I had a once in a lifetime opportunity to spend the entire summer (late June till after Labor Day) in mid-coast Maine this summer – working, other than a 2 week vacation, but working looking at the ocean beats working not looking at the ocean every time in my book. This area really is a food-lover’s paradise. I have been coming up here for nearly a decade and it always has been in terms of local produce (in the summer), meat, seafood and cheeses but I was struck this summer that you can now get almost anything. It used to be that things like sherry vinegar, cornichons, tuna packed in oil, and good glass bottle anchovies were hard to find but not anymore. Here are my food (and a few other) thoughts, working north to south. (Keep in mind, no first-hand reports on shellfish. Damned allergies. Also not much on sweets / ice cream / desserts – not my thing.)
Darby’s has the best burgers in the mid-coast, no question. Their haddock sandwich is also excellent. My guests also thought their lobster roll was a winner (certain guests required a return visit, just saying). Everything I have ever had there (including their steak dinner and large salads) on previous trips has been top-notch and most everything is made in-house. My young cousin who has been a life-long aficionado of ranch dressing says theirs is the best he’s ever had. Service is also always pleasant. Apparently under new ownership but the food remains consistent. Open year-round.
Moonbat City Baking Co. has completely amazing croissants but they only make something like 100 a day and if you get there at 9:00, as we did, you are out of luck. I have made it there early previous summers and they are worth setting an alarm clock for.
Eat More Cheese has an amazing selection of cheeses and wines and other goodies from around the world and they are incredibly helpful. Last year some friends who were coming to stay told me they said “we’re having lamb chops for dinner” and they arrived chez moi with 2 perfect cheeses and 2 perfect wines to go with the meal. Open year-round.
Friends tell me that Youngs Lobster Pound has excellent lobster. I can’t personally vouch for this but trust them for food recommendations.
The Belfast Co-op is the best of many good co-ops in the mid-coast, with tons of local produce, meats, seafood, cheeses and other goods (kimchi, sauerkraut and so on). Also a small deli with made to order sandwiches, etc. Open year-round.
Belfast Farmers Market. Friday mornings. Excellent farmers market. Highlights include the crepe lady who makes amazing crepes (completely made up for missing out on croissants) and the water buffalo burrata but there is lots of other great stuff here. Also crafts people adjacent, including some amazing cheese / cutting boards.
United Farmers Market. Indoors, Saturday 9 – 2. Similar in concept to Boston Public Market: some produce, some crafts, lots of prepared food. Unlike BPM, tons of seating in a huge seating area with a view of the water. Live music. Lots of good food here, the Jamaican stall being my favorite.
Belfast also has good bookstores, an excellent kitchen store, good galleries, a nice yarn shop, good hardware store, several nice boutiques and in general is a very nice place to spend time in. Just north is the fascinating Penobscot Marine Museum in Searsport and on your way south out of town, Good Karma Farm is an excellent stop with things of interest for everyone, young and old and even the curmudgeons in the group (it took 3 tries to get him out of the car and then he didn’t want to leave).
Dot’s is a nice stop for a quick sandwich or baked good and has an excellent selection of unusual chilled soft drinks (I got a delicious grapefruit spritzer) and gourmet items and wines. They have a big grab and go section for people headed for the beach or the Islesboro ferry.
Lincolnville General Store is as pretty as can be, has a nice selection of basic and gourmet groceries, made in store baked goods, some interesting local brews (Whaleback Ciders were quite tasty), a bar of hot foods that looks nice and – locals tell me – the best pizza around. It sure looked and smelled good (not the slices in the warmer, the made to order ones we saw being served).
Camden Farmers Market. Saturday mornings and Wednesday afternoons (smaller). Very nice farmers market. Fuzzy Udder cheeses are a knockout. Common Wealth Farm has duck eggs which are the only eggs I ate this summer.
Nina June has provided consistently knock-out dinners, delightful service and a kind of bizarre inability to politely greet and seat people. The food is totally worth it though. Reservations recommended but even so the greeting and seating is bafflingly weird.
18 Central Oyster Bar & Grill. I never made it there this summer (why??) but loved it in the past and heard consistently good reports from people who went this summer.
