Archive for ‘Food’

July 21, 2013

Lobster Rolls and Blueberry Pie at the Quietside Café on Mount Desert Island

What are you looking for when you go to Maine?  Views of the rocky coastline, lighthouses, and Cadillac Mountain?  Lots of lobster and blueberry pie?  Hiking and biking in Acadia National Park?

I go to Maine because I also want to “get away.”

To me this means spending time in stores and cafes with a much slower pace than what I experience in New York City, where I live.  I find that a discussion about a new garden hose at the hardware store in Southwest Harbor can be more restorative than any massage or spa treatment.

That’s one reason the Quietside Café in Southwest Harbor is a favorite.  No doubt about it, we go there because their lobster rolls are fantastic.  Packed with the freshest lobster meat from the lobster pound right down the street on Clark Point Road, they’re served with delicious homemade coleslaw and chips.  Fred also loves their New England clam chowder, which is thick and creamy.

Lobster roll at Quietside Cafe Southwest Harbor Maine

But I love the fact that this is a family business.  Frances and Ralph have operated it for 16 years now, with their two daughters growing up working in the business and pitching in to serve customers.  Today, as we sat outside on newly painted picnic benches, the couple continued to show pride in the new 15-year-old waitress who’s a whiz at reciting their 20-plus ice cream flavors.  That’s just the kind of place it is.

The Quietside Café is located on Main Street in Southwest Harbor on the eponymous western half of Mount Desert Island where the pace is far less bustling than in Bar Harbor where the cruise ships dock.  Parking on Main Street in Southwest Harbor is pretty easy.  There’s also a parking lot in front of the post office right around the corner on Clark Point Road.  The Quietside is diagonally across from the hardware store.

Quietside Cafe Southwest Harbor Maine

The café itself is nondescript.  You can sit outside on picnic tables in a small village garden, which attracts battalions of butterflies to its bushes in late August.  Likely there will be a pie cooling in the window.

Inside the tiny, tidy luncheonette decorated with family photographs are a few tables, an ice cream bar, and a lunch counter that’s also jam-packed with what Frances has baked that day – blueberry pie, macaroons, and oatmeal cookies.

Quietside Cafe Southwest Harbor Maine

Sit there on a stool at risk to your waist line because what TripAdvisor reviewers say is true:

“Blueberry pie in a class of its own, piled a mile high with the sweetest wild berries”

“Ethereal blueberry pie”

“Amazing pie well over an inch thick”

“Best pie around”

“Best key lime pie ever – I suspect it was that chocolate crust”

“The best was the apple pie – pecan streusel topping and loads of apples”

“Pie tastes like the berries were just picked…”

blueberry pie quietside cafe maine

macaroons quietside cafe southwest harbor maine

Speaking of TripAdvisor, I also liked the reviewer who said: “We camped 10 nights and visited the café 5.”  Repeat visitors and regulars are common at the Quietside.

9 of the 10 times I go, I have the lobster roll, but the crab rolls and BLTs are also my personal favorites.  Others are fans of the turkey melts and the “to-die-for” sweet potato fries – in addition to the pizza!

The ice cream also gets rave reviews, for both the quality and flavor variety.  Take Moose Track, for example.  It’s a rich vanilla studded with chocolate and peanut butter chunks.

It’s surely from another world.  And that takes me back to my first point: I go to Maine to get away from it all. Going to the Quietside is like visiting America in another time.  It’s a chance to engage with simple things: value for the money and nice people.  The way life was meant to be, as the Maine slogan states.

It’s telling it like it is when the locals on MDI refer to us off-islanders as people “from away”.

Related Stories:

Best Bar Harbor Breakfasts: Come This Way to Café This Way

Mount Desert Island’s Most Scenic Lobster Pound?  It’s Unanimous

What Is Peekytoe Crab and Should a Maine Lobster Lover Opt for It?

