As many of you know...I grew up going to Maine every summer. I've seen restaurants come and go like the frothy waves on the beach. I've also seen the resurgence of lots of places....an unfortunate few that never made it...and a lot of spots that have stood the test of time. So...this post will be just a little different...the following are my favorite places to eat in the southern tier of Maine. If you ever find yourself travelling Down East...simply refer to this can't-miss list and you'll be wicked good.
Bintliff's Ogunquit: SO many varieties of Eggs Benny, your head will be swimming in Hollandaise. Their homemade slow-cooked Corned Beef Hash is beyond compare. Seriously...this is NOT your run-of-the-mill corned beef hash...it's got huge chunks of slowly cooked corned beef, along with slivers of potatoes and onions. It is...in a word...divine. Topped with poached eggs and hollandaise? Well...I won't tell your cardiologist if you don't.
All Day Breakfast: Just good old-fashioned fare. Highlights include Maine Blueberry Pancakes and Irish Benedict. During the season, there WILL be a wait, so plan accordingly.
Amore Breakfast: Located on the road leading to Perkins Cove in Ogunquit. HIghlights include Bananas Foster Stuffed French Toast, Lemon Bread French Toast, a variety of Bennies and Omelettes, and a ROCKING good cup of coffee.
The Maine Diner: Pretty much a great option for every meal...but a personal favorite is the "2's Are Wild"...2 eggs, 2 bacon strips, 2 sausage links, 2 pieces of toast and 2 of the best wild maine blueberry pancakes you will ever eat. Their home fries are also a don't miss...red potatoes and just the perfect seasoning.
Congdon's: World-famous for their donuts so if you're in a donuts and coffee mood...this is your nirvana. My fave is the toasted coconut, but every variety pretty much kills it. I GREW up coming to this place...and it has stood the test of time. Often a wait...so get your donuts to-go and eat them on the beach.
Arundel Wharf: When Jeff and I head up...this is our first stop (provided the weather is good) Why? Because the expansive deck at The Arundel Wharf is one of THE most relaxing spots in all of Kennebunkport. Their wine list is perfectly fine for this sort of casual spot...they ALWAYS have a nice, zippy kiwi sauvie on the list, and a lot of times it's a brand you can't get in New York State, so that's cool. Their Lobster Stew, touched with a splash of cognac is to die for, as is their Fried Haddock Sammy. A MUST-visit.
Barnacle Billy's: This is another one of those places I GREW up visiting...so I have a soft spot. It's not for everyone. If you're looking for a place to be pampered and waited on hand and foot...this is NOT for you. However, if you don't mind placing your own order, and fetching it when your number is called out (inevitably, by a super cute tanned young man with a wicked accent)...all while enjoying the view of Perkins Cove and some of the best steamers? You'll be right at home. Their strawberry shortcake also rocks.
Alisson's: It's great year-round...BUT...it's particularly great if you find yourself in Kport in the Fall and Winter months. Not as crowded, same great food, and ALWAYS the Pats game on. A huge variety of seafood, sandwiches, burgers, and other pub fare. I like "A Fish Called Wanda"...broiled (yeah, right) or fried haddock with melted cheddar on a toasted bun. But...you really can't go wrong with anything here. Eat at the bar and chat up the super friendly bartender who's been there for years and grab yourself an Alisson's baseball cap to commemorate your visit.
Forbes: Can you imagine I used to hate going here when I was younger and always wanted fancy fancy fancy? True story...my Mom can attest to this. As I grew older and more appreciative of simple done well...my fondness for Forbes grew. I never understood my Mother's affinity for the Forbes "Scrambleburger" when I was younger. Now? I make it myself at home. Go figure. I guess even food snobs grow up. Their fried clams are out of this world, as is their Chocolate Frappe.
