We'd bought 14 of the heirlooms, with thoughts of a seaside picnic. We meant to stop at eight—two each—but couldn't help ourselves. They were the most glorious tomatoes, showing every hue from bottle-green to burgundy, and heavy with juice, like water balloons on the verge of bursting. The idea was to save them till Kennebunkport, three hours away.
That notion lasted 20 minutes. We had no plates, but we had a plastic knife. In the backseat, Laura sliced the tomatoes in half and handed them out for us to tip back, squeeze, and drink, as you would a grapefruit, then devour whole. The tomatoes were from Chase's Daily, a farmstand-slash-restaurant-slash-revelation in Belfast, Maine. I would call them the best midday snack of our trip—but then, we'd said the same about yesterday's crab roll, and the previous day's Camembert, and the previous afternoon's oysters.
Last summer I combed the Maine coast on a two-week culinary tour. As fortification I brought along my wife, Nilou, and two food-obsessed friends. Mark is from New England, but Laura, a California native, had never been north of Boston. Our goal was to convert her to the cult of Maine. Me, I grew up 20 minutes from the beaches of York and Ogunquit. What taco stands were to Laura's youth, lobster pounds were to mine.
Lobster is still the go-to order here, but there's so much more to Maine's pantry: artisanal breads and farmstead cheeses, zesty herbs and buttery greens, gold-glowing squash blossoms and sweet corn, wild mushrooms and blueberries. Even the humblest kitchens have access to luscious peekytoe crab, plump mussels, and absurdly fresh fish.
What Maine also has, more than ever before, is a roster of talented chefs who are redefining local cooking. Sure, plenty of restaurants still dish out retro Yankee resort food (maple-glazed salmon, potato-crusted lamb) for people like, say, the senior Bushes, whose portraits hang by the door. Now, however, you can find a bold and inventive contemporary cuisine that never places novelty before flavor, gimmickry over essence.
But hold up. First I have to tell you about the oysters.
DROWNING, WITH SHALLOTS
The Damariscotta River is a tidal estuary that juts into Maine's central coast. Two thousand years ago, oysters thrived here; along the banks remain vast shell middens left by Native American tribes. By the 1970's the oysters were long gone. Yet to a handful of aqua-farmers, the Damariscotta seemed an ideal spot for cultivation: today the river yields 23 million oysters each year.
One of those pioneers was Dick Clime, who founded Dodge Cove Marine Farm in 1977. To my mind, Clime's oysters are the finest in New England. Strong and hardy, the bivalves also retain their water (or "liquor") exceptionally well. Clime's harvest finds its way to oyster bars across the nation, but I've never had fresher ones than at Scales, a winning little raw bar in Portland. (It has closed temporarily but will soon reopen in a new location on the waterfront.) Knocking back a Dodge Cove was like diving headfirst into the ocean and being walloped by a wave—a bracing, briny shot of the chilly Atlantic, backed by a captivating sweetness and the tingle of the house mignonette. "It's like drowning, with shallots," was Mark's euphoric description. After two we were practically afloat; after three we considered donning snorkels.
Portland claims to have as many restaurants per capita as San Francisco, which may or may not be true. For a city of only 64,000, it certainly has more than its share of great ones. Ever since the eighties, when quirky bistros like Café Always and Alberta's were raising the bar on New England cooking, Portland has been a magnet for aspiring chefs. What's not to love, after all?With its mix of stately roseate façades and dingy sailors' haunts, its brine-reeking wharves and its I. M. Pei & Partnersdesigned art museum, Portland nicely straddles the line between highbrow and hardscrabble.
The city's most inspired cooking can be found at Hugo's, where chef Rob Evans's technique owes much to the bold inventions of Thomas Keller. (Evans worked at Keller's French Laundry in Napa before moving to Portland and taking over Hugo's in 2000.) Forgive the eighties-kitsch interior and focus your attention on the food, which is arty, strange, and utterly luxurious. First up for us: an espresso cup rimmed with popcorn dust (!), containing a shot of lobster-and-corn bisque laced with chorizo oil. Next came Evans's masterstroke: an heirloom-tomato plate, in theory, except the tomatoes were delicately peeled, accompanied by a quivering, silken panna cotta of lemon olive oil and tomato water, then dressed with white anchovies and a Thai basilinfused vinaigrette.
