Where to Eat and Where to Stay on the Maine Coast

by June Miller with Antoinette Bruno
Antoinette Bruno
August 2010

New York may be our culinary  home base, but we found some great talent in Portland, Maine. Local cuisine is an excellent balance of rustic and refinement, with menus highlighting Maine’s abundant local ingredients. And it’s not just homegrown chefs; many have high-caliber training at some of the country’s best restaurants. The result is a mix of local tradition with classical technique and clean, modern presentation—and a dash of serious internationalism for good measure. The local hotels are charming, accommodating, and as eager to please as the service staff of Portland restaurants—so chances are your next visit to Portland will either spoil you for other cities (where else can you get such high caliber cuisine with so many smiles?) or you’ll commit yourself to a yearly visit. The pantry of ingredients and the bold flavor profile of Maine cuisine is sorely underexplored. Thankfully a few savvy chefs—and more to come—have finally caught on.

At Five Fifty-Five, Chef Steve Corry and his wife, Wine Director and General Manager, Michelle have created a small, seasonal restaurant that combines rusticity and elegance. In Chef Corry’s hands, the classic (and often over-played) combination of beets and goat cheese gets new life in the form of a delicious beet-topped tarte tatin, and scallops are treated like steak au poivre, crusted in cracked black pepper and seared. Hugo’s is the home of lauded Chef Rob Evans, who honed his skills at The Inn at Little Washington and The French Laundry. As you’d expect, his dishes at Hugo’s are elegant and refined, drawing upon seasonal and local ingredients for inspiration and resulting in compositions like  Lamb Tartare with Fried Cornichons, Cauliflower Tabbouleh, Fresh Mint, Aerated Dijon, and Lemon Olive Oil. And of course a trip to Portland isn’t complete without a stop at one of Sam Hayward’s restaurants. Fore Street remains one of the best restaurants in the region, with very simple dishes in which the natural flavors of the ingredients shine. Maine remains the one to watch.

EAT & DRINK


Duckfat

43 Middle Street
Portland, ME 04101 
(207) 774-8080
www.duckfat.com
Hours: Sun-Wed 11am-9pm; Thurs-Sat 11am-10pm

The latest creation of Hugo’s owners Rob and Nancy Evans, Duckfat is a sandwich shop famous for frying its Belgian-style fries—made from local Maine potatoes—in duck fat. If that isn’t enough of a draw, they’ll top your fries with Pineland Farm cheese curd and house-made duck gravy for a killer poutine. A variety of rustic café sandwiches, salads, and a healthy beer and wine list round out the menu of this super-affordable, crave-inspiring spot.

Recommended Dishes
:
  • Poutine
  • Duckfat Beignet
  • Poutine
    back to top

    Five Fifty Five

    555 Congress Street
    Portland, ME 04101
    (207) 761-0555
    www.fivefifty-five.com
    Hours: Sun-Thurs 5pm-9:30pm; Fri-Sat 5pm-10:30pm; Sun 10:30am-2:30pm

    At Five Fifty-Five, Chef Steve Corry and Wine Director/GM wife Michelle have created a small, seasonal restaurant that combines rusticity and elegance. Chef Corry’s dishes are simple and unpretentious but packed with flavor. In Steve’s hands, the classic (and often over-played) combination of beets and goat cheese gets new life in the form of a delicious beet-topped tarte tatin, and scallops are treated like steak au poivre, crusted in cracked black pepper and seared.

    Recommended Dishes:
  • Summer Beet Tarte Tatin with Freedom Farm’s Organic Beets, Melted Leeks, Horseradish-Spiked Chevre, Bibb Lettuce, and Candied Walnuts
  • Pan-Seared Pepper-Crusted Diver Scallops with Aromatic Fennel-Potato Puree, Butter-Glazed Pearl Onions, Organic Baby Carrots, and Vanilla Emulsion
  • Summer Beet Tarte Tatin with Freedom Farm’s Organic Beets, Melted Leeks, Horseradish-Spiked Chevre, Bibb Lettuce, and Candied Walnuts
    + Click image to enlarge
    back to top

    Fore Street
    288 Fore Street
    Portland, ME 04101
    (207) 775-2717
    www.forestreet.biz
    Hours: Sun-Thurs 5:30pm-10pm; Fri-Sat 5:30pm-10:30pm

    A trip to Portland isn’t complete without a stop to visit Chef Sam Hayward, a chef who arguably set the bar for New England restaurant cooking. Fore Street remains one of the best restaurants in the region, with simple dishes in which the natural flavors of the ingredients shine. Open since 1996, Fore Street has been a longtime champion of the farm-to-table movement and has always taken advantage of the incredible community of Maine farmers, fishermen, foragers, and cheese makers to get the best local, usually organic, ingredients. Chef Hayward changes the menu daily to reflect what is freshest and in season. And be sure to check out his incredible temperature-controlled cheese room.

