Recently returned from two beautiful weeks watching the leaves change color in various parts of Maine (with one or two side trips to New Hampshire), and thought I'd summarize some of our dining experiences. Because most of the places where we stayed included breakfast, we didn't get a chance to sample much in the way of breakfast fare (which is a shame, really, because it seems to me that some of the best pancakes, waffles, and donuts in the country are to be found in New England). Also note that we have a strong affection for diners, and always travel with a well-used copy of Michael and Jane Stern's book, Road Food. Anyway, some of the culinary highlights of our trip, in no particular order, were:
Countryside Restaurant, 98 Main Street, Corinth, Maine (207) 285-3694. This rather large family run diner was excellent. I had a great fried seafood plate, with shrimp, scallops and fish, fries, and a side of homemade onion rings for good measure. The Missus had a wonderful grilled ham and cheese sandwich on homemade bread. There's something about a grilled sandwich made with homemade bread that really puts it over the top. This place had excellent onion rings (I'm something of an onion ring aficionado), good homemade coleslaw and fantastic homemade baked goods. The coconut cream pie we shared for dessert was wonderful, with a tender flaky crust and rich, creamy filling. (Whole pies are $10; what a deal!) Service was friendly and efficient, and everything was fresh, piping hot, and tasty. If this place was in my town, I'd eat there once or twice a week, easy.
Anglers Restaurant, Route 1, Searsport, Maine (207) 548-2405. This small seafood restaurant does a brisk business, and from what I could tell, deservedly so. I had a bowl of excellent lobster stew, and the Missus had the scallop stew/chowder. (Blasphemy, I know, but she says lobsters reminder her of giant insects, and she refuses to eat them.) Both soups had a really deep, satisfying flavor that made me happy to be alive. Also, excellent onion rings. (Lobster stew and homemade onion rings -- how can you beat that!?)
Moody's Diner, Route 1, Waldoboro, Maine (207) 832-7785. This is one of the places listed in Road Food, and it is indeed quite good. Excellent fried seafood, and probably the best onion rings of the trip. Also, the walnut pie served here is easily one of the best pies I've ever eaten. Creamy, satisfying walnut custard with chunks of nuts and a big dollop of not-too-sweet whipped cream. Pure Heaven, I tell you. If I lived within driving distance of this place, I would seriously weigh 350 lbs. (And not in a good way.)
Maine Diner, Route 1, north in Wells, Maine (207) 646-4441, http://www.mainediner.com. Had several meals here during our stay in Kennebunkport, and liked everything, with the possible exception of their huge, slightly soggy biscuits. On the other hand, the seafood chowder served here is positively exquisite. Packed with whole scallops and big hunks of fresh lobster meat; frankly, it's hard to believe it's even possible for food to taste this good. $8 a bowl, and cheap at twice the price. Lots of other good diner fare, including (of course) very good onion rings and excellent sandwiches. (But trust me, get the seafood chowder.)
Bartley's Dockside, by the bridge, Kennebunkport, Maine (207) 967-5050. This place has very good seafood and excellent lobster rolls, but for me, the stand out dish is their homemade blueberry pie, which is just awesome. It has the faintest hint of cinnamon, a profound, clean blueberry flavor, and an excellent crust. Served warm with vanilla ice cream. If only they shipped whole pies to the west coast... (Side note -- this place is decorated like a Bush campaign headquarters; if this bothers you, you might want to look elsewhere, but I say if you allow politics to interfere with a good piece of blueberry pie, your priorities are all screwed up.)
L.A. Burdick, Main Street Walpole, New Hampshire, (800) 229-2419. Didn't have a meal here, but stopped in and bought lots of their wonderful chocolate. This place is an American treasure, and the quality of their product rivals anything out of Europe or elsewhere. Beautiful, beautiful chocolates, lovingly made, and gorgeously packaged. Well worth the drive from Kennebunkport (which drive was, btw, absolutely lovely).
Lou's Restaurant & Bakery, 30 S Main St., Hanover, New Hampshire (603) 643-3321. I love this place. In fact, many years ago, when the Missus and I tied the knot in Perkinsville, Vermont, we got Lou's to make our wedding cake, which was beautiful and tasted fabulous. Stopped in for a cheeseburger and a piece of chocolate cake and was not disappointed. Good, solid food, and wonderful baked goods. Oddly, their tortilla soup is pretty damn good too.
