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Fall Food Excursion: Southern Maine Coast

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Stubbornly unwilling to accept the true end of summer, I resolved to eek out the season's last drops with a weekend trip to the Maine coast. On Saturday, soaring temps made for perfect driving conditions up the state's coastal Route 1. With the windows down, my nose was on high alert for hints of salt air and the pleasant fishiness of lobster traps.

Having spent lots of time in Maine growing up—summers as a camper, my four years of college—I am more than familiar with the area's epicurean mainstay. (Three words: bright, red, claws.) For this trip, however, I wanted to explore some more seasonal, and unexpected, Maine eats.

Passing funky Ogunquit and quaint York, we made our way through storied Kennebunkport to the tiny, coastal-tip town of Cape Porpoise. There, we had lunch at a favorite restaurant, The Ramp Bar & Grill. With the town's totemic lobster boat-filled harbor on one side and the charming, lighthouse-adorned Goat Island on the other, The Ramp is casual, contemporary New England dining at its best. The decor strikes a cool balance between vintage sports memorabilia-overload and classic Maine ephemera—think used, brightly painted lobster pots decorating the exteriors with a vintage baseball scoreboard behind the bar.

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But the Ramp's real standout is the food. From plump mussels simply prepared à la provencale to a sandwich stuffed with fresh Jonah crabmeat, great seafood is just one part of the diverse menu. The Mexican-inspired apps and Greek meze plate, for example, also impressed.

Dinner at Kennebunkport's organic-haven Bandaloop was a great surprise. The menu is eclectic and worldly, but still locally sourced. And the soaring barn-like structure (glossy brown post-and-beam ceilings with hanging steel star lanterns) is a sophisticated and autumn-appropriate alternative to picnic tables on the beach. The best bite? Their signature egg rolls filled with walnuts, gorgonzola, and spinach, with a tangy port wine-balsamic reduction.

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Meandering our way back down the coast on Sunday, we stopped at a new Maine classic: Stonewall Kitchen, in York. Foodies be warned: It is nearly impossible to pry yourself away from the sprawling company store. Besides the gleaming bistro, there are tasting tables featuring signature spreads and jams, a vast space dedicated to pumpkin recipes, and a huge room filled with the kind of cooking supplies you don't necessarily need—but you sure do want.

It's a must-do Maine experience. Not to mention the perfect way to welcome autumn (if grudgingly)—hands full of flavorful fall goodies.

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Sarah Storms is an assistant editor at Travel + Leisure

Photos courtesy of Amory Ross.

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