March 31, 2013

17 Great Ways to Experience Acadia National Park in Maine This Summer

Thinking of visiting Acadia National Park this summer?  It’s the star attraction of Mount Desert Island, an island about the same size as Martha’s Vineyard, but with 24 mountain peaks.  That alone expands the roster of great things to do there.

Acadia became a national park in 1919, but the first village on Mount Desert Island was founded in 1761.  Today Acadia’s boundaries are intermingled with the charming, postcard-perfect villages of this New England island, adding even more activities to engage park visitors.

So, what activities should you plan to include in your visit?  Here are some favorite things to do both in and around the park.

1.  Watch the sunrise from Cadillac Mountain. At some 1500 feet, Cadillac Mountain is the first place from which to witness dawn in the United States, and it is breathtaking. Make sure you wear a warm fleece even if it’s August.

Cadillac Sunrise

2.  Drive the Park Loop Road. You can get your best overview of Acadia by driving these 27 miles of unsurpassed beauty, created in part through the masterful collaboration of John D. Rockefeller, Jr. and Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr. There are many lookouts so have your camera ready.

3.  Eat lobster. Whether you want a lobster roll, lobster stew, or a two-pounder steamed, you can find a wide range of topnotch restaurants, harbor side lobster pounds, and quaint cafes to serve you. Our favorite is Thurston’s in Bass Harbor.

4.  Go biking. Thanks to John D. Rockefeller, Jr., Acadia offers 45 miles of car-free carriage roads that will lead you around mountains, alongside lakes, and into serene boreal forests.  Visit Hull’s Cove Visitor Center first, just outside of downtown Bar Harbor, where there is plentiful parking and good advice about the best bike routes for you and your family. I love their 3D map.

5.  Stroll, hike, or climb. The park boasts 125 miles of well-maintained hiking trails that appeal to all levels of fitness. The most exciting trails, such as the Precipice and Jordan Cliffs, feature rungs and ladders. A beautiful, moderately challenging hike is Acadia Mountain, overlooking Somes Sound, the only fiord in North America. If you’re looking for easier strolls, consider Asticou Trail and Wonderland – they’re lovely.

Hiking The Bubbles

6.  Have popovers at Jordan Pond House. Select a biking or hiking route that stems from behind Jordan Pond House so that you can conclude your afternoon with lemonade or tea – and, most certainly, popovers — on the lawn looking towards the Bubbles, a sight that has mesmerized visitors at teatime since 1896. It’s a favorite destination for everyone, but worth the wait.  What about popovers filled with blueberry ice cream?

Jordan Pond Popovers with Blueberry Ice Cream

7.  Go to the beach.  Sand Beach is a stunning crescent of white sand, with cliffs at each side and the Beehive Trail behind it. The views won’t disappoint, even if the chilly water does. Another option for a swim is the beach at Echo Lake on the island’s “Quietside.”

Echo Lake swimming

8.  Visit a lighthouse.  Maine has over 60 lighthouses, and one of its most beautiful is on Mount Desert Island in Bass Harbor.  It’s a great spot for photographers.  Afterwards, visit the working harbor busy with lobster and sail boats.

Bass Harbor

9.  Take a horse-drawn carriage ride.  Carriages of Acadia offers a number of picturesque drives within Acadia National Park, starting at Wildwood Stables and encompassing destinations including Day Mountain and Jordan Pond.  Another option is to enjoy a tour of downtown Bar Harbor with Wild Iris Horse Farm.

Carriage Drives in Acadia

10.  Learn from a park ranger. The National Park Service offers very entertaining talks and walks on subjects ranging tidal pools to birds of prey to the stars over Sand Beach. Scan The Beaver Log to figure out how you can fit in more than one.

11.  Touch nature – literally. There are several enterprises, including Mount Desert Biological Laboratories, The Dive-In Theatre, and the Mount Desert Oceanarium, that feature touch tanks full of lobsters, crabs, and sea cucumbers. I always end up liking this stuff just as much as the kids do.

