Posts tagged ‘Lobster Pounds’

August 11, 2010

A Bike Trip to Swan’s Island

In this my eighth summer on Mount Desert Island, I decided to start exploring some of the smaller islands around MDI.  On a Saturday morning Fred and I took our bikes on the 9 o’clock ferry from Bass Harbor to Swan’s Island.

You wouldn’t like it.

The island is hilly for biking.  There are no restaurants to speak of, only two or three take-out shacks.  And we were told the islanders don’t like cyclists.  That’s why the ferry service charges $16.50 per bicycle, in addition to $17.50 per passenger.

Still, you might like the ferry trip.  Packed in with some pick-ups, a lobster bait truck, and a few SUVs loaded with kayaks and vacation gear, we spent the 40-minute crossing both on deck and above, marveling at Acadia’s mountains as they became more and more distant, then turning our attention to Swan’s as it emerged to the south.  Ferry rides are exciting, and this one passed quickly.

Then we arrived, and something surprising happened.  Every time we pedaled past a motorist, he waved.  Sometimes it was a full-fledged wave, sometimes merely a finger off the steering wheel.  But it was nearly universal.

We biked past freshly painted white Victorian farmhouses and the Methodist Church (1891) on our way to our first destination: the Burnt Coat Harbor Lighthouse on Hockamock Head.  It marks the entrance to Burnt Coat Harbor, a curious name that seems to have come from the explorer Samuel de Champlain, who in 1604 called the island Brule-Cote or “Burnt Coast.”

(Speaking of the origin of place names, don’t look for swans on Swan’s Island.  It’s named after James Swan, one of the Sons of Liberty and participant in the Boston Party, who purchased the island in 1786.)

The Burnt Coat light station, built in 1872, was operated manually until 1974 and is on the National Register of Historic Places.  The lighthouse and the keeper’s house are pristine white forms, topped in black and red, handsome geometry straight out of a Hopper painting.

A man on the ferry had kindly mentioned to us that there’s a hiking path at the top of the hill leading down to the lighthouse.  We found it past a huge outcropping of raspberry bushes and followed it among moss-covered boulders and stunning silvery birches down to Burnt Coat Harbor.  And there was the second surprise of the day, a lobster pound.

You’re thinking, “She said there were no restaurants.”  Such lobster pounds (aka lobster shacks) derive their name from the holding tanks where restaurateurs keep the live lobsters.  But this lobster pound in Burnt Coat Harbor, created by wood fencing and pilings with netting, is where lobstermen hold their catch until pricing is favorable for them to bring it to market.  It wasn’t in use, perhaps reflecting the low price of lobster.

This focus on lobster made us hungry.  We biked back past the Post Office, the busiest spot on the island from what I could see. During the 2000 Census, the population of Swan’s Island was 327, and a good percentage of them seemed to be at the Post Office on Saturday morning.  We headed to the Carrying Place, a beautiful narrow spit of land between Toothacher Cove and Back Cove, so named because it is where the Indians carried their canoes from one body of water to the next.  At the Carrying Place Take-out (40 North Road, 526-4043) we ate lobster rolls and curly French Fries at a picnic table beside a meadow.  (They had a Shrimp Basket with French Fries for $10.35, a Clam Basket for $13.95, and an entire lobster dinner for $10.95, not surprising considering the island’s primary industry.)  Then we headed for Sand Beach.

There’s also a Sand Beach on Mount Desert Island and, as beach lovers, we recognize that “sand” is a relative term when it comes to the coast of Maine.  We were somewhat skeptical.  We cycled north on the paved road 0.4 mile and took the second gravel road on the left.  Over several hills and around bends, we pedaled another 0.7 mile, whirling in dust as a couple of cars passed on the loose gravel.  We stopped where four or five cars were parked and took another left almost missing a rather unpretentious sign to the beach.  We walked another half mile on a pine-needle path, sporadically overtaken by roots or mud. 

When we emerged, it was paradise. 

We discovered a perfect crescent of fine sand beach with only a few appreciative people playing lacrosse and building sandcastles with their children.  It looked more like the Caribbean than Maine.  We waded in the water, quite warm by Maine standards, and sunbathed on towels that had been squeezed into our backpacks.

I had wanted to visit Quarry Pond, from which granite was mined and taken out on ships for cobblestones in major eastern cities.  But we had lingered at the lighthouse and lobster pound and beach.  The last ferry returning to Mount Desert Island was at 4:30pm. 

