Special Feature: Products Sally Recommends
Best Restaurants in Maine
89 Congress Street
I just adore this little gem of a place. It’s my new favorite restaurant for dinner with my husband. Tiny, tiny, tiny—I think I counted 22 seats last time I was there. If a table is not available, then order dinner at one of the 4 seats at the bar. It’s like being in someone’s dining room—and with the sign outside announcing, “Food from friends, family and travels”, it just about is. This is a restaurant where the feeling is genuine and the food is both memorable and reasonably priced. It’s not striving to be something bigger than it is (it literally can’t). The menu is clean and honest—Mediterranean leanings that utilize local products as available. Appetizers such as the Goat Cheese Gratin ($8), or the Meze Plate ($7), both served with plenty of good bread, make satisfying choices to share. A friend adores the Wild Mushroom Salad ($8) and I’ve thought the Prosciutto Wrapped Scallops ($9) made for a hearty beginning to a meal. Some of our favorite entrees include the Skirt Steak ($13)—always delicious—with the flavors changing frequently. We’ve had it with a smoked paprika aioli, on a potato pancake with sautéed red peppers and onions, and once with a roasted garlic herb rub and broccoli rabe. I’ve loved the Roast Chicken ($13) with farro and wilted spinach—both homey and comforting. And for a vegetarian or not, the Number 7 ($12)—a 7 layered tart of eggplant, Portobello mushrooms, caramelized onions and creamy goat cheese, etc. was really terrific. The vegetarian and vegan choices are clearly not an accommodation here. They don’t take reservations for anything smaller than a party of 6, so the only way to eat dinner there without disappointment is to go early, before 6:00 pm. A call to get on the waiting list ahead of time is not a bad idea. Blue Spoon also serves lunch and Sunday brunch.
Bob’s Clam Hut
Since 1956, Bob’s has been doling out note-worthy fried clams, clam chowder and other fixins’ at a pretty rapid rate. About 20 years ago, the original Bob sold his business to Michael Landgarten, who wisely kept the name but gussied the place up. During the height of the summer season, the long lines of tourists at the order counter snake out the door and keep most of the natives away. So for an authentic Maine experience, do like this Mainer does and enjoy Bob’s in the off-season, mid-week (a definite during a snowstorm or major New England sporting event). Then, the lines are quite manageable. It’s become part of my family’s We’re Back in Maine ritual meal. We speed dial Bob’s as soon as the sign for the Maine State Line is visible on the New Hampshire Bridge—a stress free Bob’s experience.
Bob’s is well known for some of the tastiest fried clams around, but I also give high marks for the scallops, and that’s what I often order. The amount of salt, if any at times, in their batter is not enough, a poor choice in my opinion—taste first and if necessary, grab some of those paper salt things if your grub is to go. I will admit to having once taken home their tartar sauce to dissect and figure out the ingredients, since they won’t share their recipe. Thankfully, I have since gotten over that and developed my own tartar sauce instead. While Bob’s is not cheap, they give generous portions. In fact, the fried seafood spills out of the container onto a paper plate. My advice is to immediately remove all the food from the carton to avoid soggy and steamed seafood, which negates the To Go philosophy completely. However, the dining area is charming in a Maine cottage kind of way, and if you can get a table indoors (or out, weather permitting) then consider that option. Decisions, decisions.
27 Western Avenue Lower Village
Kennebunkport, Maine 04043
I’ve eaten here many times and have always left a happy camper. Grissini is an attractive restaurant with excellent food, a decent wine list, and a lovely patio for the summer months. It’s also my restaurant halfway point for meeting my York County contingency of friends. In the past, we’ve dined there with our family from NYC, under the assumption that they hold the ultimate final say in good Italian food. Thankfully, Grissini more than passed the test. Whew. We had an enjoyable meal tucked away at a corner table near the wide French doors that open to their outdoor tables on a handsome stone patio. It’s about as Tuscan as you’re going to get in Maine.
The salads are huge—I have two personal favorites—the Prosciutto di Parma E Asparagi, and just as you might expect, consists of sliced Parma ham with wood roasted asparagus and shaved Parmesan, and the Insalata Mista, a pile of mixed field greens, gorgonzola, tomatoes and pine nuts. In all sincerity, you could easily order only a salad along with another appetizer, a glass of wine and be pleased with a very satisfying experience. But then you’d miss their fabulous and soothing Osso Buco, my favorite during the winter months, and even once on a cool July evening. I’m never disappointed—the braised veal shanks are fork-tender, flavorful and sprinkled with the traditional gremolata, a mixture of minced parsley, garlic and lemon peel. We’ve rarely ordered dessert or coffee—and usually opt instead to walk off some of the calories in nearby Kennebunkport—unless it’s below zero out.
318 Main Street
Bar Harbor, Maine 207.288.CUBA
After a long day of biking the carriage roads of Acadia National Park, this is the place for a really good north-of-the-border Mojito—Cuba’s national drink of crushed mint, sugar, rum and lime juice. Or try the favorite carnival drink of Brazilians—Caipirinha, which is like limeade on a binge—mashed limes, sugar, cachaca (sugarcane liquor) and ice cubes. Either will whet your appetite for the sizzling Latin flavors to follow.
Probably my favorite restaurant in Bar Harbor and one that I visit every single excursion there, Havana’s chef successfully combines locally grown organic and regional foods with Latin flavors to make every dish they serve special and sensational. And they do it with a true desire to please and make one feel welcome. One October evening, the menu was presented as “The Last Days of October.” It turned out to be a terrific meal beginning with the Havana Style Crab Cakes—Maine crab combined with sweet corn, peppers and cilantro and served with a mojo aioli. My husband opted for a local organic mixed Green Salad with chile spiced pecans, sprinkled with Great Hill blue cheese from Massachusetts, all dressed with a chipotle raspberry vinaigrette. We then zippety-do-daahed into the entrees—I picked a real winner—Rack of Lamb, pan roasted and seasoned with cumin and garlic, accompanied by local organic mashed potatoes and a lovely fig mojo. My husband ordered the Grilled Double Cut Pork Chop—Maine raised pork brushed with a habanero cider glaze and then topped with a cranberry and pecan salsa and a good mound of ginger infused mashed sweet potatoes. The House Filet Mignon, rubbed with Cuban Coffee and black pepper is one of my all-time favorites. During summer visits, we’ve been satisfied with a grouping of appetizers as the excellent selection made it impossible to choose only one. Can you stand it? I’m salivating just writing this.
The menu at Havana changes frequently and seasonally. Bar Harbor is practically a ghost town in the winter, but Havana is one of the few restaurants to remain open. In the summer, you really must make reservations. Or you can hang out in their small bar area, enjoy a cocktail, order an appetizer and wait for your table.
Barbara Gulino lives and eats in Maine.