One of the great things about CH and other food forums is also one of the most frustrating: namely, there's so much information out there that it can be overwhelming trying to sort out the useful recommendations from the bad ones. For every gem of a tip, there are seemingly five others that scream "BEST LOBSTER EVER!!!", only to leave me disappointed when I actually try these spots.
I recently came back from another trip to Maine, and as usual I scoured these boards for eating tips up and down the coast. While many of the threads proved to be quite helpful, it occurred to me that there really isn't a single thread that contains a consolidated list of the best local eats along the coast.
So I've decided to create a thread for this express purpose. Instead of merely listing my favorite restaurants, I've created a category for each specific food that non-Mainers like myself typically seek out when visiting the state, followed by my favorite spots.
I'm asking all of the Maine experts to please add to this list for everyone's future reference. Don't be shy about disagreeing with my picks wherever necessary, but do make sure to include the names and locations of the eateries you feel do a better job of preparing that particular dish. Please keep in mind that I'm looking for the best/elite places for each category - special places that are standouts even in Maine - rather than merely "good for the area" or "better than back home".
Below my list of faves, I've included the names of eateries which I've never visited, but are intriguing based on internet chatter. I'd love to hear from the Maine experts who've been to these spots so that I can confirm that they're worth a visit or OTOH scratch them off my list. I've also included a few spots that (to me) were disappointing, overrated, or simply "not elite" so that you have an idea which places I'm comparing my top picks against. Please keep in mind that some of these disappointing places would be good-to-great outside of the state, but by Maine standards fell short of expectations for various reasons.
Note: For the purposes of this thread, I want to limit the discussion to *local, traditional coastal Maine food and desserts only*. Please save any upscale/gourmet/ethnic/fusion restaurants for a different discussion unless they offer a superlative version of one of the foods listed below.
Also, any business establishment serving food for dine-in or take-out can be listed. This includes Bed & Breakfast inns as well as private homes which sell pies, oysters, or other food items.
Please mention town names and street addresses whenever possible.
Top picks: Waterman's Beach Lobster in South Thomaston and Miller's Lobster Pound in Spruce Head are by far the two best I've ever been to. The lobster at these places is always super fresh, juicy, tender, and flavorful. I can't imagine better, but I'd still love to hear your thoughts about potentially better lobster elsewhere.
Intriguing spots: Muscongus Bay Lobster Company (Round Pond); Round Pond Fisherman's Co-Op (Round Pond); Pemaquid Fisherman's Co-Op (Pemaquid); Broad Cover Marine Services (Medomak); South Bristol Fisherman's Co-Op (South Bristol); New Harbor Co-Op (New Harbor); Allen's Seafood (Harpswell); Holbrook's Lobster Wharf (Harpswell); Trenton Bridge Lobster Pound (Trenton); Cod End (Tenants Harbor); Morse Lobster at Estes Lobster House (Harpswell); Ruth & Wimpy's (Hancock - supposedly has an outdoor lobster pit); Dallas' Lobstah Take Out (Gouldsboro - supposedly has outdoor lobster pit); numerous others I can't think of right now.
Not elite/disappointing/overrated: Young's Lobster Pound in Belfast (I think the lobster is actually boiled, but either way I was surprised that the lobster was not as tender, juicy, or flavorful as Waterman's/Miller's); The Lobster Shack in Cape Elizabeth (I actually thought this was really good the first time I visited Maine, but later I discovered how much better Waterman's/Miller's are); Nunan's Lobster Hut in Kennebunkport (same reasons as Lobster Shack; it's actually not bad at all, but there's so much better up the coast).
Top picks: Once again, Waterman's and Miller's, for the same reasons as above.
Not elite/disappointing/overrated: Young's in Belfast. I've been there twice now, and both times the steamers were small, shriveled, overly salty, or overly sandy. To say they were disappointing is a massive understatement.
LOBSTER ROLLS (please specify type of roll: split-top, side-split, or round)
Red's Eats in Wiscasset (split-top) is still my gold standard, although I'd love to hear recs from those who feel there's better out there. The quality of the lobster is good, the quantity is insane (1 lb. of lobster meat), and they use a toasted/buttered split top roll, just as I prefer. Miller's in Spruce Head also does a very nice lobster roll - possibly tied with Red's for #1 (better flavor but less quantity). The lobster meat was fresher/more flavorful than at Red's, and was piled into a toasted/buttered split top roll. With a little more meat, it would be the undisputed #1 in my book.
Waterman's in South Thomaston has a tasty lobster roll, but I'd like it much more if it were on a split-top rather than round roll.
