My love of art and of food came together in a most enjoyable way while exploring the coast of Maine. I thought it might be interesting to share some of the best dining spots along the coast of Maine, discovered while on innumerable journeys up and down the rocky coastline in search of painting material. If you’re planning a fall trip to see the magnificent foliage or B & B hopping from town to town, this restaurant critic’s guide might be helpful. I’ll also include a few paintings of mine that were the direct result of this exploration over the 12 years we lived in Camden, Maine.
First, I thought I would take a little time to build up my credentials as a food critic. A resume if you will, in order to lend credibility to my recommendations. My dad was from Iowa, a mid-western meat and potato type guy. He was fine with whatever mom made as long as he had the salt shaker. Mom was Polish, grew up in a large family, loved to eat and to cook. She made sure us kids always had meat, potatoes and usually three vegetables (of different colors of course). She would mix up the meals with Polish traditions of golumpki (stuffed cabbage), polish sausage, pierogies, sauerkraut, etc… Sometimes the Polish sausage was the real deal, transported all the way from a little smokehouse near the Deerfield River in Massachusetts where my Uncle Bill Sadosky would stop on the way home from his trout fishing trips. I’ll never forget stopping there and seeing all of those beautiful sausages hanging from the ceiling. Anyway I digress. Mom would bake the best pies from scratch following recipes passed down from her immigrant mother. We had a round kitchen table with a Lazy Susan in the middle where we ate all of our meals. It would always be covered with way too much food, which would always lead to the best leftovers the next day. We three kids could always take as much as we wanted but had to eat what we took. Our parents were old school, products of the Great Depression and waste wasn’t appreciated. Sometimes the Lazy Susan would get spinning too fast and the food would go flying, annoying my Dad. It was usually my younger brother’s fault. :-)
So from my family I learned to appreciate good home cooking that warms the heart and satisfies the soul! Jen’s mom was more of a gourmet cook. She would cook with exotic herbs like rosemary, thyme and tarragon! :-) She would have soup parties for large crowds. My first taste and best memory of Seafood Gumbo was Jen’s mom’s. It was outrageously delicious. She would butterfly a leg of lamb. She wouldn’t just cook a vegetable but would combine it with the perfect complements to create a colorful work of art. Jen’s parents traveled the world and had sophisticated palates. They took us to the finest restaurants in Bethesda, MD and Washington, DC. I was introduced to my first chocolate soufflé at the wonderful French restaurant Le Miche in Bethesda.
Fortunately my wife and I both love to eat. We cut our teeth so to speak at all of the local restaurants, gradually acquiring a discriminating palate. On the resume is Tastee Diner for classic diner breakfasts, Pines of Rome for white pizza and Veal Parmesan, Positano’s for an upscale Italian dining experience, Chesapeake Bay Seafood House, O’Donnell’s and Bish Thompson’s for seafood, the Bethesda Crab House for Maryland crabs, Shakey’s pizza for a great thin crust pizza, Le Miche for gourmet French, Chi Chi’s for Mexican etc…
Now that I’ve hopefully established my credentials as someone who loves and appreciates good food hopefully my recommendations will take you to some of the best eating locations in the state of Maine!
Here goes! A must stop along the southern coast of Maine is the quaint town of Ogunquit. If you take the winding road that leads down to Perkin’s Cove and the scenic Marginal Way there are a number of good restaurants. We loved stopping at Barnacle Billy’s for the lobster rolls, fried seafood platters and the clam chowder. It is situated overlooking Perkin’s Cove, a place that we stumbled upon that led to this painting. I found the wooden drawbridge to be unique and I’d actually love to paint it again.
In South Portland we discovered our all-time favorite pizza place, Ricetta’s! It still ranks as my #1 favorite. Thin crust, chunky red Italian tomato sauce, plenty of mozzarella cheese and the perfect ground Italian sausage to top it off, creates the perfect balance of the finest ingredients. It was a happy occasion when a second location opened up in Falmouth. In Portland proper we used to frequent Walter’s, a cozy warm café for lunch with a menu of delicious choices along with one of the best chocolate tortes that we’ve ever tasted. Our many trips to Portland and the surrounding area led to the discovery and exploration of Cape Elizabeth Light, Cape Neddick Light and Portland Head Light (depicted here).