    Recommended Dishes:
  • Wood Oven-Roasted Casco Bay Lobster with Chanterelles, Baked Corn Pudding, and Rich Lobster Cream
  • Morel Mushrooms with Shallots and Butter
  • Morel Mushrooms with Shallots and Butter
    + Click image to enlarge
    back to top

    Hugo's

    88 Middle Street
    Portland, ME 04101
    (207) 774-8538
    www.hugos.net
    Hours: Tues-Sat 5:30pm-10pm

    Hugo’s
    is the home to lauded chef Rob Evans, who honed his skills at The Inn at Little Washington and The French Laundry and has been twice honored by the James Beard Foundation. Chef Evans’ dishes at Hugo’s are elegant and refined, drawing upon seasonal and local ingredients for inspiration and resulting in compositions like Local Lamb Tartare with Cauliflower Tabbouleh and Breaded Fried Cornichons. The menu rotates frequently based on seasonality and what’s available at the market, and Chef Evans offers a “Nightly Blind Tasting” where the menu isn’t presented until the end of the meal.

    Recommended Dishes:
  • Lamb Tartare with Fried Cornichons, Cauliflower Tabbouleh, Fresh Mint, Aerated Dijon, and Lemon Olive Oil
  • Sweet and Salty Sweetbreads with Caramelized Cauliflower, Braised Pistachios, Brown Butter, and Fried Capers
  • Lamb Tartare with Fried Cornichons, Cauliflower Tabbouleh, Fresh Mint, Aerated Dijon, and Lemon Olive Oil
    + Click image to enlarge
    back to top

    Miyake

    129 Spring Street
    Portland, ME 04101
    (207) 871-9170
    www.restaurantmiyake.com
    Hours: Lunch: Mon-Fri 11:45pm–1:45pm; Dinner: Mon-Thurs 5:30-9pm, Fri-Sat 5:30-9:30pm

    It’s classic hole-in-the-wall exterior might have deterred diners when Miyake first opened in 2007, but since then the idiosyncratic culinary styling of the restaurant has attracted scores of devoted fans. With only a gas range and toaster oven, a trio of chefs—Masa Miyake, Karl Deuben, and Ilwon Suhr—blend their talents and transform under-appreciated local ingredients, such as welk and Amish squash, into refined food with incredible flavor. With its BYO policy and small menu—complete with omakase options—Miyake is a distinct and intimate Portland dining experience. Not to be missed.

    Recommended Dishes:
  • Miso-Cured Duck Confit Akamiso with Summer Squash, Black Radish, Amish Squash, Seared Duck Breast, Shaved Foie Gras, and Braised Daikon
  • Sazae Tsubayaki (Butter-Poached Maine Welk), Seared Scallops in Sendai Miso Sauce with Pickled White Asparagus
  • Miso-Cured Duck Confit Akamiso with Summer Squash, Black Radish , Amish Squash, Seared Duck Breast, Shaved Foie Gras, and Braised Daikon
    + Click image to enlarge
    back to top

    Natalie's

    83 Bay View Street
    Camden, ME 04843
    (207) 236-7008
    www.nataliesrestaurant.com
    Hours: Daily 5:30pm-9:30pm

    Natalie’s is a romantic restaurant in the Victorian-style Camden Harbor Inn with red cloth banquets, chairs, hanging lamps, votives, and white tablecloths. When we visited, Chef Lawrence Klang cooked sensual, sophisticated food with clean, balanced flavors. The modern French cuisine is beautifully plated and highlights the local ingredients (particularly seafood) available in Maine. Porcini-dusted sea scallops are served with a tomato that has been blanched; peeled; coated in olive oil, garlic, and basil; and dried in a low oven. Modern French cuisine, fabulous flavors, and beautiful presentation make Natalie’s a Maine must, especially for a date. Chef Geoffroy Deconinck is new chef at Natalie's.

