Special Feature: Products Sally Recommends
Maine: From Kittery to Casco Bay
"Which way to East Vasselboro?"
"You can't get there from here."
As soon as you cross into Maine from the little coastal corner of New Hampshire, you start to see them: barley sugar lobster pops, lobster mailboxes and baseball caps with lobster claws. There are instructions for eating these spiny beasts on restaurant placemats, lobsters packed to travel are available at the rest stops on the Maine Turnpike and there are lobster rolls at the fast food restaurants. However, a trip up the coast will show you much more picturesque places to try these famous crustaceans, as well as rugged ocean and island beaches, lakeshores, quaint villages, lighthouses and antique and outlet shopping.
First, stop just over the border in Kittery at the Chauncy Creek Lobster Pound off Rt.1 near the Portsmouth Navy Yard. You'll walk down wooden stairs (or pull your boat up) to a barge in the river. The fish chowder is excellent, but if you want anything else besides lobster and potato chips, you'll have to bring it yourself. And people do...table cloths, wine coolers and candles. If you're intimidated about approaching that prickly beast, ask for advice or check the wall posters. There's standard outlet shopping along Rt.1 in Kittery, too, although my favorite place is still the old Kittery Trading Post, a barn-like sporting goods store, around which the outlet malls have sprung up.
Skip the honky tonk beach towns of York and Ogonquit and drive along Rt. 35 and 9 beyond Kennebunkport to Cape Porpoise and Goose Rocks Beach. Try swimming (it's awfully cold) or climb the rocks to search the tidal pools at these quieter, family beaches, or the one at the Rachel Carson Wildlife Refuge. Stay at the Tides Inn by the Sea, an old-fashioned, homey inn across from the ocean in Goose Rocks Beach. At the Cape Porpoise Lobster Shack behind Bradbury's Market, you can almost see George Bush's compound from the end of the dock. To see the coastline from the water or to visit one of several sandy island beaches, take a short trip on one of the Casco Bay Line ferries. They depart from downtown Portland (Commercial and Franklin Streets) which is surprisingly hip with a performing Arts Center and a restored harbor area, lively with shops and cafes.
Here detour inland on Rt. 302 about 20 miles to get a sense of one of Maine's interior lake regions, the Sebago Lakes. You'll drive through Naples, and see signs for Denmark, Norway and Peru! If you have time, head farther northwest towards the White Mountains of New Hampshire to Fryeburg where you can take a canoe down the Saco River, but Bridgton is a good destination. You can stroll down quaint Main St. to the gazebo and Civil War monument, or through the historic white clapboard buildings of Bridgton Academy. You can cool off in the lake from the town beach just off Main St. The Bridgton Bakery makes its own moon pies, soft chocolate cookies sandwiched with cream filling, and a good blueberry pie. However, the best I've ever had was at AimHi Lodge, a rustic family camp on Little Lake Sebago in Windham. John Greenlaw, cook for the family-style meals, shared his grandma's recipe with me.
You'll have no trouble finding your way back to the coast at Freeport, home of LL Bean, and mega-outlets, notably Patagonia, North Face and Gap. In Bean's main store, there are fly-tying demonstrations, a fish tank and other fun rainy day activities. Beware of crowds and traffic jams.
Continue along the coast on Rt. 1 to Bath, city of proud white ships' captains' houses and the Maritime Museum on the Kennebec River. Tour the vivid exhibits of this working museum or view the town and the ship building industry from the water on a short boat tour departing from the Museum's wharf. Bath Bed and Breakfast sits above the harbor on Middle Street, in a lovely residential neighborhood.
At Bath the coast turns into a fringe of peninsulas, bays and islands, providing endless choices for views, exploration or solitude. Such a spot is Reid State Park off Rt. 127, classically rugged beach edged with pine trees growing out of the rocks. You can even shower and change in a bath house open to the sky. Afterwards go back out on Rt. 127 and continue down a short distance to visit the ladies at the Georgetown Fisherman's Co-op lobster pound. You can choose your own lobster and they'll scuttle it into a net bag, along with steamers and a piece of corn if you're hungry, and steam it for you right there. Then grab a paper tray and a wash'n'dry and take the little beauty out on the dock. If you're lucky, you'll see a fishing boat pull up with a 300 lb. tuna on a winch. Otherwise, you can gaze at the houses sometimes connected by little bridges on the stony islands of Shepscot Bay. Grey Havens Inn, a small, ocean-swept Victorian hotel on Seguin Point Road, is a charming place to stay or an elegant dining alternative. Nearby Pemaquid Light is a postcard perfect lighthouse, one of several along this piece of the coast. There's a lobster pound named Shaw's there too, but it's usually busy by 11:00 in the morning during tourist season.
If you have time, drive farther northeast to the old ship building towns of Boothbay and Camden, the former quite commercial, the latter chic and moneyed. Or take a ferry to dramatic Monhegan Island or Mt. Desert Island off Bar Harbor and hike in the 35,000 acres of Acadia National Park.
But even if your time is up, your final stop, Wiscasset, will make you promise to come back and go farther. The sleepy residential streets of the town are lined with lavish federal-style homes and dotted with stunning, quality antique shops. The primarily nautical goodies overflow onto the side yard of Nonesuch House Antiques on Middle Street.
When you're hungry, the Sea Basket on Rt.1 is a reliable choice for fried clams or lobster roll. Or try the Miss Wiscasset Diner, also on Rt.1, or Tom's Log Cabin Foods on Rt. 27 for a Maine breakfast of blueberry pancakes and real maple syrup, after a night at Bailey's Inn in the center of Wiscasset.
John's Grandma Thelma's Blueberry Pie
One unbaked 8" or 9" pie crust, top and bottom
4 pints fresh blueberries, preferably little, wild Maine berries
2 eggs, beaten
1/4 tsp. each cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice
4 Tbs. flour
1/4 c. brown sugar
3 Tbs. granulated sugar
Mix together all ingredients except the pie crust and granulated sugar. Pour into the pie shell and cover with the top crust. Brush the top with an egg wash (beaten egg) and sprinkle with the 3 Tbs. white sugar. Bake at 350 degrees 20-25 minutes, or until golden brown. Let cool or chill before serving.
Lobstah (lobster) Roll
As many bits and pieces of freshly cooked lobster as you have the patience to pick out. Just enough mayonnaise, chopped celery (optional) top-sliced (New England-style) hot dog rolls. Chill the lobster meat. Mix all the ingredients and stuff the rolls to overflowing. Serve in a paper sleeve at a picnic table.
This is a swanky variation of the above recipe -- same lobster meat, somewhat less mayonnaise -- consisting of grated celery root (celeriac), rinsed, drained and patted dry capers and tarragon. Mix the lobster meat with mayonnaise, keeping in mind that the celery root will add additional moisture. Add a tablespoon or so of the capers and tarragon, adding salt and pepper to taste. Serve with some tender lettuce and slices of crisp baguette.