12.  Visit the local wineries and micro-breweries.  On Mount Desert Island you can enjoy free tours and tastings of two award-winning micro-breweries, Bar Harbor Brewing Company and Atlantic Brewing Company.  Venture off the island to discover the acclaimed fruit vintages of Bartlett Winery.

13.  Get out on the water. This great national park is on an island so you must see it from the vantage point of the sea. Whether you’re powering yourself in a sea kayak or the wind is propelling you on a Downeast Friendship Sloop or the Margaret Todd, being on the water is a special part of a trip to Acadia National Park.

Sailing in Acadia

14.  Experience farm to table cuisine. Maine is known not only for its great fishermen, but also its farmers.  And nowhere in Maine has the renaissance of local and organic ingredients been as great as on Mount Desert Island.  A long list of top restaurants, including Burning Tree, Fathom, Red Sky, and Town Hill Bistro, awaits the discerning diner.  Make reservations!

15.  Take an art class.  If you’ve ever pictured yourself sketching or learning watercolors in an idyllic seaside location, make that fantasy a reality.  Among the many wonderful artists on Mount Desert Island is Judy Taylor, who offers workshops that include cruises to some of the most picturesque islands surrounding Mount Desert Island.

Judy Taylor Sketch Class

16.  Relax at a spa. Bar Harbor is home to a number of spas that run the gamut from sophisticated to funky.  If your idea of a great vacation is a day of outdoor activities topped off by a soothing massage, then you’ll find a vacation to Acadia perfect from the pine-scented trails to the aromas of the spa.

17.  Experience the “Way Life Should Be.”  That Maine slogan is your personal invitation to church suppers, local parades, blueberry festivals, farmers’ markets, crafts fairs, and terrific libraries.  If you pull off the road and depart from your schedule, you’ll be amply rewarded.  After all, those practical folks who invented ear muffs in 1873 just named Whoopie Pies as their “State Treat.”

public suppers in Maine

Related Stories:

5 Tips If You Want to Enjoy A Glorious Sunrise from Cadillac Mountain in Maine

Where to Stay on a Trip to Acadia National Park: A Profile of Mount Desert Island’s Villages

November 5, 2012

Foodies: Discover a Winery in Downeast Maine

Ann's Point Inn Bass Harbor Maine

As the sun softened over Bass Harbor, the guests at Ann’s Point Inn leaned forward to listen to the innkeeper introduce the two Bartlett wines, a semi-dry peach and a semi-dry pear, he was pouring that afternoon.  We took another nibble of Seal Cove goat cheese, then tasted.  Wine made from peaches and pears, not grapes?  It was delicious.

“I like featuring Bartlett because my guests appreciate trying wine only available in Maine,” says Alan Feuer, a computer sciences professor turned innkeeper.  “And I like supporting local businesses making high-quality products.”

These wines are the fruits of the labor of award-winning  winemaker  Bob Bartlett, who founded  Bartlett Maine Estate Winery in 1982.  It was Maine’s first winery.   Bob, in fact, had to write the legislation himself to get the license for the tasting room.  Today he and his wife Kathe produce 6,000 to 7,000 cases a year, depending on the availability of fruit.

Bartlett WineryAfter first tasting Bartlett wines at Ann’s Point, I spied the bottles with the labels that look like botanical art at wine stores and markets around Mount Desert Island.  I was curious about the winery in nearby Gouldsboro and wanted to taste more.  This cloudy October afternoon seemed just right to take a break from hiking in Acadia and go on a field trip.  What we learned was not only about wine, but also about a couple who three decades ago foreshadowed today’s local and artisanal food movements.

The drive east from our house in Somesville on Mount Desert Island would have taken about 45 minutes along Route 1, but we decided to explore the Schoodic Peninsula, stopping in Winter Harbor for some clam chowder and a lobster roll.  This part of Maine – with its white-steeple churches, harbors full of lobster boats, and quiet villages – make a town like Bar Harbor look positively bustling.  It was easy to find the winery at 175 Chicken Mill Pond Road, also known as Old Route 1 Bypass.