Intriguing spots: Harraseeket Lunch (South Freeport - overrated?); Allen's Seafood (Harpswell); Holbrook's Lobster Wharf (Harpswell); Dolphin Marina & Restaurant (South Harpswell); Cod End (Tenants Harbor); Bagaduce Lunch (Brooksville); Cape Porpoise Lobster Co. (Cape Porpoise); Crossroads Motel & Restaurant (Pembroke); Ruth & Wimpy's (Hancock).
Not elite/disappointing/overrated: The Clam Shack in Kennebunk (would be great outside of Maine, but not really elite by Maine standards); Lobster Shack in Cape Elizabeth (ditto); Five Islands Lobster Co. in Georgetown (ditto - everyone says it's amazing, so maybe it was an off-day?); Camden Deli in Camden (really awful; maybe it was a bad day? Anyway, I don't understand the hype).
Top picks: Red's Eats in Wiscasset.
Based on their lobster roll, I'd assume the crab roll at Miller's in Spruce Head is good, but haven't tried it. Waterman's in S. Thomaston uses a round roll, which is not my preference, but the crab meat itself was tasty.
Intriguing spots: Jordan's Snack Bar (Ellsworth); Moody's Seafood (Harpswell, with a truck on Saturdays in a parking lot in Brunswick); Allen's Seafood (Harpswell); Holbrook's Lobster Wharf (Harpswell); Miller's Lobster Pound (Spruce Head).
Not elite/disappointing/overrated: The Clam Shack in Kennebunk (would be great outside of Maine, but not really elite by Maine standards); Lobster Shack in Cape Elizabeth (ditto); Five Islands Lobster Co. in Georgetown (ditto); Camden Deli in Camden (blah).
FRIED FULL-BELLY CLAMS
Top picks: Five Islands Lobster Co. in Georgetown is probably my top pick because all fried items (incl. onion rings and so forth) are hand-breaded to order and come with homemade sauces. Not 100% sure, but I believe I had fried full-bellies at Red's Eats in Wiscasset and enjoyed them very much.
Intriguing spots: Bagaduce Lunch (Brooksville); Jordan's Snack Bar (Ellsworth); Just Barb's (Stockton Springs); Crossroads Motel & Restaurant (Pembroke); The Sea Basket (Wiscasset); Harraseeket Lunch (South Freeport).
Not elite/disappointing/overrated: Gilbert's Chowder House (Portland) was flat-out awful for chowder and fried seafood. A complete waste of time and money; I could do far better in Boston or Rhode Island. Never again. Helen's Restaurant in Ellsworth and Machias was disappointing for fried foods in general.
FRIED FISH SANDWICH OR FISH & CHIPS (HADDOCK UNLESS OTHERWISE NOTED)
Top picks: Red's Eats in Wiscasset has a terrific fried haddock sandwich on a sesame seeded round roll; I'd assume the regular haddock fish-and-chips is just as good. Five Islands in Georgetown also has good haddock fish and chips.
Intriguing spots: Bet's Fish Fry (Boothbay); Bagaduce Lunch (Brooksville); Jordan's Snack Bar (Ellsworth); Cod End (Tenants Harbor); Just Barb's (Stockton Springs - supposed to have great all-you-can-eat fried Alaskan whitefish).
Not elite/disappointing/overrated: Helen's in Ellsworth/Machias (pretty much all of their fried seafood was mediocre); Gilbert's Chowder House (Portland; see above).
Top picks: ???
Intriguing spots: Bagaduce Lunch (Brooksville); Jordan's Snack Bar (Ellsworth).
Not elite/disappointing/overrated: Five Islands Lobster Co. in Georgetown. This is the only fried dish that I thought was merely ok at this place. Not awful, but disappointing compared with their fried clams, haddock, and onion rings.
Top picks: Five Islands Lobster Co. in Georgetown is still the best I've had - good flavor, not too thick, and the inclusion of corn kernels is a nice touch.
Intriguing spots: I've heard great things about the chowder at Damariscotta River Grill in Damariscotta.
Not elite/disappointing/overrated: Gilbert's Chowder House (Portland; see above); Young's Lobster Pound in Belfast (very mediocre and seriously overpriced).
Top picks: Dolphin Marina and Restaurant in South Harpswell had the best haddock chowder I've ever had. Five Islands Lobster Co. in Georgetown had a pretty solid version as well, but it paled in comparison with Dolphin.
Intriguing spots: Just Barb's (Stockton Springs).
Top picks: ???