On the way back I noticed a woman taking in laundry that had been drying all day in the sunshine.  The stretch to the dock seemed longer than when we had arrived.  The fragrance of the rosa rugosa intoxicated us with the idea of finding a B&B for the night, or buying a farmhouse and staying forever.

For more ideas of things to do when you visit Acadia National Park and Mount Desert Island, click here

October 27, 2009

How Long It Takes to Climb the Precipice and Other Notes from an October Trip to Acadia

Maine Fall 2009 044I recommend visiting Acadia when the blueberry bushes have turned red.  The air is crisp, most places are still open, and everyone is so much more relaxed than in summertime. 

And so it was on a recent October morning when my companion and I decided to hike the Precipice.  My Somesville neighbor Bill leaned against the picket fence separating our houses and stated in a Maine monotone, “It’s the only trail in Acadia where people have died.” 

Maine Fall 2009 020The Precipice Trail climbs 930 feet in 0.8 mile to the top of Champlain Mountain.  With Dorr and Cadillac to the west, Champlain is the closest mountain in Acadia to Frenchman Bay.  Thus, the foghorn provided musical accompaniment as we scrambled boulders and quickly came to the first rock face that required climbing iron rungs.  That initial reach was particularly strenuous, reinforcing the message that the Precipice is maintained as a non-technical climbing route, not a hiking trail. 

Maine Fall 2009 005It should have taken us an hour and fifteen minutes to get to the top.  But each switchback and set of boulders seemed to be another photo opp.  Then there were all of those relaxed visitors.  The couple from Atlanta.  The serious climber who hikes Sargent in the winter and knew exactly where the peregrines nest.  The Mid-Coast couple who told us lobstermen were making four times the average Maine income before the recession hit.  And the guy from Boston who got so involved recommending restaurants to the couple from Atlanta that his girlfriend took off without him. 

Needless to say, to get to the top it took us, well, it took a while. 

All of this camaraderie added to the exhilaration of the height, the iron ladders, and the ledges with no protective railings, including the one I crawled across because the rock was wet.  

We came down North Face Trail (formerly known as Bear Brook Trail) which, after the stunning views we’d had of the Porcupine Islands from the top, continued to thrill us with its covering of fiery blueberry bushes.  Our only complaint, which also applies to Kurt Diederich’s Climb which we did in August, is that the Jackson Laboratory buildings are a hideous blight on the landscape.  We connected to East Face Trail (now called Orange and Black) to descend to the Park Loop Road and walk back to the car.  Next time, we will consider hiking South Face Trail to Sand Beach, the longer route taken by our Mid-Coast compatriots. 

Maine Fall 2009 045I was so high (pardon me) from this climb that we decided to fit one more excursion into our day: Hunters Brook Trail.  The path ran for 0.3 mile along a lovely brook, over wooden walkways, across a bridge, and through balsam firs that immediately transformed October into December.  The trail itself would have sufficed, but the ultimate prize was Hunters Beach.   This crescent of pink granite cobblestones offers iconic Maine coast views. 

Little Hunters BeachFor the purposes of my photograph below, I’d like to say that we then went home for tea and cranberry bread, which was the “welcome” gift from a friend and neighbor.  However, we didn’t have time.  We drove directly from Hunters Beach to Thurston’s Lobster Pound in Bernard, the day before their season ended, and guess who was there – Maine Fall 2009 066the couple from Atlanta.

For specific recommendations and contact information for guides, tours, restaurants, and inns, visit OUR ACADIA.  You can find special tips for when to visit, what to do on a rainy day, and how to pack.  It also features tips for fall trips and sample itineraries.

August 24, 2009

Bar Harbor Restaurants: On the Quest for the Best New England Clam Chowder

chowder and lemonadeIf you’re in New York ordering clam chowder, you’re thinking Manhattan red versus New England white. But if you’re in Maine, believe it or not, the dichotomy can be even more extreme.

(You have to find the real thing. And, in my opinion, the success of the clam chowder is almost as important as the lobster roll when I’m visiting a local lobster pound.)

It’s all about the flour.

In New York – and even in Maine – people break Maine’s cardinal rule of great New England chowder: no flour. The so-thick-it-stands-up-to-a-spoon stuff is not the real thing in Maine. Instead, Mainers count on thickening the “chowdah” with the starch of the potatoes. Evaporated milk adds a creaminess. And the flavor deepens by sitting in the pot for a day or so.

