The third edition of our Maine, Coast & Islands is hot off the press and I’m back on the road, working on the 18th edition of Maine, An Explorer’s Guide.
Off to a bumpy start as I put the last touches to my backpack & stepped on my glasses—luckily fixable but it was a glum, cold Monday, raining by Freeport and dismal in Brunswick – which I know better than to visit on a Monday, the one day that the Bowdoin College Art and Arctic Museums and several restaurants are closed.
Find: Scarlet Begonia’s. The chef Doug Lavallee is still there at the grill & now his son, wife Colleen with sparkly lights and décor in the bar and outer room by the Rail Station & Visitors Center—bean & ham soup,half grilled sandwich, hit the spot.
More Favs along Brunswick’s Maine Street include Gulf of Maine Bookstore and The Brunswick Inn. It’s a great, long shopping street and worth extending by taking the easy Rt. 1 cross-over to “Fort Andross”, the name for the former textile mill complex — Frontier Cafe & Cinema Gallery and mammoth Cabot Mill Antiques ‘160 dealers.
Beyond the Bowdoin campus Rt. 123 runs south to the Harpswell, by old farms in rolling meadows. The Harpswell Inn is almost at the end of Lookout Point Road, set back in its lawns overlooking Middle Bay. A warm welcome from Anne Mosely and a the relief of flopping onto the high king bed in the first floor Radcliffe, a room with space and grace. (love that burgundy claw foot tub). Restaurant prowled and should have stayed put at Dolphin Marina but ended up at Estes because rumor had it as having improved & I figured I owed it a try. Worst seafood I’ve ever had in Maine—overly rich “bowl” of lobster stew in a paper cup ($17) and a heap of dry onion rings, wishing I was at Morse’s Cribstone Grill on Bailey Island, feasting on lobster or crab bedded on mixed greens!
Day 2—Came into the kitchen for early coffee with Dick Mosely, talking about how there were once 52 hotels in Harpswell. Prowled Bailey Island and decided that Cook’s is what it is—touristy but deservedly so with shiny wooden booths and sense of its long, successful family-owned tradition. New this year: The Alert , a small schooner is moored here, offering regular cruises in Casco Bay. The Driftwood Inn still offers one of the coast’s best lodging locations & it’s publicizing meals in its totally old fashioned dining room this year and the Bailey Island Motel by the Cribstone Bridge is also a great place to stay. In Cundy’s Harbor Holbrook’s Lobster Wharf seems better than ever with Danny Gilmore at the grille, and Captain’s Watch still looks like a great place to Stay.
Bath Area: —Lunch at the Winnegance General Store, the new hot place in town.
On Rt. 24 south of town, this store was sat shuttered for years. Recently restored , it’s managed by Shawn Schutty who has been getting rave reviews for his Schuttys food cart next to Sea Spray Kayaking on the New Meadows Road. My chowder & crabmeat tacos couldn’t have been better but one was more than enough.
Rainy afternoon, perfect for downtown Bath—a better mix of interesting shops than ever—just the right size: women’s clothing, Reny’s, the new Mustard Seed bookstore, toys, antiques. Dinner at o Beale Street Barbecue for the firs time in eons, just the right kind of neighborhood place.
The Bath Iron Works crane crowns Bath’s main street
Day 3: Coveside Bed & Breakfast , Five Islands, Georgetown.
Nothing is more dazzling than waking to sun sparking on a cove beyond your bedroom window – after two days of drizzle and fog. I’m propped up I bed, looking out the wall of windows and door to the tall trees and the literally sparking water. It’s not 8AM yet but two guests are down at the end of the lawn in the waterside sea. Flowers—rhododendron, peonies, lots of color everywhere around the main house. I’m in the annex in an incredibly perfect room & sense that this will be a good day….
Day 4—Millpond Inn, Damariscotta Mills
Last night feasted on fried oysters at Schooner Landing—fun but really an insult to Damariscotta Oysters which are so good fresh & then went for desert to Van Lloyd’s Bistro, the newest place in town. It’s hidden away on the waterside town de parking lot. Hope it lasts for the sake of the young couple who own it, smoke, cure and bake everything they serve and are getting g married this weekend.
This morning I keep grabbing my camera to catch the view from my window, the rocks reflected in the pond. Made myself a cup of coffee in the kitchen & was sneaking back upstairs to write when innkeeper Bobby Weare steered me down the series of holding ponds that form the famous “fish ladder” for alewives (a form of herring, 9-12” long) that return the zillions every four years from the ocean to spawn in Damariscotta Lake, returning via the Damariscotta River to the ocean in July. This is a good year although the alewives run has been sporadic, beginning in mid-May & then stopping, starting again. The fish ladder—a series of no less than 69, natural-looking but really cement holding pools– has been restored in recent years through volunteer labor and fundraising, culminating with a big festival Memorial Day weekends.
We lucked out this morning and saw slews of fish, seemingly swarms in a few of the pools, so many at the lowest—where a percentage are caught and held to be sold off for lobster bait ($30 a bushel) that you could smell them.
Like most days on the road, this had its lows and highs. Low: a $25 ticket for “sloppy parking”, one wheel was over the line in a large town parking lot with few other cars & none near me. I had run in to get batteries from Reny’s . Should have taken a picture but was so mad that I didn’t think to. I could swear I was the only out-of-state car in the lot. But a member of the Reny family later assured me that the town’s parking enforces have spare no one & have many nicknames locally. Beware!!
Fav in neighboring Waldoboro: the Philippe Guillerm Gallery is a standout.Check the website for its amazing story and don’t miss their place!
On the Pemaquid Peninsula: In Round Pond lunch at The Anchor, formerly Anchor Inn, operated for 27 years by the owners of the peerless Damariscotta River Grill. Turns out that the building has always been owned by the Reny family and is now operated by Dan (grandson of the stores’ founder) and Andrea Reny. It’s been totally renovated but keeping the same layout, now offers more water views and still moderately priced menu . Can’t fault my crab and avocado wrap. Still I’m happy to so see that the neighboring Granite Hall remains its old special self.
Day 5, Boothbay Harbor, Room #4, Topside Inn
Windows on 4 sides—view of harbor on front—masts above trees to the west, spacious-king bed and armchairs,no frills except a couple massive pillosws, huge bathroom with 2 sinks—the kind of room that makes you want to stretch! And breakfast! Fruit cup, homemade breads, deviled eggs with salmon and a pansy plus a shrimp and egg dish that demands its portrait.
Got to the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens by 9:30, given abortive attempts to park there over the past two years. No problem but unfortunately I hit a low bloom period. Great ride in a golf cart down to the Sheepscot River to see the new electric boat Begal that now offers tours/Kayak rentals are ow also available. The gardens are now 270 acres but most is wooded trails, c. 23 acres are landscaped gardens.
Back in Boothbay Harbor the big discovery was Waves, formerly Ebb Tide,a landmark little year-round eatery with great clam chowder that closed to everyone’s horror last Fall. It’s been Waves just since May and is still the same wooden booths interior but the food has spark. The new recently married owners are Joe Chan and Ian Ronan (formerly at The Thistle). Should also mention that dinner at The Boat House—a lobster, avocado & mango tapa with house salad & white wine was perfect!
On the way home I stopped in Wiscasset at The Little Village Bistro, another brand new restaurant run by Tony Bickford , Ian Ronan’s former boss at The Thistle in Boothbay Harbor.
Can’t help but notice that three young couples I’ve met this week have opened ambitious new restaurants featuring good locally sourced food. The upshot: It’s getting easier each season to eat well at any price along the coast in Maine.