    Recommended Dishes:
  • Porcini Dusted Sashimi Grade Sea Scallop with Dried Tomato, Parmesan Tortellini, and Anise Chicken Jus
  • Seared Serrano Wrapped Loup de Mer with Marinated Heirloom Cherry Tomatoes and Tomato Emulsion
  • Porcini Dusted Sashimi Grade Sea Scallop with Dried Tomato, Parmesan Tortellini, and Anise Chicken Jus
    + Click image to enlarge
    back to top

    Sea Glass

    40 Bowery Beach Road
    Cape Elizabeth, ME 04107
    (207) 799-3134
    www.innbythesea.com/dining
    Hours: Breakfast: Mon-Fri 7:30-10:30am; Lunch: Mon-Fri 11am-2:30pm; Dinner: daily 5:30-9pm

    Sea Glass is the kind of restaurant where Chef Mitchell Kaldrovich will use a hand-me-down tool from his grandmother to make the night’s gnocchi. Located at the Inn by the Sea, Sea Glass lavishes its menu with heart and soul. Grilled organic salmon is subtly enhanced with zucchini ratatouille and an herbaceous arugula pesto. A wonderfully seasoned short rib ragout tops fresh gnocchi and the result is nothing short of soul food, Maine style.

    Recommended Dishes:
  • Pan Seared Scallops with Crispy Succotash
  • Homemade Gnocchi “Bolognese”
  • Homemade Gnocchi Bolognese
    + Click image to enlarge
    back to top

    Sonny's

    83 Exchange Street
    Portland, ME 04101
    (207) 772-7774
    www.sonnysportland.com
    Hours: Lunch: Mon-Fri 11:30am-2pm; Dinner: Sun-Thurs 5:30-10pm, Fri-Sat 5:30-10:30pm

    Housed in the now-defunct Portland Savings Bank, Sonny’s isn’t your average Maine restaurant. Ensconced in this historic building, Chef Jay Villani prepares a broadly New World menu, with Brazilian, Venezuelan, Mexican, and Southwestern American cuisine. Entrees like the Pork Belly Mofongo (an improvisation on the Puerto Rican traditional) are a belly-pleasing combination of spice and rich, porky sweetness.

    Recommended Dishes:
  • Pork Belly Mofongo
  • Creole Four Spice Sockeye
  • Creole Four Spice Sockeye
    + Click image to enlarge
    back to top

    STAY


    Camden Harbor Inn

    83 Bayview Street
    Camden, ME 04843
    (800) 236-4266
    www.camdenharbourinn.com
    Rooms start at $175

    Situated on a hilltop with views of Camden, the Camden Harbor, mountains, and Penobscot Bay is the romantic, Victorian Camden Harbor Inn. From standard rooms to a grand suite with two decks, a fireplace, and a steam and rain shower, the Camden Inn has something for everyone. Visit the spa to pamper yourself and relieve the stress of hours on your feet, or check out what Chef Lawrence Klang is cooking up at the inn’s AAA four-diamond restaurant Natalie’s. If you’re looking for a Boston getaway, this idyllic inn is the place to get away from it all.
     
    back to top

    Inn by the Sea

    40 Bowery Beach Road
    Cape Elizabeth, ME 04107
    (207) 799-3134
    www.innbythesea.com
    Rooms starting at $219

    Perched on a hill with blue sky as far as the eye can see is the plush, eco-friendly Inn by the Sea. A LEED certified hotel, the Inn by the Sea boasts a nature preserve, a white sandy beach, and abundant flowers and herbs to tickle your senses. With fireplace rooms, terrace rooms, and two-bedroom cottages equipped with kitchens, the Inn by the Sea features luxury of many varieties, all with the assurance of environmental responsibility.
     
    back to top

    Portland Harbor Hotel

    468 Fore Street
    Portland, ME 04101
    (207) 775-9090
    www.portlandharborhotel.com
    Rooms start at $189

    Conveniently located in downtown Portland, the Portland Harbor Hotel is ideally situated to explore the city. Take advantage of their complimentary bike rental to tour downtown on two wheels. Or, if you prefer to drive, the hotel also offers complimentary town car service to downtown attractions and restaurants. The four-diamond hotel has all the amenities you would expect from a luxury hotel, including wireless Internet access, nightly turndown, plush robes, high-quality linens, and Starbucks coffee in the lobby every morning. The hotel restaurant, Eve’s at the Garden, offers 24-hour room service—don’t miss their hearty, comforting breakfast like the brioche French toast made with homemade brioche.
     
    back to top