a warm, kid-friendly lagoon where the water is actually warm. You can do all of that at Reid State Park, as well as fish, hike, bird-watch, picnic and go sight-seeing for nearby lighthouses. There's also a full bath house.
BEST BEACH-SIDE RESTAURANT
The Brunswick Ocean Side Grill
39 West Grand Ave., Old Orchard Beach
This place boasts the largest oceanside patio in Maine. The food is standard Maine fare (lots of seafood along with some steak and chicken), but you'll enjoy it so much more with a cool drink in your hand and the Atlantic lapping at your table.
BEST HOTEL OR RESORT
220 Warrenton St., Rockport
594-2511; (800) 341-1650
The history of the recently renovated Samoset Resort goes back 100 years. It has 178 rooms on 230 acres, with excellent views of Penobscot Bay and the Camden Hills. The golf course is championship-class. Food is sumptuous at the Italian La Bella Vita Ristorante and the less formal Enoteca Lounge, Clubhouse Grille and Splash Pool Bar.
BEST GOLF COURSE
Nonesuch River Golf Club
304 Gorham Road, Scarborough
883-0007; (888) 256-2717; nonesuchgolf.com
The Nonesuch River Golf Club offers a par 70, 6,300-yard, 18-hole course twisting through woods and wetlands. The club is known for its excellent putting greens. It has a full driving range, two practice greens, a golf academy and a large, convenient clubhouse. The staff is helpful and friendly. Peak-season weekend rates top out at $40, but specials are as low as $25 for 18 holes.
BEST BED & BREAKFAST
163 Danforth St., Portland
The Danforth combines Old World charm with New World comfort and style. The decor is sophisticated; the breakfasts to die for. Be sure to check out the view from the cupola.
BEST LAND TOUR
Wicked Walking Tours
When a city dates back to the 1600s, it's bound to be chock-full of odd historical facts and ghost stories. With Wicked Walking Tours, you can learn about Portland's colorful and sometimes sordid history with trips to historic gravesites, buildings and other locales. Go during the daytime -- or, if you dare, at night. Check the website for current info on tour stops.
BEST BOAT TOUR
Sunrise on Casco Bay
Casco Bay Lines
56 Commercial St., Portland
Morning is the best part of the day, and this cruise departs at 5:05 a.m. Monday through Friday, allowing riders to watch as wildlife wakes up. The 2.5-hour cruise is peaceful, heading to Chebeague and Cliff islands, then gains energy as the ferry picks up people on the other populated islands who are commuting to the city. The price is $15 for adults.
BEST CHARTER FISHING TOUR
Commercial Street at The Pier, Boothbay Harbor
With all the nearby inlets and islands, Boothbay Harbor is a very scenic place to start a boat ride. At Cap'n Fish's, you can choose from a variety of trips, including whale watches, sport fishing or lobster hauling.
BEST RECORD STORE
Bull Moose Music
Remember when you could walk into your neighborhood record store and not only find a wide variety of musical genres but be able to hold an intelligent conversation about music with the staff? You still can at Bull Moose, which stocks everything from new and used CDs and DVDs to bizarre novelty items. The Maine-based chain even proved there was still a market for vinyl by inventing Record Store Day, which has become a national phenomenon.
BEST PARK OR HISTORIC SITE
Fort Williams Park
1000 Shore Road, Cape Elizabeth
Millions of visitors flock to this park every year, and it's not just because it has Portland Head Light, one of the oldest and most famous lighthouses in America (though that certainly doesn't hurt). This site offers stunning views of the rocky coastline and the Atlantic Ocean, miles of walking and biking trails, historic buildings and military bunkers, a playground and a pond. Fly a kite on the lush green landscape, enjoy a picnic with the family, or simply take in the view from strategically located benches along the coastal trails. Worth a day trip any time.
click image to enlarge
The Danforth in Portland gets the staff nod for best bed and breakfast.