Evans riffs on familiar combinations—say, lamb in mint sauce, with carrots and squash—only in novel forms. In this case, the lamb saddle came with a luscious carrot mousse and a spearmint-zucchini "cake." Both side dishes were like understudies outshining the original cast. Therein lies Evans's talent: his creations seem hypercerebral on paper (it took our waitress 37 seconds to "explain" the duck) but are ultimately about pure flavor. Meanwhile, ingredients that sound extraneous are revealed as essential. Take that duck, for instance—the breast cooked sous-vide, the leg slow-roasted, both tender and moist—paired with golden beets and spiced plums. The fundamentals were excellent. Add the surprising crunch of diced water chestnuts and the complementary bitterness of kola-nut froth, and the dish was transcendent.
I visit Portland several times a year and go to Fore Street whenever I'm in town—not to trace the culinary vanguard but to be sated with honest, earthbound cooking. Over a 10-year run, Fore Street has become Maine's answer to Chez Panisse, with chef Sam Hayward as Alice Waters—champion of local producers, proponent of sustainable fishing and farming, sultan of the greenmarket. For Maine farmers, a namecheck on Fore Street's menu is equivalent to a spot in an Oscar-party gift bag.
Even on weeknights, you might wait an hour for one of Fore Street's copper-topped tables. Faded brick walls, burlap sacks, and unfinished beams set the tone in the dining room, a former garage for oil tankers. The male clientele is clad in regulation New England guy-wear—Top-Siders, Red Sox caps, khaki shorts with belts. (Ahh, my people!) In the open kitchen a dozen cooks, also wearing Sox caps, tend to flame-licked turnspits and stoke a roaring brick oven.
Out of that 900-degree oven come Fore Street's famous roasted mussels, shrouded in steam: juicy, raft-cultured gems from nearby Bangs Island. "We're so spoiled by Maine mussels that we never use anyone else's," Hayward says. "If they're not available, we just take mussels off the menu." Splashed with vermouth and cooked with garlic-and-lemon butter, parsley, and toasted almonds, they're the platonic ideal of shellfish.
Despite Fore Street's proximity to the sea—the misty wharves are visible through the windows—Hayward's menu focuses on meat and fowl. We were wowed by spatchcocked, wood-grilled harlequin quail. Spatchcocked means the bird is butterflied to allow for faster cooking time and moister meat. Dryness was a nonissue, however, since the quail had also been basted in a stock of shiitakes, veal, and duck fat, then finished with I don't want to know how much butter. Bring Lipitor; the result is fabulous and worth the risk.
In Portland's highly democratic dining scene, Erik Desjarlais's cooking can be described as defiantly uncasual. Desjarlais opened Bandol in 2003, when he was just 26. Despite rave reviews, his often brilliant $69 tasting menus—with their predilection for offal—never found a wide audience in Portland. Nor did the hushed, Vivaldian tone of the dining room. Desjarlais abandoned the original space last fall, and at press time planned to reopen at a new location this fall.
At the original Bandol we were knocked out by three—count 'em, three—amuses, including a sublime fried oyster in a cucumber consommé. The pan-roasted sweetbreads were remarkably light; the succulent leg of lamb was matched with a delightful cassoulet of leeks and cranberry beans. But the highlight was Desjarlais's way with the cheese course. Translucent plum slices, like shards of stained glass, complemented a wedge of creamy, mushroomy Constant Bliss from Vermont. A sharp Neal's Yard Cheshire came drizzled with wildflower honey and scattered with diced pear. Even the fig tart was topped with a dollop of chalky-yet-sweet chèvre ice cream.