The only place I've tried this was at Helen's in Ellsworth and Machias, and I thought it was solid. Not sure if I can list it as a top pick, though, and I definitely wasn't crazy about the rest of their food menu.
Top picks: Dolphin Marina and Restaurant in South Harpswell. Not as good as the haddock chowder, but still very satisfying.
Intriguing spots: The Sea Basket (Wiscasset).
Top picks: Dolphin Marina and Restaurant in South Harpswell had "rope grown mussels", which were fresh and tasty.
Also had mussels at Miller's Lobster Pound in Spruce Head, which were fine but not really spectacular. Maybe an off-day, given how great the rest of their food is?
Top picks: Glidden Point Oyster Sea Farm is a small mom-and-pop operation that sells fresh, delicious oysters out of the garage of a private home in Edgecomb. Make sure to bring a shucker and glove. Note: this is not a restaurant; oysters are only sold for take-out and are meant to be shucked by the customer at home. There are also at least three restaurants on Main Street in Damariscotta that I know of for fresh Pemaquid oysters from the Damariscotta River: Schooner Landing, King Eider's Pub, and Damariscotta River Grill.
BLUEBERRY PIE (please specify if wild Maine blueberries are used, and if blueberries are cooked or fresh)
Top picks: ???
I don't think I can list Helen's in Ellsworth/Machias among the top picks, but I will say that I like their fresh wild blueberry one-crust pie, which has a single bottom crust topped with fresh, uncooked wild blueberries and a huge layer of cream. I didn't like their traditional double crusted pie as much, though.
Also, Waterman's in South Thomaston has a simple but very solid blueberry pie. I don't think I can put it in the "elite" status, but it was definitely tasty. I also had the version at Bartley's Dockside in Kennebunkport a long time ago. I remember liking it a lot, but not sure if I'd feel the same way today since it was one of the first Maine blueberry pies I'd sampled.
Intriguing spots: Dot's Bakery (Round Pond); Cottage Street Bakery (Bar Harbor); Pie Lady (Rt. 3, Bar Harbor).
Note: Priscilla's Pies in Bucksport, which operated out of a private residence on Route 1, is no longer in business since Priscilla passed away last winter. Too bad, because she made a very solid blueberry pie, even if she used a generic store-bought pre-rolled crust rather than a homemade one.
Intriguing spots: Pie in the Sky Bakery (Cape Neddick).
OTHER FRUIT PIES (please specify type of fruit filling, and whether cooked or fresh)
Top picks: Ebb Tide in Boothbay Harbor for peach shortcake. Helen's in Ellsworth/Machias has a good one-crust fresh strawberry pie during strawberry season, but I'm not as crazy about their double crusted strawberry pie.
Waterman's in South Thomaston has simple but solid strawberry and rhubarb pies - not necessarily elite, but quite good.
Intriguing spots: Bagaduce Lunch (Brooksville - strawberry/rhubarb pie); Tall Barney's (Jonesport); Ruth & Wimpy's Kitchen (Hancock).
Not elite/disappointing/overrated: Moody's Diner in Waldoboro. The pies were large but the taste was really nothing special (tried the four-berry pie) A major disappointment to say the least. Maybe an off-day? Dysart's in Hermon/Bangor had perfectly fine pies, but I thought they didn't really live up to the considerable hype. Nothing wrong with them, though.
TRADITIONAL ICE CREAM (not gelato/sorbets)
Top picks: Soft serve strawberry ice cream at Red's Dairy Freeze in South Portland (only available during late June/early July strawberry season). Very highly recommended. Note that the place was severely damaged by a fire earlier this year; hopefully they'll be able to reopen by June 2011, in time for strawberry season. Round Top in Damariscotta is also good; I really like their wild blueberry ice cream (August blueberry season only). And I remember liking Brown's Ice Cream in York, but it's been a while since I've had it so I'm not sure whether it belongs in the elite category, esp. considering how many highly regarded ice cream stands are located in the state.
Intriguing spots: Dorman's Dairy Dream (Thomaston); Shain's of Maine (Sanford) is supposed to have excellent strawberry ice cream.
Top picks: Red's Dairy Freeze in South Portland has a great seasonal strawberry milkshake (only available during late June/early July strawberry season) which uses their soft serve strawberry ice cream (also seasonal).
Top picks: ???
Intriguing spots: The Bluebird Ranch (Machias).
Not elite/disappointing/overrated: Boynton-McKay in Camden. Surprising, because I liked almost everything else on their menu, especially the baked goods. But the pancakes were neither crispy nor fluffy enough; not awful, but definitely not memorable either. An average dish at an otherwise excellent spot.