Another key element of a great New England clam chowder is the salt pork. My mother always used salt pork in both corn and clam chowders (as well as string beans). Although she was from Massachusetts, her roots were French-American (Bellevue), a heritage which she shared with many Mainers. Some of the really good Maine cooks (I like Martha Greenlaw’s recipes a lot) substitute bacon for salt pork in clam chowder.

So, there we have it: bacon or salt pork, along with onion, for base flavor, potatoes and evaporated milk for the creaminess, butter, pepper – and the fish! The fish?

Last week on Mount Desert Island – we were hiking, biking, and kayaking in Acadia — I had chowder with clams, haddock, lobster, and scallops. Somehow mussels were out of this particular cycle. Here’s some of the best we tasted.

Jordan Pond House (Park Loop Road, Seal Harbor, 207-276-3316) has both a lobster stew and a seafood chowder that features scallops, shrimp, haddock and potatoes in a creamy – but not flour-thickened! – broth. Big plus: it’s served with their popovers.

Thurston’s (1 Thurston Road, Bernard, 207-244-7600), our favorite lobster pound for dinner, rotates from scallop to haddock to mussel chowder, but all are aged at least a day.  You believe it when you taste it.

Down East Lobster Pound (1192 Bar Harbor Road, Trenton, 207-667-8589) is the sleeper here. We were amazed at the amount of clams and haddock in their chowders. Ounce for ounce, there’s more fish here. And the buttery, milkly flavor is wonderful.

For more information and opinion on eating, exploring, and relaxing on a visit to Acadia National Park, visit OUR ACADIA. There’s a long list of restaurant reviews, as well as itineraries, tips for kids, and ideas on what to do on a rainy day.

January 2, 2009

A New Year’s Eve Taste Test of Maine Lobsters

Clubs, cruises, restaurants, and, of course, Times Square are all options for welcoming the New Year in New York City. This year we decided to stay home and celebrate with one of our favorite feasts – Maine lobster. But a dilemma immediately presented itself: should we buy them from a nearby Manhattan market, especially with prices on the decline, or have them shipped from Mount Desert Island, our second home, and support the local lobstermen? We chose to do both and to conduct a side-by-side taste test in the process.

fredlobster1My tasting partner offered excellent credentials for this experiment. He is pragmatic, but also passionate about lobster, having commenced craving these crustaceans almost fifty years ago at camp clambakes and Lundy’s, the venerable seafood institution in Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn. I, on the other hand, a born-and-bred New Englander, have only been eating lobster with great regularity since I started spending so much time on MDI several years ago, but it’s been enough to cause me to eschew lobster at fancy New York restaurants even when somebody else is paying for it! It just has no taste. (I make an exception for Pearl’s lobster rolls.)

We started speculating about our taste test. If both of our lobsters are originally from Maine’s cold waters and we cook them at home with the same technique, shouldn’t the quality be close to equivalent? If there’s a difference, which will be more detrimental to the flavor, time spent in a shipping carton or in a tank of pseudo saltwater?

We began our research into retailers. Although my dad recently paid $4.95/lb. at his local New Hampshire supermarket, it was clear that we wouldn’t get anything near that price in New York City, despite the so-called lobster glut. Citarella on the Upper West Side was charging $12.99/lb. for larger lobsters and $9.99/lb. for smaller ones. Fairway, which seemed to be doing an incredible volume with everything over the holidays, charged $9.99/lb. for Maine lobster regardless of size. We went with Fairway.

For our MDI source, we chose H.R. Beal and Son in Southwest Harbor, a family business going back two generations that ships nationwide year-round. In fact, they’re open seven days a week and only close for Christmas. When I told Helen there what we were doing, she seemed to think we were nuts. The price for two lobsters from Beal’s was $81 because of packing materials and overnight freight. Thinking about the expense of those prix fixe dinners at New York restaurants, I forged ahead and ordered two to amortize the cost of shipping over more lobster meat, some of which we’d hold in reserve for lobster salad on New Year’s Day.

lobster-blog-0071Our Beal’s lobsters arrived the next day, still active in their carton of wet newspapers after their Fed Ex journey, and our Fairway catch scratched away in his plastic bag. We carefully considered the pro’s and con’s of boiling vs. steaming, opting for the latter to preserve a little more flavor. The Maine Lobster Council also says that it’s harder to overcook a lobster with steaming. After careful timing and pouring more champagne, we were ready to taste. There was no doubt. The lobster express-shipped from Maine was distinctly sweeter.