Further north along Route 1 if the timing is right, the Brunswick Diner or Dunkin Donuts can help hold you over. I only throw in Dunkin Donuts because I think they are the best donut chain on the east coast. A good donut can hold you over for a couple hours until you get to your next gastronomical destination. On up the road in the picturesque town of Wiscasset is the consistently #1 rated lobster roll in Maine at Red’s Eats. You get the buttery lobster meat from a 1 1/4 lb. lobster on a flat buttered Maine bun. Usually there is quite a line but it is well worth the wait!
Down the next peninsula is the lobstering village of New Harbor. Shaw’s Wharf definitely competes with Red’s Eats as far as their lobster rolls but it also has fantastic seafood, chowders and homemade pies. There is a deck for outdoor dining, overlooking the harbor that on a nice day you can’t beat. Watch out for the mischievous seagulls because they will be sure to go after your onion rings! When we discovered New Harbor I was so excited I jumped out of the car to capture a lobsterboat leaving the harbor and forgot to put the car in park! Jen fortunately realized her immediate danger and caught me before I went running with my camera, causing me to miss the shot! This painting is the one that resulted from our discovery that day.
Moody’s Diner just up the road in Waldoboro right on Route 1 is right out of the 50’s. Homemade pies, donuts and traditional diner food attract truck drivers, families on their way to Bar Harbor and the occasional hungry artist!
Amalfi on the Water in Rockland became a fixed expense for us after discovering it. We still have cravings for it and miss terribly the Mediterranean style food fused with local influences. Especially the Lobster Risotto and the Paella! Also in Rockland is the gourmet restaurant named Primo. We had been going there for a number of years when it was Jessica’s. The homemade ravioli with the side of Italian sausage was my favorite, unless of course they had the Lobster Diablo! Primo’s menu and meals are a gourmet’s delight. We loved their thin crust pizzas so much that we would call in a carry-out order and pick it up just in time to enjoy it while taking in the sunset at nearby Owl’s Head. This painting entitled Low Tide was a direct result of one of those Primo pizza cravings!
Camden Harbor is one of the prettiest harbors in Maine. It has many dining choices to choose from ranging from the lobster shack called Bayview Lobster to The Waterfront Restaurant for anything seafood, to the gourmet little French restaurant Francine Bistro to one of our favorites The Hartstone Inn. The Hartstone Inn was for those special occasions when you wanted to have the four course meal and be treated to a memorable dining experience. Award winning, the inn has been frequented by notables like Julia Child. This painting of Camden Harbor was my first one of the harbor and depicts a number of the good eateries.
On up the road is Lincolnville, home to The Lobster Pound Restaurant (another one of our favorites). Quintessentially Maine, it’s casual with great seafood. I love their fried clams, baked halibut and cold tall drafts (Andrew’s Ale brewed locally). Careful if ordering the chocolate pudding tart for dessert! The crust is firm and too dangerous to cut with a fork. My wife decided it would be easier to pick it up and take a bite. Before she could blink an eye the chocolate pudding tart had shattered and the brown pudding was down her front and into her shoe! Chez Michel in Lincolnville is also on the recommended list. A wide variety of choices from traditional Maine fare to Chicken and Veal Oscar.
Castine is home to Dennett’s Wharf on the water. Like Shaw’s Wharf in New Harbor you can’t go wrong stopping here. This painting of Bass Harbor Light was captured on one of our many excursions from Castine to the Bar Harbor area.
I could go on and on blogging about all of the great places to eat along the Maine Coast. If you are fortunate enough to be heading north this fall, be sure to stop at any of these locations for a real treat. Enjoy the scenery along the way. Just be careful not to ask a “Mainer” for directions because they’ll be sure to say “You can’t get there from here"!