While seeking a new address for Bandol, Desjarlais opened an informal soup joint called Ladle, confirming a new trend in Portland: name chefs starting casual lunch spots. Sam Hayward gets his ya-ya's out at Scales. And Rob Evans of Hugo's finds his outlet at Duckfat, an all-day eatery that's as homey as Hugo's is refined: bar stools, rose stems in Coke bottles, and a communal Magnetic Poetry board (today's entry: I AM NOT YOUR TROUSERS). The kitchen is staffed by friendly dudes in cargo shorts who crank My Morning Jacket while assembling the city's best sandwiches, including a fall-apart duck-confit panino with black-currant chutney. There are also fries, twice cooked in duck fat and seasoned with a powder of dried capers, onions, parsley, and garlic—umami heaven in a paper cone. And for dessert, a root-beer float made with Duckfat's fizzy concoction of Italian soda water and sassafras. Add two scoops of fragrant vanilla ice cream from Smiling Hill Farm, and presto—a tumblerful of childhood.
Smiling Hill Farm, it turned out, was just a 10-minute drive from downtown Portland. It's been owned by the Knight family since the 1700's, but only recently has its dairy been gaining broader renown. Besides that fantastic ice cream, Danny Meyer now sources Smiling Hill's butter for his restaurant, The Modern, in New York. The farm is also home to one of Maine's top cheese makers, Silvery Moon Creamery.
A HEAD OF CABBAGE
Farther up the coast, Maine's shoreline becomes craggier and the Atlantic breezes more insistent, and one's thoughts inevitably turn to sauerkraut. Generations have made the pilgrimage to Morse's, a little red farmhouse in North Waldoboro.
This area was settled by German immigrants adept at farming and fermenting cabbage. Continuing in this tradition was Virgil Morse, who began selling his sauerkraut commercially in 1918; his family kept up the business for decades until David Swetnam and Jacquelyn Sawyer took over in 2000. Not much has changed.
The best sauerkraut is made from sweet, ivory-hued "winter" cabbage, which holds its flavor better than its more attractive, green-tinged cousin. Here it's fermented in plastic drums in a frigid storage room, slowing down the process—"the longer it takes to make, the better the kraut," says Swetnam—then transferred to wooden barrels. The genial staff will scoop out pints into flimsy plastic tubs that inevitably leak when you carry them on to, say, an airplane. (Trust me on this.) No matter: the result is tangy and assertive, clean and still crunchy. This is raw, unpasteurized, "live" kraut, almost too good to use as a mere garnish.
BACK TO THE GARDEN
A salad is a salad, you say. But not in Maine, not in late summer. The $7 salad we had at Primo was, by any measure, above and beyond. On the surface it was an unassuming tangle of summer lettuces, subtly dressed with a red-wine vinaigrette. But tucked within were powerful herbs from Primo's own garden—verbena, basil, mint, fennel, cinnamon basil—so that each forkful was like slamming hits of herbal extract. Mark sat dumbfounded for minutes, ruminating over a shiso leaf.
If chef and co-owner Melissa Kelly weren't a star in her own right, her garden could carry the day. I've followed Kelly since she was at the great Old Chatham Sheepherding Inn near the Berkshires. After leaving in 1999, she and her pastry-chef fiancé, Price Kushner, ended up in Rockland, Maine, where they bought and renovated a gingerbread Victorian, carving out several homey dining rooms across two floors. Primo (named for Kelly's grandfather from Bologna) is nominally an Italian restaurant, though not so you'd recognize it. Consider Kelly's take on, er, spaghetti and meatballs: bright-green arugula linguine cooked al dente and an ethereal tomato-veal-and-pork ragù topped with feathery wisps of fennel. Every dish manages to seem light and delicate while carrying the most robust and assertive flavors—none more so than what comes from that magnificent garden.
Kelly gets the bulk of attention from out-of-staters, but another young chef has been causing a stir in nearby Camden. One of the nation's most photogenic seaside resorts, Camden remains a favored retreat for the Rockefellers and their ilk. Most chefs up here remain stuck in Ye Olde New England mode—but not Brian Hill of Francine Bistro. Hill got his start in Boston, working under Todd English at Olives when it was still good; after stints in L.A., Hawaii, and New York, he washed up in Camden in 2002 and took a job at Francine. Back then it was just a modest 25-seat café with a single hot plate for a stove. This didn't stop Hill from dazzling local foodies with improbable hot-plate feasts. Hill eventually bought the place, installed a proper kitchen, and drew a devoted following. The night we stopped in, there was an hour wait for a table; James Rockefeller Jr. was ahead of us in line. But Francine is hardly posh. The wooden tables were bare except for tiny planters of chive blossoms.