Mabel's Lobster Claw: It's been there forever...and I JUST tried it for the first time 2 weeks ago when I was up with Mom. It's not the kind of place that LOOKS like you'd need a reservation. Looks can be deceiving. SO popular and world-famous is this little lobster hut that they routinely have to turn customers away if they don't have a reserved table. A favorite of former President Bush and Barbara, who are often seen dining there during the summer months. A surprisingly great wine list, which is always a plus for me. Fresh, fresh...like just off the boat fresh... fish. Peanut butter ice cream pie...or one of Mabel's blueberry pie slices for dessert. Make a rezzie.
Arrows: No...it's not located with a view of the ocean. It IS, however, nestled in the woods just a few minutes outside of the main thoroughfare of Ogunquit, surrounded by their gorgeous kitchen gardens. Award-winning chefs Clark and Mark are often actually HERE...like cooking and chatting with diners! Imagine that! On your way in, an amuse bouche du jour is offered to you, which makes you just wish every place offered this lovely representative bite of plates to come. Their resident sommelier, at the time of this writing, Danielle, is eager to offer her expertise on which wine to sip with dinner. I don't need help on this front...but will often just let her surprise me with her picks and have never been disappointed. This is a serious, special occasion, money is no object place..so plan accordingly. Rezzies are a must and jackets are required for gentlemen. If you want a less fussy peek into their culinary clatch...head to MC Perkins Cove...same owners, same great atmosphere...slightly less formal. Both awesome. Hey...they didn't win all those James Beard awards for nothing.
Hurricane: Just such a lovely little spot...and one where you don't have to dress to the nines to dine that way. Well-appointed and very tasteful decor...no nautical kitsch here...rather, ceiling fans crafted from fishing rods and beautiful seascape murals and dark wood seating and bar. A classic menu, and by that I mean, Baked Stuffed Lobster with a succulent and rich seafood stuffing...Tenderloin with a Bacon-Bleu Cheese Demi...Rack of Lamb...you get the idea. One of my favorite things at Hurricane is...wait for it...their SALAD! I know! Caaa-razy! But, the perfect mix of baby greens, roasted shallots, pistachios and peppercorn dressing is probably my favorite salad anywhere. Nice wine list, although not really pushing the creativity envelope, but nice nonetheless. White Chocolate-Macadamia Nut Bread Pudding is my favorite finisher here. Rezzies recommended.
Clay Hill Farm: Another old-school favorite of mine. I still remember visiting when I was WAY younger and being intrigued by the strange man with the little necklace. Of course, I would later learn that this strange man was actually the sommelier...and the necklace, a tastevin. Even at that young age, I was mesmerized as he described his wine suggestions with such flowery language. I suppose we should have known back then that my path in life would go to the grapes. Well...not much has changed through the years. Sure--the decor has been updated a bit and the menu has evolved, as is necessary with changing times. But..the important stuff, namely the QUALITY, has remained. The Lobster Bisque is smooth as glass...the whiskey smoked shrimp cocktail nothing sort of genius...the lobster and clams en croute an innovative spin...and the Pork Filet Mignon might make you forget about the original. Rezzies.
Cape Arundel Inn: Located on a hill on Ocean Drive in Kennebunkport, get a window table and you'll enjoy the most spectacular view of the Atlantic, and might even dine next to G-Dubs Daddy, GHWB. This is not a place where you enjoy a drink at the bar while deciding what you'd like to eat. There IS no bar to speak of. Rather, there is a "living room" and porch where you can enjoy your cocktail or starter sip of wine, in the event that your table is not yet ready for you. Rezzies an ABSOLUTE must and wear your nice dress. The menu is constantly changing, depending on the whim and whimsy of the Chef.
One Dock at The Kennebunkport Inn: Chef Gordon Ramsay's favorite meal when he was in Kennebunkport was enjoyed here. But...THIS gal knew about it long before the ornery (albeit immensely talented) Chef did. Start with the trio of ceviche or the succulent lobster cakes...continue with the Seared Lobster or the Slow-Roasted Ribeye...finish with the Lemon Cheesecake or Maine Blueberry Buckle. Great wine list and a nice, cozy bar area to sip your cognac afterwards.
Big Daddy's: For some of the best ice cream
Sushi Black: SERIOUSLY great sushi right in Ogunquit
Pedro's: Some of the freshest and best Mexican I've had.
