We thought that taking a couple days off after Memorial Day weekend and go to Maine sounded like a great idea. It was. Neither Elizabeth nor I had been to Maine and we though it would be good to go before the crowds arrive (July and August) and before the nip in the air was gone. We spent five nights in Maine: three in Kennebunkport and two in Bar Harbor. Here are the details:
Fly? Drive? Big debate. The flight to Portland is less than an hour from NYC. But you have the airport hassles, the cost, and rental car (hopefully with Maine plates, but still easily identifiable as a tourist). The drive? At least five hours (with no traffic to Kennebunkport). Another three + up to Bar Harbor. And then a solid NINE back to NYC. But we have a convertible. (And, if you read about our France Trip, you’ll know that we are not afraid to drive…a lot). We drove. We left at 1 p.m. on Friday afternoon trying to beat the traffic. We did not. The only bad part of the entire trip was a section of I-84 leading into Hartford (in the middle of CT) where we hit the worst traffic of my life. 5.5 hours just to Hartford. After that, it was easy.
Lodging: We stayed at a great place called the White Barn Inn. It was not cheap, but the Inn was very nice. Elizabeth and I are not “Inn People”, but this Inn definitely worked. The staff was courteous and helpful, but everyone was very knowledgeable with Maine’s offerings. The breakfast was amazing (included in the room rate). They also had a formal tea which we did not try. The pool was amazing. The rooms in the main building (where we stayed) were quite small, but very nicely furnished. I understand that the rooms are bigger in the Annex and the Garden Area.
Dining: On Friday night we arrived around 8:30 and went directly to a place called Stripers. Stripers is an upscale fish shack that is run by the owners of the White Barn Inn. The restaurant sits on an inlet and served excellent seafood in a very relaxed setting. I started with fresh oysters; Elizabeth had peel n’ eat shrimp. I had ale-battered Maine scallops and Elizabeth had ale-battered shrimp. Everything was great.
My Saturday mid-morning snack was a half-pint of fried clams (the whole clam, not the strips) at the Clam Shack. Unbeatable. Light breading. Piping hot. And just the right size (unlike some of the intimidating clams I have had on Long Island!). The Clam Shack is well known and people wait in long lines for the fare.
Saturday for lunch we stopped at Mabel’s Lobster Claw. We had the classic lunch meal: New England clam chowder, lobster rolls and fries. The lobster rolls were very good (but not the best). The roll was good (a little bready), the lobster had a light dusting of mayo, and there was a piece of lettuce in the roll (which I don’t like). I would definitely go back.
Saturday night Dinner was the main event. The White Barn Inn‘s restaurant is touted as one of the best restaurants in the U.S. and the best restaurant north of Boston (since Boston doesn’t really have any great restaurants, the title is a little dubious). The room was absolutely amazing: a converted old barn with antiques and a striking window filled with flowers (the flowers are outside, brightly lit). The service tried hard, but it is the typical over-worked, young Euro-waiters (who were also serving you breakfast that morning) that you wind up feeling guilty about how hard they are working. The food was very good, but we did not find it to be great. Some of the dishes were great though: seared tuna with daikon salad and wasabi creme fraiche, lobster spring rolls, the beef tenderloin with a horseradish crust and “bubble & squeak”, and the cheese plate (great selection!). The scallop appetizer was good and the “tenderloin” of salmon served on a bed of morel, clam and mussel risotto was a disappointment. The wine list was very impressive.
Sights: Kennebunkport is filled with touristy shops, so a day wandering around the town is just too much. The best thing you will find is ice cream. Avoid Ben & Jerry’s…you can get that anywhere. Marie’s serves the best (I hear…it was closed while we were there). We enjoyed Shaner’s ice cream. I would ride bikes along the coast, both north and south of Kennebunkport. You should also check out George Bush Sr.’s compound at Walker Point. Is was very impressive…we even caught a glimpse of Millie running around on the lawn.
Another great activity is to take a few road trips:
Wicasset: About 90 minutes north, this charming town is home to many antique stores (some were great, others seemed ridiculously over-priced), and, most importantly, Red’s Eats. You can miss Red’s if you are coming from the south on Route 1. A small, but easily-seen shack (with picnic tables) serving the best lobster rolls in Maine, if not the world. (I have added them to the Ultimate List). The lobster roll is so simple: just a perfect bun filled with a ton of lobster. You apply your own mayo or butter. You can’t get enough. (We ate at Red’s twice). The fries, onion rings, and fried clams are also good.