Finally, lest you think that we survived eating at diners alone, we had a splendid anniversary dinner at the White Barn Inn in Kennebunkport (on Beach Ave., (207) 967-2321, link below). First of all, the setting at this place is breathtaking. Looks like (and may in fact be) a restored antique barn, complete with beautifully polished wide antique pine floor boards. From the moment we stepped in the front door to the time we left, the service was absolutely top notch -- friendly, well-informed, helpful, and not the least bit oppressive or haughty. The menu consists of two prix fix possibilities -- a four course dinner at $88 (with an optional $45 wine pairing), or a six course "tasting menu" at $108 (with wine pairing for $60). As you'd expect, the tasting menu consists of pre-selected items (some of which we didn't care for), so we went for the four course menu, which permits one to select courses from a fairly diverse and interesting menu. The amuse was a sliver of chorizo and crab terrine served over a maché and arugula salad with a truffle vinaigrette. Despite all the interesting ingredients, I actually thought it was a bit bland tasting. (Probably just my uneducated, diner-desensitized palate.) Also got a selection of breads with sea salted butter -- okay, but again, nothing sensational. For appetizers, I had diver scallops (which were huge) with fresh beets, braised fennel and caramelized salsify in a saffron Chablis sauce. Again, most of the flavors were milder than the ingredient list would lead one to expect, but the scallops were so spectacular and so perfectly seared, that the dish worked wonderfully. The Missus got the roasted pumpkin ravioli on wild mushroom ragout with an "amaretto foam." The ravioli was good, but the stand out element in this dish was the mushroom ragout, which had a really rich, meaty, perfectly balanced mushroom flavor. Really, really excellent. Next, I had the mushroom soup, which was good, but a bit salty for my taste, and my wife had the butternut squash consommé, which was good, but again, very subtle in flavor. (Although, I'll grant you that a butternut squash consommé has a certain novelty value.) My main course was a grilled beef tenderloin, served on a Roquefort potato gratin with baby veggies, herbed cauliflower puree and a merlot/port sauce. This dish had the bolder flavors I tend to like, and so, of course, I really liked it. It obviously helped that everything was perfectly cooked, and the quality of all of the ingredients, including especially the beef, was excellent. The Missus had the Maine salmon filet with wasabi/shiitake glaze on lobster braised bok choy with matsutake mushrooms and fried vegetable chips served with a yuzu citrus sauce. Again, all of the ingredients were of wonderful quality, and they had been prepared with obvious care and skill, but the overall effect just didn't knock my socks off. Also, I know it's all the rage everywhere, but I have to say, I really am not that wild about medium rare salmon -- the texture of the half cooked fish ends up being slippery and mushy, and the fact that the meat is cool/cold doesn't help the flavor at all. In contrast, the lobster braised bok choy rocked (rocked I tell you). Next, we were treated to four (4!) desert courses: (i) a plate of chocolates, cookies, tartlets, truffles, and fruit pates (which fruit pates, btw, were stunningly good), (ii) caramelized pears with filo and vanilla pear cream, (the wife's favorite dish of the entire meal, and maybe the entire trip), (iii) Bailey's chocolate soufflé with banana walnut ice cream (very good, intense chocolate flavor), and (iv) fresh baked brandied pear cookies (which I hid in my jacket to eat the next day). Good coffee and very nice mint tea (which, quite correctly, wasn't brewed with scalding hot water). All in all, a thoroughly lovely and enjoyable meal, prepared and served with enormous skill and care. Finally, one minor pet peeve -- at one point in this bacchanal, I used the restroom, after which I, of course, washed my hands. I hate, hate, HATE it when nice restaurants use highly perfumed soap in their restrooms. I end up smelling (and hence tasting) patchouli or whatever the crap it is for the entire rest of the meal instead of the wonderful flavors of the food. Why does nobody pay attention to this?
Anyway, we had a great time in New England, and thoroughly enjoyed the food, the scenery, and the many gracious and generous New Englanders we met. We come back every couple of years, and will hopefully do so again soon. Thanks for having us!