Joshua's: a nice restaurant too...but VERY tasty wild maine blueberry martinis.
Enjoy and if you find yourself lucky enough to visit any of these spots...give my regards to Maine!
There are many things in this world that I love. At the tippy top of this list are Maine and Mexican food. Last weekend, Mom needed some help getting the ducks in order at her home on Drake's Island....(haha...just realized how funny that sounded)...so I was a very willing assistant. It's been a while since I've been able to visit....the working hours for a retail shop owner are long...and I rarely am able to get away for a weekend. Needless to say...(insert happy face here). Mom shares my madness for Mexican and had told me about Pedro's before. This was my choice for our first dinner of the weekend. If the top photo didn't already have you salivating...better grab a napkin now.
Don't say I didn't warn you. Ok--on to the show. The decor at Pedro's is just plain fun. Yeah...you expect bright colors splashed everywhere at most Mexican restaurants...but...sombreros on the ceiling? A super cute touch that my hat-loving self appreciated. There is a rather large bar area as well, something you really don't encounter that often in Maine...and something that will serve Pedro's well, I think. Hubster and I are BIG bar-eaters and always like it when we have that option when dining out.
The margarita offerings were fresh, fun and inventive. The "La Saracita" (pictured above) was the perfect mix of Milagro Rep, Patron Citronge, fresh orange and lime juices and just a splash of housemade sour. Perfectly made. Additional options include the Pedro's take on the ubiquitous "skinny" margarita...except THIS one actually tastes good and is made from Milagro Silver, agave nectar and fresh lime. See? Easy to create your own skinny drink!!! But--I digress. Their "El Pepino" includes Hornitos Plata, muddled cucumber, fresh lime and agave nectar; the "Margarita en Fuego" is a delightfully wicked 3 chile infused little number...just the right amount of heat. Their featured special margarita of the evening was a Strawberry Hibiscus...a touch too sweet for ME...but would really make strawberry margarita sippers silly.
I judge MANY a Mexican restaurant by the quality of their guac and salsa...if THOSE are well-made, the rest of the menu usually is too. So...we chose the guac and the nachos grande (without any add-ons of meat options including chipotle braised pork, chicken, grilled steak, roasted corn or beans) as our prelude to Pedro's. The nachos (pic above) were NOT of the heavy melted cheese-laden ilk. With just a little salsa fresca, guac, fresh jalapenos, and chipotle crema...with some queso fresca scattered prettily on top, these were a SUPERB and light interpretation of the standard. Excellent.
The entree options were equally excellent. My Chicken Tinga Tacos were nothing short of extraordinary. Stay tuned for my replication of these in the Fare Test Kitchen. On the advice of our server, i also ordered the Queso Fundido, which I was told is a House Specialty. Here, I got my gobs of melty cheese daily requirement and then some. Was wishing the house made sausage packed a touch more heat, but I do understand that a lot of places like this must take ALL palates into consideration..and on that front, the dish delivered. Mom's Chile Relleno met with her approval as well. I was stuffed like a burrito at this point, but inquired about dessert options nevertheless. They offered the cinnamon-spiced Churros, as well as a coconut panna cotta and a dense Mexican chocolate cake, spiked with Mexican cinnamon. I took a pass on dessert this time and enjoyed the sweetness of the strawberry hibiscus margarita to satisfy my dessert craving...THIS time. Honestly, I just think I was so tired from the drive up that I was afraid I would end up face down in my panna cotta. NOT a good look.
If you find yourself fortunate enough to be headed up to Kport...and you dig Mexican...Pedro's does not disappoint. I would have been perfectly thrilled dining at Pedro's for the remainder of the weekend. Verdad.
Winners: Chicken Tinga Tacos, La Saracita Margarita, Nachos
Just Missed: Guac (wanted a touch more spice), Strawberry Hibiscus Margarita (wanted a touch less sweet)
Scratches: NONE to report.
