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This is what a coffee shop should be. Well crafted drinks that are swift, but not rushed. Plenty of seating for locals to chat, read, and caffeinate for the day. Because they offer soups it can get crowded at the lunch hour!
I'm usually skeptical when visiting restaurants right along the main drag of a rather touristy street. Thus is the location of Portland Lobster Co., smack in the middle of Commercial Street in downtown Portland. However, my skepticism was brushed aside the minute my teeth sank into the best buttery, sweet CT-style lobster roll I've ever had. This is the REAL DEAL, people. There's absolutely nothing pretentious or touristy about the little lobster shack on the side of the road. Place your order at the counter inside, then take one of the lobster shaped pagers out to the deck, where you'll enjoy a draft beer (I highly recommend the local brew, Shipyard) and some live tunes from a local band while you wait for your food. Even on the most crowded days, the food is always worth the wait. The lobster rolls are huge and buttery and sweet and piled high with lobster meat. The corn on the cob is super buttery and sweet. When you combine lobster rolls + sweet corn + local beer + a deck over the water + live music... well, it doesn't get much more summer than that.
After successful stints at Ralph Lauren Polo and Abercrombie & Fitch, designer Alex Carleton opened Rogues Gallery (41 Wharf St., (207) 553-1999), a nautical-inspired clothing store in Portland. When he’s not hand-printing whale flukes on T-shirts, Carleton spends time at these nearby spots. —Meeghan Truelove “The Portland Observatory (138 Congress St., (207) 774-5561) is my favorite structure in the city. It’s an octagonal clapboard tower built in 1807 to signal when ships arrived in port. Inside is the best antique graffiti in town—names in curlicue letters carved into the wood during the 19th century.” “On any given night at the Space Gallery (538 Congress St., (207) 828-5600), you can catch a concert, an art opening, or an indie film.” “I love the collection at the Portland Museum of Art (7 Congress Sq., (207) 775-6148), especially the works by American painters Winslow Homer, Rockwell Kent, and Andrew Wyeth.” Image courtesy of Rogues Gallery. This appeared in the July/August 2011 issue.
Whether you go for the traditional lobster roll or not, Portland, Maine is a little city with plenty of delicious food to offer. One of our favorites is J's Oyster House. J’s Oyster House is situated right on the water. The building looks like its been there for hundreds of years, beaten and worn overtime by crisp New England air. It’s small and dark inside, but packed with people, all competing for a place to sit and chow. When we finally got a chance to sit down, we started with fresh, raw oysters and a cup of New England clam chowder. The oysters were succulent and the chowder was chunky and delicious. Next, we ordered a bucket of steamers. The man sitting next to us recommended we do so. A local and loyal J’s customer for some fifty years, he said the steamers were the best. So we felt we just had to have them too. I’ve never been so content. They were incredible! Not only was the seafood the very best I’ve ever had, so was the service. In fact, when Paul and I mentioned to the bartender that we’d never been to Portland before, she drew us a map and told us the best places to go. Next, the oyster man (the one whose only job was to shuck the oysters, it seemed) came over and drew us another map, this time directing us to the secret location that the locals go to get away from the tourists. It was perfect and just what we needed. By the time we left, we felt like we were locals too.
Local is the operative word in the Portland, Maine food scene. Ask a waiter what Atlantic Day-Boat halibut is exactly, and he'll spin a story about the local captain who pulls in with the day's catch. At the height of summer, it seems that every ingredient is caught, raised, foraged, or grown in the vicinity. So it's no surprise that Maine oysters take pride of place at Eventide Oyster Co. Sure, there are some bivalves from New York and the West Coast, but my advice is to quiz the waitress about the ones from West Bath, Casco Bay, and the Damariscotta River. A hit of frozen Tabasco came on the house, but these plump beauties are best with just a squeeze of lemon.