It’s not surprising that the driveway into the quiet wooded setting of the winery is marked by an oversized granite sculpture.  Bob Bartlett came to Maine in 1975 as a trained architect and glass artist.

Kathe Bartlett Winery Gouldsboro MaineAlthough Kathe has two employees managing tastings in the summer, we were fortunate to have her as our host today.  Friendly and articulate, she selected for our testing, which was free, seven of the 18 wines and two honey-meads they produce.   Ranging from dry to sweet, the wines are made from apples, pears, peaches, raspberries, blackberries, loganberries, and of course blueberries – and combinations thereof.  The fruit is brought to the Bartletts as fresh whole fruit – ninety percent of which is from Maine and “always from someone we know.”

The fruit is the key here.  “That’s what I get most excited about…when the fruit comes in,” says Kathe.  “It is so luscious.”

Bartlett wines are made totally with fruit, with no concentrates or flavorings.   High-quality honey and great fruit that is clean (to minimize the risk of bacteria) are necessary for their wine and mead, and limit how much can be produced.  Sourcing honey, for example, can be a real challenge, Kathe says, adding that honey from New Zealand might really be from China.

Fruit also played a major role in the history of the winery.  Seminal to Bob’s idea of producing wine in Maine was using Maine fruit and thus promoting Maine agriculture.  He even wrote it into the legislation.

At this point in the tasting we had moved to the wines made from blueberries, and I was trying to decide whether I preferred the medium-dry Coastal Red, a blend of local Maine apples and wild blueberries, or the oakier, barrel-aged Dry American, which Kathe says pairs with lamb, venison, and turkey and goes particularly well with rosemary, thyme, and sage seasonings – “perfect for Thanksgiving.”

At that moment a man arrayed in rain gear and totally drenched passed by the door leading from the tasting room into the winery.  It was Bob.  He looked like a very wet lobsterman, not the “dean” or “godfather” of the Maine wine industry, as he’s frequently called.  “What I do to make wine for you people,” he said happily, and then moved on.  He’d been cleaning the inside of vats.  The cleanliness of the equipment is obviously as important to him as the purity of the fruit.

It’s a big job for two people to run a venture of this size and caliber.  Says Kathe, “The longest we’ve ever been away is three weeks.”  The tasting room at the winery is open June until Columbus Day, Tuesday through Saturday, from 11am to 5pm.

Kathe and Bob seem anything but tired or complacent, however.  One of their newest ventures is the Spirits of Maine Distillery, which is also gaining recognition in international awards competitions.  American Apple Brandy and Pear Eau de Vie are two of the stand-outs.

Bartlett Winery Maine

Suddenly, we noticed it was after 4:30, and we found ourselves in a rush as Kathe packed a case of wine for us that included the Coastal White, Peach Semi-Dry, and both of the blueberry wines between which I had been trying to decide.  Before it closed at 5pm, we wanted to get to the Sullivan Harbor Farm Smokehouse – “the hottest little smokehouse in Maine” that gets raves of “delectable” from The Boston Globe and “highly recommended” from The New York Times. Kathe picked up the phone and asked if they would wait for us for five minutes.  They did, and we left very happy with smoked salmon bacon brushed with maple syrup and the best smoked salmon pâté I have ever had.  (Sorry, Zabar’s.)

Maine has always been the land of farmers and fishermen.  But, as the Bartlett Winery and Sullivan Harbor Farm prove, it is increasingly the home of culinary artisans who are adding true craftsmen’s value to what’s offered by the great state of Maine.

Next time I won’t wait for a cloudy day to visit.  I’ll bike the Schoodic Peninsula, then head over to Bartlett’s.

