I took a brief food centered vacation and wanted to thank you all for your tips. I researched places from Massachusetts to Acadia here on Chowhound and all those various possibilites made it easy to eat well despite our lack of a concrete itinerary.
This longish writeup is a condensed version of a more complete post, with photos, on my blog. Click below if you'd like to visit. More Maine and New Hampshire photos to follow later this week.
Eat locally whenever possible. The raw oysters that James gamely choked down are Damariscottas from the eponymous town an hour's drive north of Portland. The fried clams are also locally harvested soft shell clams (aka steamers or piss clams). These tender, smallish clams buried in the sand flats will squirt water at you if step near them at low tide. More importantly, these clams have a firmly tender neck as well as a soft, minerally, briny belly, which when fried provide a wonderful contrast in texture and flavor.
Soft shell clams are expensive. They can't be farmed like mussels or oysters, and by law can only be backbreakingly harvested for commercial sale with hand held rakes. They don't travel well like hard shell clams, and thus aren't found much outside their native New England and Canada. Find a reputable place that insists on serving local clams and seek these out while you're on the Northeast coast, m'kay?
Scales used a light cornmeal batter that simulatenously had a lightly tender batter matter and a cruchy, toothy cornmeal deal encasing the wonderfully sweet briny clams. Grease? What grease? Look at the butcher paper cone they're served in. Scales made the best fried clams I've ever eaten. After this, I need to visit the clam shacks near Ipswich, Mass for some comparative clam research.
Scales Fish Market
in the Portland Public Market
25 Preble St
Mainers take a great deal of pride in their many food traditions, be it the seafood, the Moxie soda, or the church pie socials. Unsurprisinsgly, we found a cheesemonger in the Public Market that sold many varieties from local producers. We bought Blue Velvet and a Colby from Hahn's End Farm; an intesely stinky wedge of Bravura that I enjoyed with the tempering piece of sweet Spanish quince paste; two kinds of Italian salumi. We enjoyed these with a whole wheat baguette and Chianti at an improvised picnic overlooking Southwest Harbor, near Acadia National Park. Click on any of these photos to see my complete Flickr album of the trip.
Kris Horton supplies many area restaurants, and sells their local Maine cheeses via mail order.
K.Horton Specialty Foods
in the Portland Public Market
25 Preble Street
Portland, Maine 04101
We quickly improvised arrangements to visit Acadia National park, and left Portland by mid afternoon. We might make it to Acadia by 8 or 9 pm. Will we find an open restaurant at that hour? Probably not. So we pull off the interstate onto US Highway 1 and head for Red's Eats, a legendary yet modest seafood shack in Wiscasset. This is the kind of place that's been written up for decades in every food and travel media outlet, much like Pink's Hot Dogs in Los Angeles, or Arthur Bryant's BBQ in Kansas City. Because of places like Pink's (which I'm not impressed with) I'm suspicious of that much hype, but Red's lives up to it and then some. They prepare simple foods incredibly well and the pricier-than-average $14 lobster roll was well worth the wait in line.
Red's lobster rolls start with a buttered and griddled, top-loading New England style roll. That's like a tall hot dog roll split vertically instead of horizontally so's all the fillings don't spill out the side of your sandwich. It's loaded with tender steamed and chilled lobster meat, close to two lobster's worth. Other places dress their lobster with mayo, add celery, etc. Here, the sandwich is overfilled just with meat, and either drawn butter or mayo on the side.
If the fried clams here existed in a vacuum, I'd say they were incredible. But in comparison to the version at Scales just a few hours prior, they weren't as greaseless, or crisp, or as well prepared. Nonetheless, I wanted to sample as many of these as possible during our short stay in Maine and I'm glad we did.