Bleecker & Greer Maine Street Meats (in the big red building on Route 1). These folks did as much as anyone this summer to keep me and my guests in well-fed bliss. Amazing gourmet grocery items, fabulous selection of cheeses, very nice café for breakfast or lunch, but the crowning jewel is the butcher department. They turn out absolutely exemplary sausages, patés, rillettes and smoked duck – never had better. They also have a carefully curated selection of meats they buy from a small circle of farmers they know. If you need something specific, you can order ahead but it will depend on what is available. I never saw lamb chops in the case (apparently when they have lamb, it sells out in hours) but I did order some once and they were amazing. Also had (twice) an expensive but stupendously good ribeye steak. The head butcher is a font of knowledge and delightful person (as is everyone there) and even kindly gave me pointers on what to do with the ground duck I had bought at the farmers market.
I have already gone on and on and on about Up in Smoke BBQ.
Home Kitchen Café. My second favorite place to eat in Rockland. Breakfast and lunch all day (till 3), everything made in-house. Huge menu, everything reliably good. Haddock chowder, Ruben sandwich, Carni breakfast sandwich, homemade corned beef hash (almost nothing but meat), grilled cheese on homemade rye are some of my favorites. My guests told me the lobster bennie and lobster, goat cheese and spinach omelets were fabulous. One guest thought it might be the best omelet he’d ever had. Open year round, closed Tuesdays.
Café Miranda. Gigantic menu, everything made in-house. This is the restaurant that started the whole turnaround in Rockland in the 90’s according to one local I talked to. It has a fabulous vibe and the food is reliably good, sometimes mind-blowing. They take reservations and at dinner you need them. The thing is, with a menu this big everyone on the planet can find something they’d like so it’s a great place to go with a group with mixed tastes. Portions are enormous, prices reasonable. My cousin thought his scallops were fabulous. I am partial to the Wee Meat Pies and the fish cakes. Open 7 days, year round.
Hazel’s Take Out. A local favorite doing mostly takeout but with a bunch of picnic tables. Delicious sausage sandwich and the best fries (hands down) of the summer. Delightful service. Don’t worry if the line is long, they get the food out quite fast considering that everything is made to order. Open 10:30 to 5:30, closed Sundays.
Atlantic Baking Company. This was my go-to spot for iced coffee, sourdough baguettes, and fabulous seeded country bread for sandwiches this summer. They also have good croissants and quiche. Go early or call ahead to reserve anything you have your heart set on, they sell out fast. They also have a limited selection at the Rockland and Camden farmers markets.
Rock City Coffee. An employee-owned cooperative. This little shop across from the public landing grinds your coffee to order and staff/owners were extremely helpful recommending different coffees for my various guests.
The Wine Seller. Great selection and extremely helpful recommendations. In all my visits they have never once tried to upsell me but have stayed within my stated budget which I really appreciate.
Good Tern Co-op. Nice small co-op, huge selection of bulk herbs and spices which is incredibly handy when you are cooking in a rental. Open year round.
Rockland Farmers Market. Thursday mornings. This is where I bought the bulk of what I cooked this summer. Fabulous produce from Dickey Hill Farm (she had the earliest sugar snap peas, started in a hoop house), Dandelion Spring Farm (amazing bok choy and herbs) and others, knockout lettuces and other greens from Fine Line Farms (expensive but so worth it), excellent poultry from Common Wealth Farm (chicken that tastes like it used to taste), creative sausages from Sowbelly Butchery, tasty ground duck and duck breast from Mainely Poultry, gorgeous flowers from Ravenswood Farm (vases included in the price), excellent made to order pizza and bialys from Uproot Pie. A most excellent farmers market.
Jess’s Market. On 73, going south to Owls Head. Immaculate seafood.
Bixby & Co. Chocolates. You can tour the factory and my friends said it was fascinating. I tried a Bixby bar (dark chocolate, cranberry, nut) and was astonished to like it – almost no sugar and a lovely texture.