Related Stories:

Biking in Maine:  A Road Less Traveled in Acadia National Park

July 30, 2012

Great Maine Breakfast Reflects Logging Camp Past

Maine logging camp cooks

The standards for a great breakfast in Maine are high, hearkening back to the logging camps.

Lumbermen would refuse to work if they didn’t like the food.  The output of the cooks, whose reputations grew among workers in the Maine woods, was as much a factor as pay in selecting where to work.

Camp cook culinary renown grew with mastery of breads, pastries, pie, and, of course, baked beans – which hearken back even further to Maine’s Native Americans, the Wabanaki, who prepared them with maple syrup and bits of venison or other meat.

That tradition of a hearty breakfast is alive and well today for visitors to Acadia National Park at Jeannie’s at 15 Cottage Street in Bar Harbor, which serves The Great Maine Breakfast.

It’s hard to resist the namesake breakfast on your first visit.  The delicious homemade baked beans come with three eggs, grilled ham, home fries, toast, and a buttermilk pancake.

Great Maine Breakfast

Of course, if your preference goes more toward black beans, you might opt for the three-egg Spanish omelet with provolone cheese. Topped with a very fresh and spicy salsa, it’s also served with home fries and homemade toast.

Jeannie's spicy Spanish omelet

No Bar Harbor breakfast spot is popular – and, believe me, Jeannie’s is – if it doesn’t offer some version of eggs with lobster.  Jeannie’s lobster specialty is an omelet filled with that iconic crustacean and topped with a creamy Mornay cheese sauce.

If you have a sweet tooth, you won’t be disappointed.  You can choose from blueberry pancakes or French toast stuffed with cream cheese and jam.  Jeannie’s is also known for its strawberry rhubarb fruit spread, which is packaged with pancake mixes, as a great gift to take to those who had to stay home.

Vegans can relax with vegan oatmeal and walnut pancakes topped with a warm, savory homemade applesauce.  If you’re a vegetarian who loves tofu, as my daughter does, go for the scrambled eggs with spiced tofu, peppers, and onions.  It’s also topped with that deliciously fresh homemade salsa.

Jeannie's Cottage Street Bar Harbor

There’s nothing fancy about Jeannie’s, which doesn’t take reservations.  But friendly and fast service will get you out early, as well fueled as any Maine woodsman, to tackle your hiking trail or carriage road in Acadia National Park.

RELATED STORIES:

Best Bar Harbor Breakfasts: 2 Cats

Tips for Kid-Friendly Restaurants in Bar Harbor

Best Restaurants in Bar Harbor – From a New Yorker’s Point-of-View

September 1, 2011

Last Call for Summer: Maine Lemonade

When I was a little girl growing up in Massachusetts, I learned that the two primary crops of Maine were potatoes and blueberries (and that the state bird was the same as ours – the chickadee).

Now, as a New Yorker for more years than I’ll admit, I’ve discovered a cocktail that combines those two great crops and makes me as happy as when I’m listening to a chickadee.  It’s called Maine Lemonade.

Maine Lemonade is a summer concoction created by spiking a glass of lemonade with blueberry vodka.  Adding extra ice cubes and a sprig of mint puts it into cocktail category.

The trick, though, is to use Cold River Vodka.  Cold River Vodka is a 100 percent Maine potato vodka that is flavored with Wyman’s Wild Maine Blueberries.  The flavor of these smaller, more intensely flavored berries is sweetened only slightly, which makes Cold River Vodka the perfect foil for the tartness of lemonade. 

And Cold River Blueberry Vodka is a “true” vodka at 80 proof.  Remember that as you cope with the fact that summer is, really, almost over.

(But don’t lament for long.  Plan a trip to Maine to see the fall foliage.  Ideas here.)

 

August 28, 2011

Top Artisanal Ice Cream in America Is Just Across the Village Green in Bar Harbor

President Obama chose coconut.  My husband blueberry.  And I opted for two scoops – kahlua chip and salt caramel. 