Hill sources most of his ingredients at the Camden farmers' market: broiler chickens from Mainely Poultry in Warren; organic beef from Caldwell Farms in Turner ("the finest I've tasted, anywhere," Hill raves); and wild-foraged chanterelles from the Oyster Creek Mushroom Co. in Damariscotta. Like me, Hill is obsessed with fungi. "Maine's chanterelles are actually better than the European variety—they give off this intense apricot-jam aroma the second they hit the pan," he says. "Black trumpets, too. I've never found anything as satisfying as truffles, but these come closest to that big, animal flavor." That evening the black trumpets found their way into a marvelously savory spinach soup. A cluster of oyster mushrooms lent a peppery bite to the sautéed calamari. Hill's cooking is rooted less in the sea than in the funky flavors of the earth; for instance, the powerful tastes of rosemary and braised bacon that accompanied the seared scallops.
Odd coincidence: before he donned his chef's whites, Hill was the guitarist for Heretix, one of Boston's great unsung bands and a favorite of mine and Mark's back in college. We both recognized him as soon as he stepped out of the kitchen: "Wait, weren't you ?" Hill was a talented guitarist, but he's even better behind the stoves—alt-rock's loss, gastronomy's gain.
THE OTHER HARD SHELL
The cove-studded, wildflower-laced Blue Hill Peninsula is famous as the home turf of E. B. White, Helen and Scott Nearing, and Robert McCloskey, who together go a long way in describing the region's bucolic appeal as well as its demographic. Pottery studios, antiques emporiums, glassblowers' studios, yarn boutiques: Blue Hill is heaven for some, twee for others, and absolute hell for anyone between the ages of 6 and 22. I was a sixth-grader when my parents first dragged me here on vacation, and besides the cool sailboats, the only thing that kept me from bolting was the crab rolls.
Smaller than the familiar Jonah crab, peekytoe crab are endemic to Maine and proliferate in the inshore waters around Blue Hill. Until recently, sand crabs were reviled as worthless pests with a penchant for stealing lobster bait; fishermen called them "picked toes" for the shape of the two hind legs, and usually tossed them back. Then, in the early 1980's, Rod Mitchell, founder, along with his wife, Cynde, of Portland's Browne Trading Co., discovered how tasty picked-toe crabmeat could be when cooked and shelled correctly. "Of course, the name wasn't very appealing, so I started selling them as 'peeky-toe,'" he recalls. A quarter-century later, peekytoe has become a prized catch; Mainers will tell you it's even sweeter than lobster. "Wish I'd patented the name," Mitchell says with a laugh.
Around Blue Hill, everyone's got a favorite crab joint—Crosby's in Bucksport or Jordan's over in Ellsworth—but you can find a great peekytoe roll anywhere. Take the Bayview, a screen-doored trailer parked on Route 175 in Penobscot, where owner Larry Reynolds greets you in a Down East drawl so extreme you wonder if he's putting you on.
To mix the perfect martini, Winston Churchill would reputedly glance across the room at a bottle of vermouth and then pour the gin. The same idea holds for a crab roll. Unadorned peekytoe meat is sweet and creamy enough; any mayo should remain sealed in the jar. Reynolds will add Miracle Whip, but tell him there's no need. Mixed only with a little pepper, served on a toasted hot-dog bun, his crab roll is outstanding—and a bargain at just $7. "Plus the gov'nuh's shayuh," Reynolds says, adding 49 cents tax. "Heck, he's making a bettah mah-gin than we ah!"
THE FARMERS AND THEIR DAUGHTERS
The harbor town of Belfast is one of Maine's overlooked showpieces. Its sloping main street is lined with neo-Gothic and Neoclassical architecture; candy-cane barber poles and soda fountains still occupy the ornate storefronts. But don't take its primness as mere tourist fodder: Belfast is a vital working town, and Chase's Daily is its buzzing hub.