Rockland has great galleries, boutiques and other shops. Both the North Atlantic Blues Festival and the Lobster Festival have significant impact on parking, so plan ahead for that, but they do not otherwise make the town unmanageable those weekends. The Farnsworth Museum has a lovely permanent collection, often thought-provoking special exhibits (don’t miss the Annex across the street!) and a fascinating house museum for those of us who can’t resist a good house. I really meant to get to the Rockland Sail Power and Steam Museum but didn’t. Nearby Owls Head has the Transportation Museum which I keep hearing is fabulous but honestly it only rained on days I was working it seems like. If you are brave and fairly fit you can walk out the 7/8 mile breakwater to Rockland Light, but plan to get out and back before high tide.
Salty Owl Café. Improbably located in the small local airport, with fun views of small planes coming and going. Amazing hand pies, quiches, “pop tarts”, cookies, and fabulous gluten-free options. Pork chili verde to die for. Excellent coffee. My favorite breakfast place. Sadly only open Friday – Monday this year. (They also do Tacos Leon, in conjunction with the Lions Club, at the landing across from the ‘Keag Store Tuesdays 4 to 7. Have heard it’s really good but somehow never got there.)
Owls Head Light is in a lovely state park and on Sundays you can go up inside the lighthouse. Other days you can climb up to the base and enjoy great views.
McLoon’s Lobster Shack. Incredibly cute place with great views just past Atwoods Lobster on Spruce Head Island. Many of my local friends’ favorite place for lobster. I sent my cousins there with the gift certificate my kind landlords left for me and they absolutely raved about the lobster rolls and smoked mussels they had.
East Wind Inn. Friends called me out of the blue to say they were staying here and I needed to come for dinner stat, the chef is amazing. Sure enough, he is a refugee from Manhattan doing big city cooking in the middle of nowhere. Beautiful old inn with gorgeous views to boot. He also cooks for the tavern downstairs so that must be great too and my friends said his breakfasts were a knockout. Reservations for dinner and Sunday brunch a must.
The Zack Shack. Out on Route 1 across from Wal-Mart. Bright blue food truck serving excellent fast food-type burgers and haddock sandwiches for super reasonable prices. Everything made to order. Picnic tables. Another favorite with locals. (Don’t bother with the fries though, frozen crinkle cuts although very competently fried.)
Beth’s Farm Market. Famous for strawberries (she somehow keeps having them all summer using different varieties), other berries (Wilson Farms in Lexington carries her blueberries), and corn. I had never been up there late enough in the summer to have her corn before but it is definitely the best I have ever had. All her other produce is great too, especially her early new potatoes. They serve strawberry shortcake that is literally bigger than your head and this summer on Saturdays and Sundays a nice man named Dennis has been grilling jerk chicken on a 55 gallon drum grill. $12.50 for half a chicken, rice and beans, hush puppy and a bottle of water – delicious!
Morse’s Sauerkraut. I would often combine this with a trip to Beth’s, going past Beth’s on backroads (Old Augusta Road). It is a little German deli out in the middle of nowhere. Besides house-made sauerkraut and pickles, they have a fabulous selection of high quality deli meats, cheeses and sausages, plus every German grocery item there is and a lot of other European grocery items, baked goods and a very small restaurant that also does takeout orders. The krautballs are amazing. Super helpful folks behind the deli counter. Closed Wednesdays.
Crissy’s Breakfast and Coffee Bar has supplanted the King Eider Pub as my go-to on my yearly jaunt to Damariscotta on my way to the Pemaquid Point Lighthouse (which is a nice place to spend the afternoon reading in the shade enjoying a very cool breeze off the water on a very hot day). Crissy’s serves Mexican-inflected breakfast and lunch 8 – 2, 7 days a week.
Rising Tide Coop is an excellent co-op with good local produce, meats, cheeses and baked goods. Open year round.
No visit to the world-class Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens is complete without having lunch at Bet’s Fish Fry. Perfectly fried, immaculately fresh haddock, hand cut fries, homemade sauces (get the dill sauce!) and Bet herself is a national treasure. Picnic tables, drinks out of vending machines. The small (half) size is more than most people can eat.
Can you tell I had a good summer?? Please add your Maine food recommendations!