Often, when it's not yet the busy bustle of track season, Hubster and I will venture to points unknown...in search of a great new restaurant to sample. This past Saturday, we did just that. On the recommendation of one of my wine representatives, whose opinion I trust, we meandered down to Red Hook, New York to try Mercato. Unsure of how long it would take us to get there, we arrived a touch early before they began service. A short stroll away, we discovered Flatiron and bellied up to their beautiful bar to enjoy a cocktail before dinner at Mercato. We almost never left! Their concoction of Tito's vodka with pink peppercorn infused simple syrup and lemonade was the ideal sipper for the hot and sunny day. (Definitely going there to try their menu next time) But...we were there to try Mercato this day and strolled back to the eatery. Warmly greeted by Brooke, we were escorted to our table. This is a homey sort of place, for sure. No fancy floors or central air here...no. But, it does have a vibe to it that made me absolutely know that I was about to enjoy food prepared from the soul. Our server was aware of our interest and expertise in wine and left the list for me to peruse at leisure. As I expected, the list is very heavy on Italian offerings...which is just marvelous with me. I ADORE cool, esoteric Italians. Hell...I even married one. Sure...there was a Pinot Grigio listed...but I was delighted to find Falanghina...Greco di Tufo...Pecorino...Gavi..Fiano..not to mention 4 delightful rosato options. The reds were equally thoughtful. Yes, yes, they had Chianti..but Sagrantino? Teroldego? Cannonau? I knew if they paid as much attention to detail with their food as they do with their wine offerings, I would be one very happy customer. Since we were taking our time deciding on our food, I went ahead and ordered a bottle of rosato. I have a passion for dry pink wines and preach my passion to all who will listen, or at least pretend to. So...a nice chilled rosato on a warm and sunny day was perfection. We decided on the Spinetta Sangiovese Rosato. With its salmon pink hue and a bouquet of apricot and red fruits, this was a wine that I knew would complement our entire meal, no matter what dishes we decided upon.
In order to get the most representation from the menu, we chose 2 antipasti, a primi, and a secondi. Begininning with the Coach Farm Goat and Pecorino Gnudi over a Kale Puree. This was heavenly...the pillowy texture of the gnudi and the slight tang from the goat cheese coupled with the slight bitterness of the kale puree was the perfect foil for the wine, as I suspected it would be. In fact, this was my favorite dish of the evening. We continued with one of the evening's special starters...prosciutto wrapped asparagus with egg, truffle emulsion and parmesan shavings. I do admit that I am a card carrying truffle fanatic. The earthy and salty flavors...with both crunchy and silken textures was perfectly balanced. A great dish and one that I will be attempting to replicate in my own kitchen very soon.
Continuing with our Primi...Rigatoncini Carbonara with Egg, Guanciale (unsmoked Italian bacon), Grana Padano and Pecorino Romano. I find it difficult to find places that actually prepare their pasta al dente. "To the tooth" should be exactly that. Here...it was. Many people might have found the texture of this pasta to be a little too al dente, but in fact, it was truly what "al dente" should be. Another pet peeve of mine is overly sauced pasta preparations. Once again, I was pleased when the pasta was the star of this dish, not being overwhelmed by excess sauce. Do not misunderstand...i love a good sauce as much as the next girl...probably more...but the pasta is not meant to SWIM in sauce...it is meant to merely take a quick dip in the shallow end. This dish spent the appropriate time in the pool.
We moved on to the Branzino. While the fish was expertly prepared, the side was a bit disappointing. The parsley potatoes seemed like an afterthought really. While al dente is my preferred pasta preparation...it's NOT preferable for my potato. Also, a decided lack of seasoning on the potatoes hurt my foodster feelings. Certainly not representative of the meal, so perhaps it was just a mea culpa. Had the Gnudi been served on the side, I would have turned culinary cartwheels.
To finish..we chose a dessert on the lighter side. I love Panna Cotta in all forms. This was airy, light, and accompanied by macerated sour cherries. Nice. With a nice little glass of Moscato d'Asti (the REAL stuff...from Piedmont...you know...with acidity and flavor??), the Panna Cotta was a great finish to an almost flawless meal. In the mood to take a little day trip? Mercato is worth the drive...and then some.