The Chase family—father Addison, mother Penny, and daughters Meg and Phoebe—owns a 500-acre farm in nearby Freedom. That's right, Freedom. Six years ago they took over Belfast's 1888 Odd Fellows Hall, whose ground level is a plank-floored, tin-ceilinged warehouse space. It now resembles a SoHo gallery; funky artwork hangs on the brick walls. A 49-seat restaurant occupies the front half. Out back is a retail market selling produce from the Chases' farm. Shafts of sunlight stream through the tall windows, illuminating bins of vegetables like some ray-of-God tableau: scarlet and fuchsia turnip greens, yellow and purple baby carrots. I challenge you to locate a more tantalizing assortment of produce, outside of a Dutch still life. (This was where we found the aforementioned killer tomatoes.)
The all-day restaurant and bakery fills up with an eclectic crowd: farmers, Feldenkrais practitioners, meter maids on coffee breaks. Three of the waitresses when we visited were ruddy-cheeked farm girls; the other had a Bettie Page tattoo. We came for breakfast (omelettes with roasted sweet onions, sautéed Swiss chard, and fontina) and, not believing our luck, returned two hours later for lunch (a frothy, chilled soup of potato, leek, and fennel, sprinkled with zesty chives—all of it from the Chases' farm). Only after we left did we realize that everything on the menu was vegetarian.
LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION
Maine is blessed with a thousand knockout restaurant locations but never enough restaurateurs to properly exploit them. The exception: MC Perkins Cove in the tidy resort of Ogunquit, site of Maine's finest sand beach. Perkins Cove itself is an uncannily pretty harbor, with a whitewashed wooden drawbridge that's cranked up by hand when a tall mast glides in.
For years, the best spot in the Cove was occupied by the late and not-at-all-lamented Hurricanes, which stood on a rocky promontory with views across tidal pools to the roiling ocean beyond. Last summer the site was taken over by chefs Mark Gaier and Clark Frasier (hence the initials in the restaurant's new name), who earned national renown at Arrows, also in Ogunquit. Over the course of two decades I've had great meals at Arrows, but on a recent visit I found the food overthought, overpriced, and underwhelming. MC Perkins Cove goes for the more casual vibe of a seafood shack and succeeds admirably.
The two-story space is nearly all windows, with minimal decoration (that view is drama enough). Service is assured and unforced. And the kitchen works magic with coastal classics: luscious crab cakes, steamed mussels, plank-roasted cod. Gaier and Frasier have a knack for sourcing superb ingredients (the double-tiered shellfish tower is remarkably fresh), while most of the produce comes from the vast garden at Arrows. The chefs inject just enough creativity to keep things interesting. Take the deconstructed clam chowder: a timbale of succulent clams and herbed potatoes forms an island in the buttery milk broth, which is topped with a swirl of paprika oil and a sprig of fragrant thyme. I grew up on the chowder served at Barnacle Billy's down the street—but MC's reinvention made me consider switching sides.
Look, I love lobster as much as—no, way more than the next guy. I come from a line of New Englanders who eat the slimy green tomalley and knock back "claw shots" to savor the remaining juice. But I'll admit that lobster doesn't dress up well. Maine menus are rife with whimsical takes—lobster spring rolls, lobster @#$%ing nachos—but do any chefs improve on the classic, saltwater-steamed preparation?Hardly ever.
Jonathan Cartwright does. The chef at Kennebunk's White Barn Inn has developed a repertoire of inventive lobster riffs that are clever but never cloying. Funny, too, because WBI is a resolutely old-school place, with linen-topped tables and a tuxedoed pianist. The menu spells out the prices ("eighty-nine dollars" for a four-course prix fixe). Jackets are required; if you forget yours they'll issue you a spare—invariably navy with brass buttons. And service is impeccably formal: our waiter said things like, "I'll give you a moment to explore the menu," then returned to ask, "Are you tempted to enjoy anything you see?" It's a throwback in every way, except for Cartwright's cooking.
