Posts tagged ‘Southwest Harbor’

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?

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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.

August 19, 2010

Lecture Series at The Claremont Hotel in Southwest Harbor

It’s a compelling sensation to see a familiar place – a building, neighborhood, or grand vista – in a photograph from long ago. 

That was one of the several distinct pleasures of Earle G. Shettleworth’s recent illustrated talk “Charles A. Townsend’s Mount Desert,” part of the Thursday evening lecture series at The Claremont Hotel in Southwest Harbor. 

Charles A. Townsend was a Bucksport-based insurance salesman who ventured into photography to capitalize upon the growing popularity of picture postcards during the first three decades of the twentieth century.  Along the way he documented fascinating changes on Mount Desert Island and produced some important images of the past.  

So we learned from the well-delivered remarks of Mr. Shettleworth, Maine State Historian and Director of the Maine Historic Preservation Committee, who also charmed us by reading some of the messages on those postcards. 

Too bad if you missed Mr. Shettleworth, but, if you’re on MDI during the next few weeks, there’s still the opportunity to take advantage of this worthwhile offering from The Claremont. 

Here’s what is still coming up: 

Aug. 19         John Singer Sargent’s “Daughters of Edward D. Boit” – Erica Hirschler, Croll Senior Curator of American Art, Boston Museum of Fine Arts

Aug. 26         China Then and Now – Ambassador Nicholas Platt, President Emeritus of the Asia Society

Sept. 2         Conservation of Island Historic Gardens: The Mount Desert Land & Garden Preserve  –   Betsy  Hewlett, Collections Manager & Carole Plenty, Executive Director, Mount Desert Land & Garden Preserve

Lectures start at 8pm and are free.

For more ideas on what to do on a trip to Mount Desert Island, visit OUR ACADIA.  From restaurants to kayaking trips to farmers’ markets, it can help you make the most of your vacation to Maine.

January 11, 2010

Lobster in Winter – How Sweet It Is!

The mind tricks the senses, and in no case is that truer than with expensive food, such as lobster.  If it’s expensive, it’s got to be good, right? 

As a New Yorker who spends a lot of time in Maine, I’ve stopped eating lobster in city restaurants, even on an expense account.  It’s tasteless.  A $42 price tag and plating by an acclaimed chef can’t trick my taste buds anymore. 

But my partner and I still wanted to celebrate New Year’s Eve in the city with a lobster dinner.  It was an easy decision to cook at home.  However, where would we get the lobster?  We decided to repeat our 2009 lobster taste test, comparing Maine lobster shipped from Mount Desert Island vs. bought locally.  

This year it would be a blind taste test. 

First, I ordered two lobsters from Beal’s Lobster Pier, a year-round working fish and lobster wharf in Southwest Harbor, Maine.  Lobsters are “right off the boat” and shipped nationwide, year-round.  Although the lobsters were only $8.50 per pound, the shipping drove the bill up to a hefty $91.75.  

Then, I went to Fairway on the Upper West Side of Manhattan – a market widely acclaimed for its fresh produce and rapid turnover – and bought the same size lobster for $9.99 per pound. 

For cooking we followed the advice of Brooke Dojny in her beautifully illustrated book Cooking Up Maine.  After putting the lobsters in the freezer for 15 minutes to numb them, we set them into a large enamel canning pot to steam for about 17 minutes. 

As they steamed, I began to wonder: Would I really be able to taste a difference?  They were both Maine lobsters and “live,” after all.  Maybe the knowledge of “which was which” had influenced my perception in the past, just as price can. 

Beal’s used blue bands to restrain the claws of their lobsters; Fairway, red – so there would be no mistakes as to origin in our evaluation.  Eyes tightly shut, I tasted sample one slowly.  But as soon as I bit into sample two – the taste briny and sweet, the texture less chewy – I immediately said, “That’s Maine.” 

Would my partner agree?  I’d have to defer.  After all, he’d commenced craving these crustaceans almost fifty years ago at Lundy’s, the much-missed venerable seafood institution in Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn.  His decision was also firm and made the taste test unanimous.  

Lobster shipped directly from Maine was markedly better. 

Why?  I called the Lobster Council of Maine and spoke with their Executive Director Dane Somers, “Everyone thinks that if it’s alive, you can’t get any fresher than that.  But there is a subtle difference.  It’s like fresh-cut flowers.  One-day-old flowers are not as fresh as those cut this morning.”  He continued, “There is no substitute for the ocean in which Maine lobsters live.  Tank water simply cannot replicate this pristine environment.”  I hadn’t really thought about it, but if lobsters are in transit or in the tank for two or three days, they have not been fed and are obviously under stress.  