I’ll never feel the same about Haagen-Daz again.

Apparently I’m not alone in my assessment of MDI Ice Cream.  This is what all of Mount Desert’s best restaurants – including Red Sky, Havana, Café This Way, and Fathom – choose to pair with their homemade puddings and blueberry pies. Red Sky, in fact, has built a banana split with bruleed banana, maple-candied almonds and sun-dried cherries around three flavors of MDI Ice Cream.  When Downeast Magazine published their itinerary of what to do in Bar Harbor, their late-night recommendation for the active traveler was a visit to MDI Ice Cream.  And this summer both Food and Wine Magazine and Mother Earth News have included them on their lists of best artisan ice creams nationwide. 

Still, MDI Ice Cream is a low-key place that avoids sensationalism.  No lobster ice cream here.  Linda Parker founded it in 2005 in Bar Harbor, where there are now two retail shops, one on Main Street across from Havana and the other on Firefly Lane just off Main Street and across from the Village Green. After six years in Bar Harbor, she has also opened on Exchange Street in Portland.

Taking a look at their flavors, you have no trouble buying into her motto: Fearless Flavor.   Chili chocolate, blackstrap banana, candy shoppe, nectarine prosecco, nutella, mango jicama habanero, lemon basil, and cookies.  But, believe me.  They’re not weird.  They’re delicious.

Ice cream and summer vacation go together.  And, let’s face it.  You can’t take it with you.  Like the breeze on Sargent Mountain or the sound of the gulls over Bass Harbor, we’ll enjoy it while we’re here.  So, for now, move over Haagen-Daz.

Plan your trip to Bar Harbor and Acadia National Park.

August 21, 2011

Destination Dining at its Best: Xanthus at the Claremont Hotel in Southwest Harbor, Maine

We had had a busy day on Mount Desert Island.  In the morning we went to the annual Somesville Library Book and Blueberry Fair.  In the afternoon we kayaked on Somes Sound, where we saw an eagle and two seals who were almost as eager to look at us as we at them.  After a cocktail party at the Causeway Club in Southwest Harbor, we headed to dinner at the Claremont Hotel.  

We got lost.

Even at the risk of a wrong turn, the Claremont Hotel is a destination worth finding because, among the many excellent restaurants on Mount Desert Island, its restaurant is one of the rare finds that inspires diners equally with its cuisine and setting.

The Claremont Hotel is at the end of Clark Point Road in Southwest Harbor, then you must take a left onto Claremont Road across from the harbor.  There stands the grand summer resort hotel from 1883, known for its outdoor activities and spirited competition on the croquet court.  In fact, it offered such a sublime Maine coast summer experience that, in 1885, well-known landscape artist Xanthus Smith painted it in exchange for an extension of his stay there.  The restaurant is named after him, and today that painting hangs in the dining room overlooking the same view it depicts.

Even though we were seated at a table for two to enjoy both Somes Sound and Acadia’s mountains, as I began to consider my dinner options, I couldn’t help but notice the activity through a side window.  It was a good sign.  A woman from the kitchen was picking fresh herbs in the garden.

My selection of an appetizer, a goat cheese tartlet with roasted beets, featured a nasturium from that garden.  My partner chose a panzanella salad with mozzarella, olives, red onions, and red and yellow tomatoes.  Our candlelit dinner continued with grilled swordfish and pan-seared duck breast.  The fish was so fresh and the charcoal essence of the grilling so compelling that the mango/avocado salsa was only an enhancement, not the focal point of flavor it often is.  I received only one offer of a taste of the duck from my partner who usually volunteers to swap entrees. 

Chef Daniel Sweimler, who had stints as executive chef at two NYC restaurants, is well known today as one of Maine’s top chefs who feature local and organic in their foods.  Among his sources for produce for Xanthus is 14 Angels Farm in Cherryfield, owned by his mother.  Sweimler, who seems as popular with his staff as diners, changes the menu at Xanthus daily.

