Making Plans for Summer Dining
Generally, greater Portland is my stomping grounds for dining out because it’s where I live, and I'm continually intrigued by the region’s wealth of culinary richness.
This is not to say that I never cross the Cumberland County line. And often places that deserve a write up don’t always get in print, and now that the weather is warming up, it may be time for a second look at some of my favorite places worth the trip.
Last fall I went to the Slipway, which is perched overlooking the Saint George River in Thomaston. It was the last day before closing for the season and I had a great lunch on a perfect October afternoon under a 70-degree sun. I could hardly write about a place after only one meal and it subsequently closed for the next seven months.
However, chef and proprietor of Slipway, Scott Yakovenko, established a loyal following when he ran the venerable Dip Net in Port Clyde, before it was purchased by Maine’s newly minted lobster maven, Linda Bean, of the L.L.Bean dynasty and proprietress of such disparate outposts as the U.S. Virgin Islands, Freeport, Maine, and the Portland Jetport. I’ve been to Freeport 's Perfect Maine Lobster and Topside Tavern and was so underwhelmed that I decided not to write about the Shrimp Wiggle that I ordered for lunch.
While the pace of new restaurant openings in Portland has slowed down this year (some new ones are in the works, though), other places are abuzz with new eateries. The midcoast towns of Camden and Rockport, for example, used to be ghost towns after Labor Day but are now year-round hubs for the hale, hearty and hungry. I look forward to experiencing Long Grain, 40 Paper and 57 Bayview in Camden, the town’s newest hotspots. And I must admit that I’ve yet to visit the much ballyhooed Shepherd’s Pie in Rockport and Natalie’s at the Camden Harbor Hotel, both of which have locals raving.
The magic of Maine’s islands are another lure as I get ready for the summer. They’re not necessarily known for their restaurants — if they even have any — beyond local dockside joints. But a few have made it on the gastronomic map. Islesford Dock on Little Cranberry, Chebeague Island Inn on Chebeague, and Nebo Lodge on North Haven, are worth the voyage. Getting to these islands, however, gives me pause due to my shaky sea legs fear of the water.
Still, I manage to hit the high seas occasionally. While on North Haven for a few weeks last summer, a friend suggested we sail to Castine for lunch on his very seaworthy motor boat. Castine is not a foodie town per se but it’s certainly a pretty spot. After two hours at sea through swells, lurking ledges, and other imagined hazards we arrived — safely enough. For others it might have been a dazzling trip. For me it was white knuckles all the way. I don’t remember where we ate because I was too preoccupied thinking about the imagined peril of the return trip.
Still some of Maine’s most intriguing restaurant are on the water’s edge or out to sea. I’m sorry to have missed going to the Keeper’s House on Isle au Haut for its fine Island fare. Alas it’s now closed because the inn is for sale.
But other places beckon, which I’m anxious to get to. So if you spot someone cowering in a corner of a state-run ferry or private launch, it could be me trying to endure an otherwise harmless sail for a good meal at the water’s edge.
Note: Some of the places pictured in the slideshow but not mentioned here include Bay Haven in Cornish, the Ramp Bar and Grill in Cape Porpoise and the Thomaston Cafe in Thomaston.
John Golden makes no bones about sharing his opinions. If you'd like to share yours, email him at email@example.com