Reducing an evening to a number grade is tough. Try it.

For example, an oceanside drive is the stuff of Maine’s late-summer legend, with sun-filled blue sky and Springsteen on the radio. The route rates an immediate 5 out of 5, but add the glut of tourist vehicles vying for Old Port parking and the grade quickly sinks to 1. The anxiety of hoping there’s room on the ferry rates a 2, but then elevates to a 4 when friends wave and we board the boat together.

The good news/bad news of catch-up conversation hops up and down the number scale, but the general sense of an island adventure against the retreating Portland city skyline feels fabulous.

Would the Friday night be judged on its best moments or its worst? Or are the highest and lowest scores disregarded for an average 3?

This same complex, Olympic-style scoring system applied to my Cockeyed Gull dining experience.

Situated within easy walking distance of the Peaks Island ferry dock (turn left onto the first cross street), the Cockeyed Gull earned immediate points for both its clever name and tucked-away, cedar-shingled facade. Those points skyrocketed during the walk through the flower-lined side path into the sun-filled interior and toward the quaint, wrought-iron outdoor patio seating.


My rating scale quivered while I contemplated the crumply and stained menus as a sign of happy use or neglectful oversight, but I immediately loved the sleek flatware, designed with heft and style. I respect establishments that appreciate the impact of higher-quality flatware on a dining experience.

The drinks? Excellent. A Hendrick’s Gin and Tonic was delivered in textbook proportion, with additional limes as requested. The can of Baxter Brewing Company’s Pamola Xtra Pale Ale arrived cold with a matching glass, and there were no complaints on the Bombay martini. Attention to these simple standards often indicates the quality of table service and acts as a preview for other, more complex situations.

The Young Romaine with Anchovies & Caesar ($7.50) was straight down the middle. It was exactly as described, with two anchovy filets draped across a bowl of lettuce and freshly shaved Parmesan — a very tasty 3. (A similar 3 for the same salad, but with five plump grilled scallops priced at $16.)

My party included a bona fide crab cake expert, but it took no expertise to see that the Crab Cakes on Mesclun Greens with Paprika & Scallion Aioli ($12) were crafted almost entirely from bread crumbs. The lack of both paprika and scallion flavor in the careless plops of mayonnaise was disappointing, but not as disappointing as the lack of essential crab meat. This dish ranked a sad 1.5.

But Hard Shell Clams steamed with Linguica, Tomato and Beer ($16.50) provided an alternative to the typical butter-dunked menu options, and easily rated a 4 in both preparation and presentation. The beer flavor intensified the bits of salty sausage in a way that weaker wine-based broths often diminish. It is worth noting that one member of our party found the dish excessively salty, but the remainder of us had no qualms.

Then came the Calamari Fra Diavlo with flatbread ($12). While not typically a “sender-backer,” it is important to note that this dish was not good, and although it remained on the table, we did not eat the undercooked and mealy squid. It was served in a bowl of watery and flavorless red sauce, with a white roll substituting for flatbread.


The Cockeyed Gull is better than this dish. We each took a bite, and I must apologize to the staff member tasked with shaking those bites from our napkins at shift’s end. A one. Worse than a one.

Again, the kitchen is better than this dish, as evidenced by the Saffron Seafood Chowder ($6.50 per cup). The chowder was medium thick and chock full of identifiable pieces of all manner of sea life: Crab, shrimp, lobster and delicate white fish each providing texture variation. The saffron added just the right amount of flavor deviation, and the result was a chowder I’d recommend to anyone seeking the good stuff. The chowder bounced the experience back to the top of the scoreboard.

The star of the night, however, was Thai Style Scampi Scallops with Cucumber Relish ($13.50). The Cockeyed Gull’s website bills itself as a fusion of French and Asian influences, and while that descriptor did not seem entirely accurate — my menu interpretation was more of a Maine-style bistro — these scallops provided the successful last-minute Hail Mary pass.

The three massive sea scallops were grilled and served under a cilantro (and basil?) pesto that included lush tomatoes and a surprising chili pepper pop. Add in a side of crispy sweet and sour, house-made cucumber and onion pickles as relish, and this is a dish that I would gladly brave downtown Portland parking and a 20-minute island shuttle for, again and again.

When a thunderstorm unexpectedly drove us inside (servers handled the disruption with grace), I noticed an order of the Potato Encrusted Haddock with Lemon Caper Sauce ($19.50) on a neighboring table, and I wished I had tried it. It looked magnificent, and according to its recipients, tasted delicious.

While inside watching the storm arrive with cinematic glory through the dining room’s oversized windows, I remembered that the Cockeyed Gull also serves brunch. I imagined how pleasant it would be to enjoy morning eggs on that patio or cup my hands around a hot coffee cup at one of the tiny, quaint, cloth-covered tables inside during the cold winter months.

As we went around the table rating the dining experience, comments ranged from “wouldn’t come back” to “would return tomorrow for these scallops.” Given the good company, the waterfront location and food that mostly satisfied, this writer calls the evening a draw.

Shonna Milliken Humphrey is a Maine freelance writer and author of the novel “Show Me Good Land.


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