If you are visiting Acadia National Park for an anniversary or other milestone, consider dining at Xanthus.  Unlike most other restaurants on Mount Desert Island (even the best ones), you won’t see people there in their hiking boots.  In fact, you’re sure to see more than a few blue blazers.  Xanthus is the perfect place for dinner to mark a special occasion or to end a vacation in Acadia National Park.

To plot a day like the one I’ve described here, visit OUR ACADIA.  It offers itineraries, recommendations for guides and outfitters, and extensive reviews of restaurants throughout Mount Desert Island, including Bar Harbor.

July 9, 2011

When the Best Maine Lobster Roll Isn’t a Roll at All

Locals can get a little cranky when you ask, “What’s the best lobster pound?” 

“A lobster is a lobster is a lobster.” 

“It takes someone with a rare talent to screw up a boiled or steamed lobster.” 

Whether or not that’s true about boiled lobster (overcooking does cause toughness), it’s certainly not the case with lobster rolls.  Granted, in Maine they all usually taste great.  However, in side-by-side comparisons, some lobster rolls do taste better than others.  Preparation of the lobster salad varies.  Freshness varies.  And some purveyors, most notably the Lobster Claw in Bar Harbor, will make you a lobster roll that features fresh, unadulterated lobster meat.  Naked, as they say.

Among the lobster pounds near Acadia National Park perhaps the biggest difference in any lobster roll is the very lack of the roll itself at Trenton Bridge Lobster Pound.  At this esteemed establishment, which has had four generations of family members working there, lobster salad is served on a dense white bread that tastes like what my mother used to bake at home.  Says Josette Pettegrow, whose parents started the business in 1956, “It’s the old-fashioned way.  It’s how my mother served lobster salad, and my grandmother before.” 

That’s the way Nancy Jenkins sees it.  Writing in the New York Times, she noted, “The lobster roll is a tradition, though not a very old one. My 75-year-old father, who has lived all his life in Maine, says he doesn’t remember eating a lobster roll until sometime after World War II.” 

So, when you visit Acadia National Park, consider trying a lobster salad sandwich at Trenton Bridge Lobster Pound.  It’s located on Route 3 just as you approach the bridge to cross over to Mount Desert Island.  You’ll see the sign and smell the smoke of the wood-fired cookers boiling the lobsters. 

For more dining options during your trip to Acadia National Park, check out the restaurant reviews at OUR ACADIA.  You’ll get tips on where to find the best crab bisque, great choices for a special evening out, and places to eat with kids.

 

May 3, 2009

Soft vs. Hard Shell Lobster? The Final Word.

View from my favorite lobster pound

View from my favorite lobster pound

Every time I go to Acadia National Park to hike, bike, and kayak, my vacation itinerary includes a trip to a lobster pound.  OK, often two.  So here, after much research, is the point-of-view of this New Yorker on the soft vs. hard shell lobster debate.

Here are the two sides.  Fans of soft shell lobsters claim they are sweeter and easier to eat because they can be cracked by hand.  Lovers of hard shells point to more meat and a firmer consistency.

Let’s draw on a little science about Homarus americanus.  Lobsters shed their shells (or molt) throughout their lives.  After they grow a new shell inside the old one, they drink a lot of water which expands their body size and infuses the new shell, causing it to expand and break the old one.  The new shell is softer.  While it hardens, there’s a layer of seawater that helps insulate the lobster’s body.

And, to me, that’s the insight.  The seawater acts as kind of a secret marinating agent to make the meat of the soft shell lobster undeniably sweeter.  It’s more tender and delectable.

So, if taste is your priority, order a soft shell.  But keep in mind two other considerations.  First, eating a soft shell lobster is a messier process.  When you crack it open, be prepared for the torrent of “marinating liquid” to spew forth! The other negative is a soft shell will have relatively less meat for the same poundage. Lower prices will compensate for this, but you must remember to order a larger size.  Thurston’s Lobster Pound on Mount Desert Island recommends at least a quarter of a pound more.