Portland, Maine is one of the oldest cities in the United States and the Old Port is where it shows. The waterfront in the Old Port continues to be a working waterfront with ferries, fishing boats, and lobster boats coming and going daily. This part of the city still boasts a few cobblestone streets and is made up primarily of old brick buildings from the 1800s and early 1900s. The area is known for its shops, restaurants, museums and nightlife. Sure, Freeport is where the deals are and where you can find all of the brands you know and love. But the Old Port is the best place to go if you are looking for a gift that is uniquely Maine. Make sure to stop by GrittyMcDuff's for the local brew, Becky's for a fisherman's feast, and Exchange Street for lots of shops.
Along the waterfront near the downtown Old Port district, the family-owned Harbor Fish Market is a 40-year-old shop prized by locals for its reliable excellence. Pristine scallops glisten in cases, and the air smells of ocean brine. Order a lobster to go (the staff will cook it for you), and then stroll up Commercial Street to picnic-perfect Eastern Promenade Park, a grassy bayside expanse. —Meeghan Truelove 9 Custom House Wharf, (207) 775-0251, harborfish.com. Image by Peter Ptschelinzew/Lonely Planet Images.
You really can't experience Portland without experiencing the islands of Casco Bay. The bay is everything to the city. It drives the fishing industry, the tourism industry, and most of the local fun. A ferry service leaving off Commercial Street in Portland will take you out to most of the major islands at any time of year. The most popular island to visit is Peaks Island. A quick ferry ride drops you off right down the hill from a locally made ice cream shop as well as a bike rental shop. Bring your own bike or rent one from the shop. Biking is the best way to see all of the island in a day. A loop road goes all the way around the island - it's around 4 miles - with lots of other side streets to explore. You'll want to schedule in time to eat at one of the restaurants on Peaks or pack a lunch to eat on the beach. On Sundays during the summer get out early (first thing in the morning!) to make sure you can get into Reggae Sunday at Jones Landing. It's the biggest party in Portland. Peaks Island is a great day long get away for people of any age or physical ability. You can bike, walk, eat, lounge, explore. For the quirkier traveler the island also boasts the world largest umbrella cover museum.
Having been to Corniglia Italy, one of the five "Cinque Terre" seaside towns along the Ligurian Sea, it was pleasant surprise to find a restaurant in downtown Portland that offered up truly delicious Italian food, reminiscent of some of the most splendid cuisine I've ever tasted. The decor is warm, yet sophisticated... the kind of place where it's best to get there early to settle in for the night and savor the food as much as the surroundings. And dessert and espresso are an absolute must here...
The Casco Bay Ferry offers a myriad of ways to see the Maine islands and coastline from the water. Choose from scenic cruises, a sunset run, or their most popular Mailboat run. Peaks Island is a quick 17 minutes away. On the island you can hike, enjoy the beach, or have a nice meal at one of the waterfront restaurants. Scenic cruises vary in length from 1.5 to 3.5 hours with stops along the way and chances to see the sun rise or set. Whatever you choose, it is a magical way to see the area from the water and the perfect way to enjoy a picnic of some of the fantastic local ingredients available in Portland.
Vena's Fizz House serves soda for the health-conscious and adventurous. The seasonal menu consists of interesting fizzy combinations that have been muddled, swirled, and shaken. Crowd-pleasers include the raspberry mint shrub, cherry lime ricky, and an orange cream soda. Bitters and other unusual flavors make up some of the recipes. Family plays a role, as the shop is named after the owner's great grandmother, Vena, who was involved in the Maine temperance movement. It all comes together in a lively spot for a great alternative to the soda as we know it today.
