Given Maine's deserved reputation for seafood and varied produce, one might expect the restaurants to be good, but only in the last few years have they begun to do the ingredients full justice. Here are the highspots from our journey.
A short walk from the Camden Harbour Inn, the Hartstone Inn is a lovely Victorian building. Chef Michael Salmon, the inn’s owner, is dedicated to serving as much Maine produce as he can. The dinner menu is a five-course feast, and reservations are a must. Memorable selections from our meal were generously proportioned lobster tortellini, and beef tenderloin in a Gorgonzola-herb butter with potatoes Anna. Salmon teaches several cooking courses, which enjoy great popularity.
The delightful Primo, just outside of Rockland, south of Camden, also occupies a Victorian house. The restaurant is on two levels, the downstairs being formal and the upstairs casual. The chef is Melissa Kelly, an alumna of Chez Panisse and, before Primo, the outstanding Old Chatham Sheepherding Company in upstate New York. Kelly here oversees a kitchen where almost every ingredient is grown or raised by the restaurant or obtained locally. It would be a shame not to start with one of the superb wood-fired pizzas, followed by a main course such as the pork chop marinated in hand-pressed cider.
The sister property to Hidden Pond, the Tides Beach Club has a terrific bar/restaurant with a sophisticated deco look and a casual menu well-suited to its seaside setting. I’m always eager to try new versions of clam chowder, and the one here was exceptional — thick, with a nice sea tang and garnished with delicious clam fritters. I surprised myself by ordering the buttermilk fried chicken, and was glad I did: Perfectly crisp, it was nicely paired with cheesy grits.
It is the rare traveler to Maine who does not, at some point, hanker for a great lobster roll. We found our grail at Pier 77, on the water a short drive from Kennebunkport. In a picturesque building festooned with colorful lobster buoys, the restaurant overlooks the charming Cape Porpoise Harbor. While taking in the view, we enjoyed the plump Maine crab cakes and then indulged in the succulent lobster rolls, packed with sweet meat on a soft bun. The food is simple, straightforward and delicious — just what we had been looking for.
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