You are not likely to get a soft shell lobster in a New York restaurant or delivered by mail because hard shells are more durable for shipping.  So, if you are on Mount Desert Island at the end of the summer, which is the molting season for that part of New England, the choice should be clear. A soft shell lobster is a special seasonal treat if you’re lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time.

lobsterMount Desert Island in Maine is home not only to Acadia National Park, but to harborside  villages, charming inns, wonderful antiquing, and topnotch spas.  Activities, especially hiking, biking, kayaking, and sailing, abound.  And, since Maine is the state of both farmers and fishermen, the restaurants are great. To read about my favorites, including several lobster pounds, visit OUR ACADIA.

 

RELATED STORIES:

When the Best Maine Lobster Roll Isn’t a Roll at All

Should a Maine Lobster Lover Opt for Peekytoe Crab?

The Best Ice Cream in Bar Harbor Is the Best in America

August 5, 2008

In Search of the Perfect Maine Lobster Roll: The Trenton Tasting Tour

My parents lived on Nantucket for fifteen years, and the trip from the mainland to the island was a significant three hours. It takes less than a minute to cross the bridge from Trenton onto Mount Desert Island. Still, for me it is significant. It’s the dividing line between “need to” and “want to.”

 

Therefore, I celebrate the crossing over. And I start with a lobster roll in Trenton.  Why not? Regardless of the time of day, I stop at one of the local lobster pounds and order some clam chowder and this most celebrated of sandwiches to mark the beginning of a vacation in Maine.

 

Up until this point where I stop has been more or less random. However, there are three lobster pounds that we have frequented over the years, all situated on Bar Harbor Road right before the bridge: Gateway Lunts, Down East Lobster Pound, and Trenton Lobster Pound. These rustic shacks have drawn us by the fragrance of the outdoor wood fires simmering barrels of water for the lobster boil and the pleasant picnic tables in view of the water or in a pine grove.

 

Now that I’m writing this blog, however, I thought I should get a little more scientific about my recommendations. Therefore, we removed the bias of the setting from the objects under examination and set up a taste test on my porch. All three samples of chowder and lobster rolls were similarly influenced by a nicely chilled sauvignon blanc. It was very surprising how much difference side-by-side comparison revealed.

 

The chowder at all three Trenton lobster pounds is full of tender clams and diced potatoes, served in a flavorful milky broth. None succumbed to an overly thick cream base. I’d bet anything that Down East’s broth began by sautéing onions in butter. It was easily deemed our favorite.

 

Both Lunts and Down East serve their lobster salad on a nicely toasted frankfurter roll. For Lunts that’s what you get for $12.99. At Down East you also get a bag of chips and fresh, tangy coleslaw for $13.99. For $13.99 Trenton Lobster Pound serves a lobster salad sandwich on delicious white bread topped with a grape tomato and pepper garnish, as well as a side of chips. Compared with the other two pounds, Lunts offers slightly less lobster in lieu of a layer of lettuce at the base of the roll.

 

Flavor? On the evening of our tasting, Trenton Lobster Pound offered the sweetest lobster meat. The tasty salad was created with the slightest amount of celery and a minimum of mayonnaise. By a significant margin, it was the best. However, the sandwich presentation doesn’t live up to everyone’s expectation of a classic lobster roll. If that’s the case for you, you’ll want to try Down East’s, not only for the value, but for the pure taste of the lobster salad itself.

Whichever lobster pound you choose, you’ll be thrilled that you’re now enjoying the best Maine has to offer and in less than a minute you’ll be on one of the world’s most beautiful islands. Foodies adore Mount Desert Island, with its great harborside spots for more lobster, wine and tapas bars, and comfortably refined restaurants that specialize in organic produce and other local ingredients. For more information visit OUR ACADIA … and have a great vacation!

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