You can't fully appreciate coastal Maine without getting on a boat and exploring the islands. Sure, the beaches are great. Downtown Portland is great. But until you've gotten out onto the islands there is an entire world you're missing out on. Of all the islands you can visit, Jewell Island gives the most bang for your buck. Unfortunately, no public transportation exists to take you to Jewell. However, you can hire a water taxi or find a friendly local (your best bet is the water taxi). Once you're on the island, the first thing to do is set up camp. Campsites on Jewell are first come first serve but there is usually only a problem on holiday weekends in the summer. Any day of the week you still want to get your pick of campsites. Most campsites are beautifully located overlooking the ocean and provide flat smooth areas to set up tent as well as a firepit and eating area. All camping is carry-in carry-out. Also on the island are two WWII lookout towers. Climb up these towers and you're treated to a panoramic view of Casco Bay and a great sunrise/sunset. You'll find other WWII ruins as well as "The Punch Bowl", hiking trails, and a beach where every rock seems to be perfect for skipping. This island is a true local treat! And much more fun than any hotel room.
Climbing to the top of the only wooden maritime signal tower that remains standing in the United States will reward you with breathtaking views of Portland and beyond. See Casco Bay and the outlying islands, and on a clear day all the way to Mount Washington. Since 1807, this rich symbol has been reminding visitors of the city's maritime history.
Silly's is one of the most unique restaurants in the world. It is hard to describe exactly what makes it different, it's just silly. In the summer make sure to get out and enjoy the beautiful back patio. Silly's has managed to fit more options on a one page menu than any restaurant I've ever been to and every option is absolutely delicious. The restaurant has an extensive selection of burritos, pizzas, burgers, salads, milkshakes, desserts, local beers, finger foods, and breakfast foods. I can honestly say I've never had a meal I didn't love here! From Silly's you're a short drive to Portland's Old Port and a walk from the Eastern Prom - a great place to catch a sunset and a smoothie - as well as other local bars and restaurants. Bumper stickers throughout the city urge you to "Buy Local" and "Keep Portland Weird." At Silly's you will be doing both and having a great meal (probably with leftovers) to boot!
I love stores that have a well edited collection of clothing and accessories for men and women, so you can shop for both in one location if you like the aesthetic. Such was Portland Dry Goods. Clean lines, beautiful fabrics, and quality workmanship characterize the brands carried. Gitman Vintage, Seawall, Rising Sun, Gant, and Canada Goose are just a few of the designers represented. The decor in the space matches the sophisticated, laid-back, classic flavor.
For a fun night out in Portland there is no better place than Bull Feeney's. Quality live music (multiple stages), great local beer, and lots of room make this a great place to take in the Portland nightlife. Friday's and Saturday's during the summer and St. Patrick's Day are the most popular nights at Bull Feeney's but almost any weekend night is bound to be fun. The bar is a favorite with locals but is devoid of the pretentiousness and exclusion of many local favorites in other cities. Just show up and get ready for a good time. The bar's location is also very central for the Old Port. So if you don't like what you find, go across the street and try something else out. If you do stay the night don't try the same beer twice! They have a great variety of local beers and since they don't sell pitchers, there are no cost savings anyway.
The Portland Museum of Art offers a comprehensive look at art and decorative work from the 1800s to the present. Works by famous names such as Wyeth, Nevelson, Monet, and Picasso are well represented. After viewing a large collection of Winslow Homer paintings, fans will delight in being able to travel back in time to his newly restored studio off-site (reservations needed). An insider tip—the museum is free Friday evenings from 5:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. It's a great way to start date night!
Ask ten locals what they recommend as typical Maine food and I bet nine of the ten would say lobster. You can't leave Portland without trying the ubiquitous lobster roll. The Portland Lobster Company has been turning out award-winning and reliably tasty versions year after year. There's no mayo or fillers here—it's pure meat on a warm buttered roll (the lettuce is strictly for color). It's best eaten on a picnic table out back and washed down with one of the many local beers or sodas offered.
With three Portland locations, Coffee By Design is committed to an exceptional coffee experience. Their long-term relationships with sustainable coffee farms in Central America, Asia, and Africa provide the coffee drinker with a fair trade, organically manufactured cup of java. Using recycled products whenever possible, the company aligns itself with vendors who do the same. Cafes are comfy, snacks are available, and there is free Wi-Fi. Icy cold or steaming, you can really taste the difference in the beans from the in-house micro-roasting facility.
