Maine: State of Bliss

From the rocky coast to the deep woods, Maine's culinary treasure abound

Natives of Maine are a discreet breed, prizing modesty and restraint above other virtues. "Don't brag," local mothers caution their children when they win a spelling bee, an Oscar, or a Pulitzer Prize. So, when it comes to the extraordinary food we have in this northeasternmost state, we don't go around boasting about it. "Oh, it's pretty good," we say, or sometimes, when it's truly exceptional, we might even deem it "pretty darned good".

Most people "from away" know coastal, summertime Maine, a place of busy lobster shacks, juicy fried clams, and fresh-made blueberry pie. And it's pretty good. But if you stick around after Labor Day and venture beyond the vacation playgrounds, you'll find something even better. With apologies to my fellow citizens, I will confide that Maine is now home to some of the most varied and rewarding eating and drinking experiences in the country.

I've heard Maine described by one food writer as "the Bay Area of the East" and compared by another to the Dordogne region of France, two places of indisputable culinary excellence. To that I respond with a typical Mainer's reserve as I cut a wedge of semisoft, aged Eleanor Buttercup cheese and tuck into a bowl of Morse's barrel-aged sauerkraut served with one of Maurice Bonneau's smoked sausages that's been smeared with Raye's Piquant Down East Schooner Mustard — all chased down by a pint of Gritty McDuff's Best Brown Ale. These are simple pleasures. Nothing fancy. Pretty darned good.

Whether you're visiting Kittery in the south, Calais down east, or Fort Kent in the state's rooftop, Maine's gastronomic treasures abound, from it's bakeries (like Black Crow in Litchfield), its classic diners (like the exemplary A1, in Gardiner), and its hot dog wagons (like Wasses, in Rockland) to dedicated farmers (like the Chase family, who also operate Chase's Daily, a market and restaurant in Belfast), its fishermen (like those who supply Stonington Sea Products, in Stonington), and its hot-shot chefs (like Melissa Kelly of** Primo**, in Rockland, and Sam Hayward of Fore Street, in Portland, to name just two). And don't forget the farmers' markets brimming with brilliant-hued vegetables, tart Wolf River apples, and fresh and cured pork; the sweet little Maine shrimp that arrive in February; the full-flavored smelts netted from beneath the river ice in March; April's tender fiddlehead ferns; or our late-spring asparagus. These purely home-grown glories are more than pretty darned good; they are—as even the most tight-lipped Mainers will admit—just about the finest kind.

GREAT MAINE RESTAURANTS

Black Crow Bakery
232 Plains Rd
Litchfield, ME 04350
207/268-9927

A1 Diner
3 Bridge St
Gardiner, ME 04345
207/582-4804

Wasses Hot Dogs
2 N Main Street
Rockland, Maine 04841
207/975-7472

Fore Street
288 Fore St
Portland, Maine 04101
207/775-2717

Primo
2 South Main Street
Rockland, ME 04841
207/596-0770

Stonington Seafood
536 Sunshine Rd
Deer Isle, Maine 04627
207/348-2730

Chase's Daily
96 Main St
Belfast, Maine 04915
207/338-0555