We all know about grass-fed beef and free-range chicken, but I’d never considered what lobsters eat and the degree to which that affects their flavor.  Somers explained to me, “The waters around where you ordered your lobsters are rich with sea life — and a perfect feeding ground for lobsters.  They eat clams, oysters, and love scallops when they find them.  You are what you eat — and that’s why that part of Maine near Southwest Harbor produces some of the best-tasting lobster anywhere.”

Yes, the lobster shipped directly from Maine was substantially better, but was it worth the steep increment?  The lobster itself was $32 for two of them, but the packaging and shipping added sixty dollars.  Ouch! 

I think it’s fair to compare the higher price of  “fresh from the boat” lobster to that of better-tasting organic food.  My personal rationale for this luxury is that I also like supporting the local Maine economy, and especially the fishermen.  For others, it may only make sense to ship directly from Maine when there’s a large enough order, say, for a dinner party, to amortize the shipping cost.

New Year’s Day we celebrated with a lunch of  the third lobster, lightly tossing the chunks of lobster meat with mayonnaise and a little lemon and piling them on a toasted Brioche roll.  We had some delicious cold asparagus – from Fairway! – and drank the rest of the champagne from New Year’s Eve.  We watched a couple re-runs of  The Honeymooners, silently acknowledging Jackie Gleason for summarizing how we felt about the lobster, our health, and happiness: 

How sweet it is!

 Lynn Fantom publishes OUR ACADIA, which helps visitors make the most of their vacations to Acadia National Park and Mount Desert Island.  She provides tips about guides, excursions, restaurants, and lodging.  You’ll also find insights about the best time to visit and 22 great things to do with kids in Acadia National Park.

August 25, 2009

“How Much Time Do We Need to See Acadia National Park in Maine?”

Coast lineThis is a frequently asked question among first-time visitors to New England, especially those who fly into Boston and want a “representative sample” of the scenic villages and ports along the Maine Coast. 

Who can blame them for wanting to see it all? 

“Breadth” vs. “depth” becomes the issue. 

Depending upon what kind of vacation you want to create for yourself, here’s an activity log for three different levels of time availability.  Think about what activities you most enjoy, how much “down time” you need, and if you want to incorporate outdoor adventures or time at the beach (or for shopping).  The amount of time you need for Acadia should then become clear!  

Three Days 

  •  Drive the Park Loop Road, taking in the key sights such as Frenchman Bay, Ocean Trail, Thunder Hole, Otter Cliffs, and Jordan Pond
  • Hike a trail from among the 130 miles of stunning, well-maintained routes on the island.  Consider Jordan Pond as a starting point so that you can efficiently include lunch or tea (popovers, lemonade, chowder) at Jordan Pond House
  • Visit the “Quietside,” being sure to see Somes Sound, Somesville, Echo Lake, Bass Harbor Headlight, and the fishing village of Bass Harbor
  • Have dinner at Thurston’s Lobster Pound in Bernard on the “Quietside”  

One  Week

  •  Add in a sea kayaking tour – great from Bar Harbor in the morning, Southwest Harbor for sunset
  • Take a horse-drawn carriage drive from Wildwood Stables, an Acadia tradition
  • Shop in Bar Harbor and explore the waterfront 

Two Weeks

  • Bike along any of Acadia’s 57 miles of scenic carriage roads
  • Attend a ranger-led program, whether it’s to explore tidal pools or learn more about birds of prey
  • Take a boat ride with Diver Ed in the Starfish Enterprise  or in a romantic, historic Friendship Sloop
  • Work in a second hike on another part of the island – the views and terrain are so varied!
  • Visit the village of Southwest Harbor to shop and have a lobster roll and blueberry pie
  • Seek out a Maine public supper or flea market — and enjoy the company of locals
  • Schedule a family rock-climbing expedition
  • Visit an oceanarium with touch tanks to see marine life up close and personal
  • Attend a tour of one of Mount Desert Island’s award-winning local breweries
  • Take a nap on Sand Beach or at Echo Lake

Dining out is a big part of visiting Acadia.  The island’s eateries range from chic tapas bars to lobster pounds in the rough.  You may also want to picnic on a mountaintop or cook-out seaside.  Regardless, where to eat should be planned as part of your itinerary because you want to make getting around this 100-square-mile island most efficient.  Consult OUR ACADIA for reviews of the best places to eat.

OUR ACADIA also features recommendations for sea kayaking tours, kayaking rentals, bike rentals, and rock-climbing guides.  You may want to make reservations in advance, especially in the busiest vacation seasons.