You can order lobster for every course and never tire of the flavor. Our meal began with a sensational amuse: a coddled egg served in the shell with poached lobster medallions and a subtle, not-too-sweet maple compote. Next came a zesty lobster gazpacho, sharpened with roasted pine nuts and accompanied by a miniature lobster roll on warm brioche. A powerful grapefruit sorbet served as a palate cleanser (another retro touch). Then came Cartwright's signature dish: a 1 3/4-pound lobster removed from its shell and steamed in a reduction of Cognac, cream, butter, and coral (lobster roe), then served atop a nest of white fettuccine with snow peas, carrots, and ginger. The dish is richer than the couple at the next table and ridiculously good.
But let's face it: coddled eggs and Cognac are kind of cheating, no?Sometimes you simply need a great lobster roll. For that, you head a quarter-mile down the road and queue up at the Clam Shack, next to the Kennebunkport Bridge. It's been said by every food writer who ever passed through here, but the Clam Shack's lobster roll really is the best in Maine. Actually, it's tied for first with the one from Red's Eats, another roadside stand up the coast in Wiscasset. Both are generously filled (Red's claims to use an entire one-pound lobster per sandwich). And each comes with your choice of mayo or drawn butter—or, if you're insane, both. Both make a point of shredding the meat by hand instead of by knife, to avoid the taint of oxidation; the resultant morsels are pleasingly intact and clean-tasting.
The benches outside were occupied, so we ate the rolls while leaning against the railing of the bridge, watching the yachts and sailboats bob gently in the Kennebunkport Marina, alternating hits of salty air with tangy, sweet bites of lobster. In the end, it was the Clam Shack lobster roll that proved the tipping point in our Maine-indoctrination experiment: Laura was thoroughly converted. We're all going back for another go-round next month. See you at Chase's—and, for God's sake, save us some tomatoes.
Peter Jon Lindberg is a T+L editor-at-large.
19 Essential Maine Tastes
1 Crab roll from Bayview Market & Takeout (Penobscot)
2 Heirloom tomato salad from Chase's Daily (Belfast)
3 Pick-your-own blueberries from Sewall's Orchards (Lincolnville)
4 Any dish with foraged mushrooms at Francine Bistro (Camden)
5 House-grown greens and herbs at Primo (Rockland)
6 Sauerkraut at Morse's (North Waldoboro)
7 The lobster roll at Red's Eats (Wiscasset)
8 Silvery Moon Camembert (Westbrook)
9 Gingerbread from Standard Baking Co. (Portland)
10 Lamb-and-feta flatbread at 555 (Portland)
11 Olive-oil panna cotta at Hugo's (Portland)
12 Belgian frites and a root-beer float at Duckfat (Portland)
13 Roasted mussels at Fore Street (Portland)
14 Smoked salmon from Browne Trading Co. (Portland)
15 Lobster with Cognac and coral butter sauce at White Barn Inn (Kennebunk)
16 Fried clams and a lobster roll at the Clam Shack (Kennebunkport)
17 Soup at Joshua's (Wells)
18 Classic clam chowder at Barnacle Billy's (Ogunquit)
19 Deconstructed clam chowder at MC Perkins Cove (Ogunquit)
GETTING THERE AND AROUND
All of the places mentioned in this story are within a three-hour drive north or south of Portland, Maine's largest city. Portland International Jetport is served by USAirways, Continental, Northwest, Delta Connection, United Express, and, as of this spring, JetBlue. There's also a decent airport in Bangor that's more convenient to Camden, Rockport, and Blue Hill.
WHERE TO EAT
50 & 70 Perkins Cove Rd., Ogunquit; 207/646-5575; www.barnbilly.com; lobster rolls and clam chowder for two $40.
Bayview Market & Takeout
Bayview Rd. (Rte. 175), Penobscot; 207/326-4882; crab rolls for two $14.
Browne Trading Co.
New England's finest seafood market sells incredible smoked salmon, Iranian caviar, and a dizzying range of delicacies for picnics. 260 Commercial St., Portland; 207/775-7560; www.browne-trading.com.