Top picks: Boynton-McKay in Camden.
Intriguing spots: The Bluebird Ranch (Machias).
TRADITIONAL BREAKFAST (please specify best dishes when possible)
Top picks: Boynton-McKay (skillets, donuts, scones, blueberry muffins).
Intriguing spots: Home Kitchen Cafe (Rockland).
Not elite/disappointing/overrated: The Brass Compass (Rockland) had large portions of above average food, but it really wasn't a standout eatery. Thomaston Cafe was also fine, but not as good as the hype. Dysart's Truck Stop & Restaurant (Hermont/Bangor) had large portions of perfectly decent breakfast food, but it's definitely overrated. It's fine if you're in the area (esp. late at night), but definitely not worth a special trip. Dunstan School Restaurant (Scarborough) is a place I haven't actually visited, but I've been hearing of late that it's overrated, so I'd like to hear from people who've eaten there.
CORNED BEEF HASH
Top picks: Just Barb's in Stockton Springs.
Intriging spots: Home Kitchen Cafe (Rockland).
BED & BREAKFAST INNS (*rate the food only*, not the ambience, charm, decor, views, or friendliness of the owners)
Top picks: ???
Intriguing spots: Kilby House (Eastport); LimeRock Inn (Rockland); Berry Manor Inn (Rockland); Whitehall Inn (Camden; restaurant attached to inn is called "Vincent's"); Hartstone Inn (Camden); Penobscot Bay Inn (Belfast).
Top picks: Boynton-McKay in Camden.
Intriguing spots: Tony's (Portland); Congdon's (Wells; I've seen reports that it might be going downhill, though); Frosty's (Brunswick); Willow Bake Shop (Rockport); The Frog and Turtle (Westbrook); Chase Farm (Friday morning Damariscotta Farmer's Market).
Top picks: ???
Intriguing spots: Harraseeket Lunch (South Freeport).
Top picks: ???
Top picks: Jordan Pond House on Mount Desert Island (popovers).
Intriguing spots: Damariscotta River Grill in Damariscotta (bread pudding and apple cider); The Friar's Bake House in Bangor (run by monks and supposed to have great strawberry shortcake in season); Just Barb's in Stockton Springs (strawberry shortcake).
Region of coast with highest concentration of good-to-great eats: Mid-Coast (especially for lobster and steamed clams)
Region with most disappointments: Southern coast
Region with least amount of chatter on chowhound: Downeast Maine (need way more recs)
Dolphin Marina and Restaurant
515 Basin Point Rd, Harpswell, ME 04079
36 Main St South, Freeport, ME
Five Islands Lobster Co.
1447 Five Islands Rd, Georgetown, ME 04548
Gilbert's Chowder House
92 Commercial St, Portland, ME 04101
The Frog and Turtle
3 Bridge Street, Westbrook, ME 04092
Ebb Tide Restaurant
43 Commercial St, Boothbay Harbor, ME 04538
Dunstan School Restaurants
591 US Route 1, Scarborough, ME 04074
Jordan's Snack Bar
Hancock Rd, Ellsworth, ME 04605
Red's Dairy Freeze
167 Cottage Rd, South Portland, ME 04106
Main, Wiscasset, ME 04578
RR 1, Waldoboro, ME 04572
RR 1, Wiscasset, ME 04578
2 Western Ave, Kennebunk, ME 04043
Main Street Cafe
888 Main St, Westbrook, ME 04092
Nunan's Lobster Hut
Mills Rd, Kennebunkport, ME 04046
Trenton Bridge Lobster Pound
1237 Bar Harbor Rd, Trenton, ME 04605
37 Main St, Camden, ME 04843
Brass Compass Cafe
305 Main St, Rockland, ME 04841
24 Main St, Stockton Springs, ME 04981
Cape Porpoise Lobster Co
184 Beachwood Ave, Kennebunkport, ME 04046
Penobscot Bay Inn & Restaurant
Northport Ave, Belfast, ME 04915
Ice Cream Wells Rd, Sanford, ME 04073
Tall Barney's Restaurant
Main, Jonesport, ME 04649
Main, Damariscotta, ME 04543
41 Elm St, Camden, ME 04843
52 High St, Camden, ME 04843
Muscongus Bay Lobster
28 Landing Rd, Round Pond, ME 04564
Ruth & Wimpys Restaurant
792 US Hwy 1, Hancock, ME 04640
Rt 9 4 Western Avenue, Kennebunkport, ME 04043
Home Kitchen Cafe
650 Main St, Rockland, ME 04841
225 Two Lights Rd, Cape Elizabeth, ME 04107