12 Best Bites and Sips from Maine’s Midcoast
Experience these Down East culinary highlights.
During the summer season Maine attracts visitors from everywhere who have come to enjoy the state’s picturesque harbors, dramatic coastlines and explore their unspoiled natural wonders via camping, sailing, fishing, hiking or some other activity. But the local cuisine is also a big draw and seafood, especially lobster, is at the top of the list.
Other regional specialities include clambakes, chowders, whoopee pies, less conventional dishes like fiddleheads (a local wild green) and the love-it-or-hate-it Moxie (a regional soft drink with a medicinal aftertaste) and, of course, blueberries which are served up in pies, cakes, waffles, pancakes, cobblers, ice cream, ales and smoothies. On a recent trip to Maine’s midcoast I came up with my own top picks for the ultimate taste of Maine experience.
Sautéed Lobster Roll - The Lobster Pound
The traditional lobster roll is all about the lobster meat which is served slightly chilled with a tiny bit of mayonnaise on a toasted hot dog bun. The Lobster Pound, a legendary seafood restaurant in Lincolnville, offers this version but also serves a sautéed in butter lobster roll which might be my favorite way to experience the slightly sweet, juicy lobster meat.
Blueberry Pie - Moody’s Diner
Situated in Waldoboro, Moody’s Diner is the quintessential comfort food stopover. It began offering meals to travelers in 1934 and is now a legendary institution famous for its seafood platters, hot sandwiches, local specialities like fried tripe and its bakery goods, especially the homemade pies which range from custard to strawberry rhubarb to walnut. But their blueberry pie reigns supreme and you can have it served warm with a dollop of whipped cream or a scoop of ice cream. Pure heaven.
Cranberry Gin Martini - The Craignair Inn
Cocktail culture is being transformed by a rise in local distilleries which are creating their own versions of gin, whiskey, rum and vodka. The Craignair Inn in Spruce Head offers a number of speciality cocktails in their restaurant but I particularly loved the tart, crisp flavor of their Cranberry Gin Martini which included cranberry gin from Sweetgrass Winery and Distillery (There are two locations, Union and Portland, Maine).
Broiled Scallops - The Helm
The Helm is a family-owned operation that has been serving travelers along Route 1 in Rockport for years. Like Moody’s Diner in Waldoboro, The Helm is a magnet for comfort food lovers and their specialities include several French-inspired dishes such as a hearty beef stew. There are also excellent seafood options such as clam and lobster rolls and some people drop in just to order their pies or milk shakes from the take-out window. My favorite dish this trip was their simple but elegant dish of broiled scallops in a light butter sauce with steamed vegetables.
Caesar Salad with Haddock Cakes - The Slipway
Can’t decide between a salad or a seafood entree? Why not enjoy both in one of the combo offerings at The Slipway, a bayside restaurant in Thomaston that is dedicated to using locally sourced seafood. You can choose between a mixed green or Caesar salad and have it topped with either lobster, crab meat, grilled fish, chicken or fish cakes. We chose the Caesar with a topping of haddock cakes along with a locally brewed ale and it made an ideal lunch for two people.
Blueberry Waffle - The Wan-e-set Restaurant
The peaceful cove at Tenants Harbor is like the postcard image of the perfect village seaport on the Maine coast - a cluster of fishing boats in the bay, seagulls circling the docks, painted buoys and lobster traps galore and small virgin islands that dot the horizon on the Atlantic. With its picturesque setting alone, The East Wind Inn is a must-visit lodging option but it is also a destination for serious foodies. The Quarry Tavern on the lower floor is an intimate local pub (great burgers and fish and chips) while the Wan-e-set Restaurant on the main floor offers a superb four course a la carte menu. Breakfast is included for guests at the inn with such tempting treats as Lobster Benedict but I chose the blueberry waffle. Served with warm maple syrup, the waffle was crisp, buttery with a light as air texture and chock full of those intensely flavorful Maine blueberries. Maybe the best waffle ever.
Roasted Beet Salad - The Landings
Those looking for something different from the typical salad choices of Caesar, Greek or mixed greens often opt for something less conventional but healthy like a good roasted beet salad. The Landings on the harbor of Rockland offers a tasty and visually appealing variation of this that includes a more than ample serving of roasted beets highlighted by a unique combo of sunflower seeds, edamame beans, greens and goat cheese cream.
Donuts - The Holy Donut
What is your favorite kind of donut? Do you prefer the cake variety or the lighter yeast type? The Holy Donut combines the appeal of both - crunchy on the outside, fluffy inside - in their original potato flour recipes that have food critics and residents raving about this Portland enterprise (there are two locations in the city). The flavors range from Orange Creamsicle to Pomegranate to Sweet Potato Ginger but I can vouch for the dark chocolate coconut which could easily become an addiction.
The Kilnwooder - 18 Central Oyster Bar & Grill
The small but picture-perfect seaport of Rockport is more famous for its opera house, prestigious media workshops and Andre the Seal (his statue overlooks the harbor) than their eateries but 18 Central Oyster Bar & Grill is a great reason to visit. As expected the oysters and mussels are excellent but don’t overlook the signature house cocktails. The Kilnwooder is a refreshing, less potent and more fruit-based variation on the whiskey sour and mixes Bulleit rye whiskey, maple syrup and a muddle of Luxardo cherries, lemon and orange.
Crab Melt Tartine - The Drouthy Bear
Although The Drouthy Bear in Camden first opened in 2015 it has already become the go-to pub for local residents despite the abundance of other breweries and pubs in the area. Part of the appeal is the variety of beers on tap as well as bottled beers but the food, in particular, is exceptionally fresh and high quality compared to most pub fare. Their burgers, made from local Aldemere Farms beef, are truly memorable but so are their speciality sandwiches like the local Crab Melt Tartine which is served with a hearty tomato bisque and green salad.
Szechuan Dan Dan Noodles
Cafe Miranda in Rockland, Maine is a popular local restaurant that offers a wide variety of domestic and international dishes such as Mexican spiced stew and Szechuan Dan Dan Noodles (pictured) which include shredded chicken, cucumbers, peanut sauce, ginger, egg noodles and more.
Szechuan Dan Dan Noodles - Cafe Miranda
Rockland has no shortage of fine restaurants offering the many varieties of local available seafood but Cafe Miranda stands out from the rest for its multicultural menu that incorporates international cuisine and adds a local twist. Thai Chicken Noodle Soup, Cheese Steak Bomb, Tofu Groce, Lobster Pizza and a lamb burger are just a few samples of their eclectic menu. One of my favorite dishes is a large, meal-sized bowl of the Szechuan Dan Dan Noodles with chicken (or you can choose pulled pork), spicy peanut sauce, shredded carrots and cucumbers, ginger, garlic, sesame oil and other locally sourced ingredients.
Maine Oysters - J's Oyster
Portland is justly famous for its food scene which continues to grow in diversity and reputation but if you want to avoid the top trending restaurants and go where the locals go, try J’s Oyster. Located off a side street in the busy waterfront district, this is the place to go for every kind of oyster dish and simple but delicious seafood classics like haddock chowder and lobster scampi. Start off with a half dozen Maine oysters on the half shell accompanied by lemon and horseradish cocktail sauce. Then follow it up with J’s oyster sampler which includes four variations; baked stuffed (oyster with lobster stuffing), Rockefeller (oyster with spinach, bacon and cheese stuffing), Mornay (oyster with a cheese topping) and one raw Maine oyster where the flavor is all about the fresh briny sea.