Portland is definitely a great spot for drinking beer. Novare has over 20 beers on tap and more than 250 total selections—you might just get lost in the menu! Although it is all about the beer, wine and cider do play a supporting role. The food menu leans toward German-inspired offerings, with a selection of meat and cheese plates and some sandwiches. The outdoor patio has a lovely atmosphere, full of picnic-style seating. If the mood suits, you could even pick up a game of cornhole.
Portland is a great place for biking. Rent a bike and explore more than 78 miles of trails within the city limits. Ten of those miles run along the fairly flat waterfront, where a cool breeze and beautiful scenery make for a perfect ride for all ages. Pack a picnic and take advantage of the many scenic spots along the route, or pack your batching suit and take a refreshing dip.
When traveling, I love to spend Saturday morning at the farmers market. There's no better way to meet the locals and get to know the town culture. What produce do they love? What coffee do they sip? What's the overall mood? One of the best Saturday morning farmers markets I've been to was in a giant park in Portland, Maine. The stalls were packed with reasonably priced, locally grown produce (of course, Maine blueberries were abundant). Despite the chilly morning temperatures, children played in a splash park and adults sipped locally made apple cider while listening to the various jazz musicians who had set up around the farmers market. Despite the crowds, parking was abundant (such a rarity!) as was the "Maine nice" that we found around the entire state.
It takes a lot to to get me to eat a donut. I just find it too hard to justify. Well, bite my tongue. When I heard about the mashed potato donuts at Holy Donuts my willpower took a dive. Add to that flavors like pomegranate, coffee brandy, dark chocolate with sea salt, and fresh berry, and . . . well, you know the rest of the story. These melt-in-your-mouth treats are pretty addictive. My advice—buy one and leave quickly. Otherwise you'll be back for more, especially if you stumble upon the second location. Vegan and gluten-free options are available.
Take a walk through opulent architecture from the pre–Civil War Victorian era. This home is thought to be one of the most important remaining structures from this period in the nation. The mansion was built between 1858 and 1860 as a summer house for Ruggles Morse, a Maine native and luxury hotel owner. That luxury is evident throughout an interior rich with wood paneling, gilded surfaces, and sumptuous fabrics and carpets—all at palatial scale. The restored Turkish room has beautifully painted walls and ceilings. The Italian Villa style of the exterior only hints at the beauty inside. Anyone interested in design will love the experience.
Vinland claims to be "the first restaurant in the world to serve 100% local, organic food," and the owners certainly have a strong commitment to the food revolution and to bringing back sustainability into our food system. The dishes on the menu are designed to delight all the senses and are creative without being too precious. The ingredients are items we can all pronounce and recognize. Small bites of angel eggs, garlic toast, and beet chips with local chèvre whet your appetite. The fruits, vegetables, seafood, and meats are all seasonal. When food is this fresh and tasty, it doesn't need a lot of gimmicks. Vinland is a foodie's dream destination. Image by Michael Yang, courtesy of Vinland
The juice scene has definitely had a boost of late and Roost House of Juice is a welcome addition. Their juice combos come with a sense of humor, which only adds to the feeling of wellbeing when you drink one. Try the Regulator, Raise Your GPA, or—my favorite—Emerge & See, and I bet you'll agree. They have some fun mocktails, dessert-worthy smoothies, and a menu of small plates in addition to a few wines. Just make sure to save room for the liquid carrot cake.
In a very short time, Miyake established itself as the go-to spot for true sushi lovers. An ever-changing menu is based on the freshest fish from around the globe, with a heavy emphasis on the best in local ingredients. It is a favorite spot with locals and combines Japanese, French, and Italian influences. With lots of sprouts, pickling, curing, and seasonings, this is unusual dining at its most creative. Image courtesy of Miyake
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