Popham Beach: drive 20 minutes east to the end of Route 209 before you cross the bridge (on Route 1) in Bath. There you will find one of Maine’s most beautiful beaches ($5 admission…State Park fee). If you continue on past the beach entrance, you will reach an old fort. The beach at the fort is great for walking…the waters are filled with hundreds of seals swimming around.
Freeport: Don’t stop in this outlet town unless you are prepared to deal with hordes of bargain-hunting tourists. It’s also okay to stop if you know that Patagonia and North Face are having 40% sales on all outlet merchandise.
Portland: We stopped in Portland on Sunday night for dinner (after visiting the three towns above) and were delighted with one of the best meals of the trip. Fore Street is located in an old warehouse…a giant open space with a huge open-air kitchen. Produce is set on display in crates in the glass-enclosed refrigerator. There is a word-burning oven the size of most Manhattan kitchens, a mesquite grill, and a huge rotisserie. I started with a wonderful mesquite grilled octopus and then had the best pork tenderloin I’ve ever had (also on the Ultimate List). It was crusted with herbs and spices…at least 4″ thick with two ribs and a mound of garlic mashed potatoes. Elizabeth had a marinated wild mushroom salad (a little disappointing) and a spit-roasted half-chicken that was also fantastic. Fore Street is all about the port tenderloin though. Desserts were also amazing: a hot blueberry peach crisp with vanilla ice cream and a chocolate souffle cake with caramelized ginger and ginger ice cream. The owners of Fore Street also own Street & Co, which many locals also recommended…they serve fish and vegetables only though.
Dining: Ugh. The tourists prevail! There was not a great selection of great places to eat. There were, however, quite a few places offering All-You-Can-Eat and Early-Bird Specials. I have to admit that I did not do a lot of research. On Monday night we had a really nice dinner at a place called Havana. The food had a Cuban flair, but there was a lot a fresh seafood as well. Elizabeth had a cornmeal and cumin crusted Salmon served on black beans and rice while I had a tuna steak au poivre served with wasabi mashed potatoes. The crab cakes were also good, as was the hearts of palm salad.
On Tuesday, we hiked through Acadia National Park (more later) and had lunch in the Park at a place called Jordan Pond. The food was horrific (but what do you expect from a National Park). The location and surrounding scenery was amazing. It would have been great to picnic. but we had trouble finding good picnic provisions in Bar Harbor.
Tuesday night we drove to the little town of Northeast harbor to try a casual place called 151 Main Street. The menu looked great, but that’s about as far as we got. When we arrived we learned that it was closed (as are most restaurants on Mount Desert Island on Tuesday nights). We drove back to Bar Harbor and went to a place called Geddy’s, which seemed to be like a local TGI Fridays. We had pizza and a burger…it wasn’t bad.
Sights: Again, Bar Harbor is all about tourism. This is sad, because it used to be a lot like Newport RI with hundreds of gigantic summer “cottages”. Most of those burned down in a fire in 1943. Now it has motels, Christmas shops and ice cream parlors. Again, the ice cream in Maine is quite good for some reason. We drove to Northeast Harbor in the evening when everything was closed, but it looked like a very cute town that has not been overtaken with busloads (or boatloads) of tourists. The same is said for Southwest Harbor. One redeeming feature of Bar Harbor is the Shore Path…a seaside path that starts at the main pier and continues along the coast for about a mile. Just make sure you take the path after the two daily behemoth cruise ships that anchor in the harbor have finished shuttling the passengers back to the vessels after a fun-filled day in town).
The main reason to go to Mount Desert Island is Acadia National Park. Acadia is a huge National Park…which means it’s big enough to avoid the tour buses. Here are a few activities that we enjoyed (all of these were moderate as Elizabeth is pregnant…);
- Drive all the way around the Park Loop
- Stop at Sandy Beach (the only sand beach) and take the cliff walk (three miles to Otter Cliff and back…very flat); this is a great way to check out the rugged coastline
- Picnic at Jordan Pond
- Hike up the South Bubble (take the path from the north…not the path from Jordan Pond) for an amazing view of Jordan Pond, the Atlantic Ocean and Eagle Lake.
- Drive up to the summit of Mt. Cadillac…you can see everything around you.
- Ride mountain bikes along all of the old Rockefeller carriage trails.
In late May, the weather was still cool (highs in the low 70s) and the bugs were not out. I am told that you need some good bug spray as you get later in the summer.
Have fun in Maine!