96 Main St., Belfast; 207/338-0555; lunch for two $35.
2 Western Ave. (Rte. 9), Kennebunkport; 207/967-2560; lobster rolls for two $27.
43 Middle St., Portland; 207/774-8080; www.duckfat.com; lunch for two $26.
Open just three years, 555 has quietly become one of Portland's most assured restaurants, hewing to the greenmarket school of fresh, clear-flavored food, such as a mint- and lemon-tinged pea soup laced with baby fiddleheads. 555 Congress St., Portland; 207/761-0555; www.fivefifty-five.com; dinner for two $75.
Five Islands Farm
Fantastic selection of Maine farmstead cheeses. 1375 Five Islands Rd., Georgetown; 207/371-9383; www.fiveislandsfarm.com.
288 Fore St., Portland; 207/775-2717; www.forestreet.biz; dinner for two $72.
55 Chestnut St., Camden; 207/230-0083; dinner for two $80.
88 Middle St., Portland; 207/774-8538; www.hugos.net; dinner for two $120.
This south-coast newcomer occupies a beautifully restored 1774 clapboard house on Route 1. Chef Joshua Mather grew up on his family's farm up the road; mom Barbara is the hostess, and father Mort harvests most of the produce—and what produce it is. The kitchen showed great promise last summer, especially in a well-balanced potage of leek and potato spiked with Parma ham and drizzled with neon-green chive oil. Keep an eye on this guy. 1637 Post Rd., Wells; 207/646-3355; www.joshuas.biz; dinner for two $40.
K. Horton Specialty Foods
Portland's top cheesemonger returns to a new address this fall. 28 Monument Sq., Portland; www.khortonfoods.com.
MC Perkins Cove
111 Perkins Cove Rd., Ogunquit; 207/646-6263; www.mcperkinscove.com; dinner for two $85.
3856 Washington Rd. (Rte. 220), N. Waldoboro; 866/832-5569 or 207/832-5569; www.morsessauerkraut.com.
2 S. Main St. (Rte. 73), Rockland; 207/596-0770; www.primorestaurant.com; dinner for two $100.
41 Main St. (Rte. 1), Wiscasset; 207/882-6128; lobster rolls for two $28.
Pick your own wild blueberries from mid- to late summer. Masalin Rd., Lincolnville; 207/763-3956; www.sewallsorchard.com.
Silvery Moon Creamery & Smiling Hill Farm
781 County Rd. (Rte. 22), Westbrook; 207/775-4818; www.smilinghill.com.
Standard Baking Co.
Maine's best bakery is housed in an atmospheric old brick warehouse, where there's always a queue for baguettes, sourdough boules, and plush brioche. Secret weapon: the heavenly gingerbread. 75 Commercial St., Portland; 207/773-2112.
White Barn Inn
37 Beach Ave., Kennebunk; 207/967-2321; www.whitebarninn.com; dinner for two $178.
WHERE TO STAY
Inn at Sunrise Point
The most stylish and best-situated of the Camden area's inns—a porch-rimmed 1920's manse overlooking a broad sloping lawn and glittering Penobscot Bay. The best rooms are in the four outlying cottages, each with a fireplace and spacious deck (the Winslow Homer suite was our favorite). 55 Sunrise Point Rd. (Rte. 1), Lincolnville; 207/236-7716; www.sunrisepoint.com; doubles from $305.
Portland Harbor Hotel
In a town with surprisingly few worthy hotels, this 2003 arrival is the top choice for both location (right in the Old Port) and comfort (spacious rooms are done up in butter yellow with dark-wood furnishings; granite bathrooms have outsize soaking tubs). 468 Fore St., Portland; 888/795-9090; www.portlandharborhotel.com; doubles from $289.
Yachtsman Lodge & Marina
Our favorite of the three delightful properties run by the owners of the White Barn Inn (a roster that also includes the oceanfront Beach House). The Yachtsman, on the banks of the Kennebunk River, is the most informal of the lot: a chic, converted motel whose 30 airy rooms have cathedral ceilings, bead-board paneling, and French doors opening to semiprivate patios. 57 Ocean Ave., Kennebunkport; 207/967-2511; www.yachtsmanlodge.com; doubles from $319.