If you plan two days in advance, Beal’s has another option for you. Until January 15th, Helen said, they’re offering a special of four 1-1/2 pounders, cooked and delivered, for $82. Since these lobsters are cooked in sea water, they are supposed to have even better flavor. You could invite some friends and do a taste test. Happy 2009.

For more information about Maine’s lobster pounds and planning a trip to Acadia National Park, visit OUR ACADIA, all about exploring, eating, and relaxing on Mount Desert Island. 

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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July 28, 2008

Best Restaurants in Bar Harbor, Maine — from a New Yorker’s Point-of-View

First of all, my favorite Bar Harbor restaurants aren’t in Bar Harbor. 

For those unfamiliar with the area, Bar Harbor is the best-known among Mount Desert Island’s towns, but there are several other villages on this island of 100 square miles (roughly the same size as Martha’s Vineyard).  Exploring beyond Bar Harbor will not only yield delectable dining, but also introduce you to the charms of what the locals call “the quiet side” of the island.

Restaurants on Mount Desert Island absolutely live up to the standard of the best restaurants in the world.  And, as a New Yorker, I can say that in my opinion they are often better because everything is fresher in the relevant seasons.  For example, last spring at the recitation of specials at my favorite restaurant in Southwest Harbor, the owner announced they were offering asparagus that had been “in the ground that afternoon.”

Unfortunately, I no longer eat lobster in Manhattan, only in Maine.  There’s a sweet and salty flavor that comes from the freshness and the saltwater boiling method that makes lobster anywhere else disappointing.

All this doesn’t mean that all of the restaurants on Mount Desert Island are good, however.  Frankly, you have to plan ahead a bit because reservations may be hard to get and walking into a random spot may give you the unwanted experience of a “tourist trap.”  OUR ACADIA reviews the top spots from Trenton to Bar Harbor that range from wine bars to sandwich shops, beloved by locals and visitors alike.  But here are three that we go to every time we visit Acadia National Park.

Sips
Thurston’s Lobster PoundThurston’s Lobster Pound
Steamboat Wharf Road, Bernard, 207-244-7600

You can get waitress service if you sit downstairs at this postcard-perfect lobster pound overlooking the working fishing docks of Bass Harbor. However, for us it’s a rite of summer to stand in line upstairs with a beer (we really like the local micro-brew Harbor Lighthouse Ale) and begin the debate: Should we have hard shell or soft shell? How many pounds? Steamers or chowder? Standing in line heightens the anticipation of the sweetest lobsters we know anywhere. You can opt to have your lobster alone or with a “basic dinner” of corn, coleslaw, roll, and Thurston’s blueberry spice cake (so good you’ll want to buy extra for tomorrow’s breakfast). Or you can enhance the experience with steamers, the chowder of the day, lobster stew, or crab cakes with chipotle sauce. There are lots of things for seafood-averse kids, too, including grilled cheese, burgers, and a grilled chicken sandwich with Boursin.

Red Sky Restaurant Sky
14 Clark Point Road, Southwest Harbor, 207-244-0476

A favorite of both locals and visitors to Mount Desert Island, it draws guests not only from Southwest Harbor and other communities on the “quiet side,” but also regulars from Seal Harbor and Northeast Harbor. Balancing warmth with culinary expertise, the owners James and Elizabeth Lindquist set a white table cloth for an excellent menu that features local products and seasonal produce. The pan-roasted breast of duck and grilled marinated lamb are among my favorites, as is Elizabeth’s martini. When we visited in June, we also indulged in the light lemon soufflé cake, another reason that Red Sky at night is a sailor’s delight, and everyone else’s, too.

 

Town Hill BistroTown Hill Bistro
Route 102 and Crooked Road/West Eden Commons, 207-288-1011

The first time we all went to Town Hill Bistro, only four months after their opening in 2007, there was a chalk board outside the front door announcing the restaurant was totally booked. Since Town Hill is off the beaten path, this is no small feat, but it’s no wonder once you experience the creative cuisine and very friendly, but competent service here. The restaurant serves about 30 guests in a cabin-like dining room that has a pitched, beamed ceiling and bar at one end and fireplace at the other. Guests include large and small parties, out-of-towners who rave (see TripAdvisor!), and locals who are regulars. Town Hill Bistro offers starters, small plates, and large plates that generally represent fish, steak, chicken, pasta, and vegetarian selections. We highly recommend the Asian Barbecue Salmon Filet over Udon Noodles!

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