Sunday, July 20, 2008

Maine Part I: A Night on the Town in Portland

Our weeklong camping vacation in Maine began with a stopover in Portland on the way to Acadia National Park, not wanting to drive the full nine hours from New York City in one day. So we shelled out for a hotel in Portland - amazingly just one night in a "cheap" hotel like Days Inn costs more than the fee for six nights of camping! What a rip off. Just so you can have hotel amenities we never even use, like a pool and a disgusting complimentary breakfast and dressers and an ironing board, etc. I don't get hotels. Anyway...back to Portland...

After reading Blake's gushing accounts of meals at Fore Street in Portland, I had my heart set on dinner there - not only are they committed to cooking up the freshest food produced locally in Maine but they have a reputation as one of the finest restaurants in the country. But when I called to make a reservation more than two weeks before the trip, the earliest they had left for the night was 9:30! I couldn't believe it. I decided instead to aim to get there early and wait a bit, since they hold several tables for walk-ins.

However, life had other plans. Because of Jesse's exhausting workweek that didn't really end until 1am the night before we were due to leave, we ended up jetting out of Brooklyn later than expected. And by the time we got to Portland, I didn't feel in the mood to wait around for a multicourse fancy dinner. We just wanted to relax. So instead we decided to casually explore Portland.

We started off with a relaxing drink in the backyard of The Great Lost Bear, one of the top beer bars of the country. They have sixty beers on tap, featuring beer from fifteen Maine microbreweries along with other Northeast craft beers. The great thing about Maine is that it is a haven for local beer enthusiasts. Every restaurant and bar we went on our trip served Maine-brewed beers on tap, making it easy (and delicious) to drink locally in Maine. During our trip, we sampled beers such as Geary's Special Hampshire Ale (Jesse's favorite), Allagash White, Atlantic Bar Harbor Real Ale, Bar Harbor Thunder Hole Ale, and so on. Great Lost Bear was a great place to kick off our trip. They also serve food, but their focus is on burgers and burritos and bar food, so we headed elsewhere for dinner because we wanted LOBSTER!

On the recommendation of our nice server at Great Lost Bear, we headed to downtown Portland along the water to Gilbert's Chowder House. Chowder may be in the name, but I had the best lobster of my life there. We were able to get two lobsters and corn for just $30, something unheard of in New York City. This Maine-caught lobster was new shell, also known as soft-shell - apparently at this time in the season, you can either get hard-shell lobsters, which are meatier, or soft-shell creatures, which are sweeter and more succulent, and easier to eat because you can break the shells with your hands, but they contain less meat. The lobster meat was so fresh, moist and rich that I hardly touched the accompanying melted butter. Sweet corn was the perfect side dish. Coincidentally, we got to sit on Gilbert's deck and watch the sun go down over the water while overhearing a Moe concert at a nearby venue.

Afterward, we wanted to keep exploring, so we headed to a joint also on the water that we'd passed earlier, J's Oyster Bar. It's a dark old-fashioned looking place with small tables arranged around a large central bar, with oysters on ice waiting in the middle for lucky patrons. They also have outdoor seating, but that was full, so we were inside. We simply ordered beers and a dozen oysters. Jesse and I both agreed that while the oysters were good, they weren't as good as oysters we've had in the past. I assume because these oysters were caught somewhere nearby in Maine. Whereas restaurants like Marlow & Sons in Brooklyn choose their oysters more selectively for the best taste they can find. That's my guess.

We also went to Gritty McDuff's , another brewpub that was hopping on this Saturday night. Hanging over the bar are numbered mugs for regulars to drink out of, which I think is a fun idea (and a green one if those regulars use that mug all night) that I would definitely steal if I ever own a bar. We each tried their house cask beers. But at that point in the night, I don't remember much, except how confusing it was to find our way back to the hotel.

Other posts in the Maine vacation saga:

V. Drinking in Bar Harbor
IV. Lobster Pounds on Mount Desert Island

III. Cooking Locally at the Campsite

II. Camping in Acadia National Park

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