By Chef Judi Gallagher –
Traveling with Flavors & More Editor Marsha Fottler is a culinary dream tour because we both appreciate great food and fine wine. We honor the the artistry of small-batch cheeses, local baked breads and, yes, the illusive perfect apple pie. (Truth be told, we also love to shop, but that is Marsha’s department.) I do believe however, that the gross amount of food I am able to consume while investigating the perfect lobster roll, the ideal clam chowder (not too thick, not too thin) and oh all those whole-belly clams with sweet onion rings on the side might have made Ms. Fottler cringe just slightly.
We were in Kennebunkport last month for the famous Kennebunkport Festival, Food, Wine and Works of Art 2012, a five day celebration with various events staged all over the village under tents, in galleries, historic buildings and in private homes. There were wine tastings in art galleries, dining experiences combined with lively entertainment at night, garden parties and a wonderful day of bites-and-sips at the famed Colony Hotel where regional restaurants and wineries combined to present a buffet of house specialties that was almost overwhelming in culinary creativity, beauty and bounty. We ate at the festival venues and enjoyed a memorable wine dinner at the spectacular Lord’s Point home of Shelley and Bill Farley (catered by the chefs from the incomparable Hugo’s of Portland). But, additionally, we ate in the village too. Oh, how we ate!
Allison’s in the village of Kennebunkport served us our very favorite lobster roll. Packed with succulent rich Maine lobster from the tail and claws this baby had the perfect ratio of mayonnaise to meat. The roll is served with a sprinkle of shredded lettuce on the buttered Nissan roll, the standard bread package if you are a true New Englander.
The Bush family may have made it a must-stop for tourists (see autographed apron on the wall), but the lobster roll and berry pies at small and humble Mabel’s in Kennebunkport deliver the goods. This eatery deserves to be famous! Located at 124 Ocean Drive, down the road from the Bush family compound at Walker’s Point, Mabel’s serves authentic Maine food. You can get some memorable lobster and clams here and even fresh grilled tuna and salmon, but you MUST have the pie – blueberry and raspberry are available almost every day in summer and if they shipped, I would be eating a slice right now.
Before saying farewell to the Kennebunport, book a reservation at On The Marsh, which is what we did on the advice of local food and wine enthusiasts. The setting near a salt marsh, the inviting gardens, the old house, the comfortably appointed interiors (elevated shabby chic and weathered wood) combine to support a menu that is creative and beautifully realized. The chef’s devotion to local ingredients means that the menu changes frequently. If I lived in this town, I’d be a regular at this exemplary fine-dining restaurant.
Leaving Kennebunkport, Rt 1 or Rt 7 will get you to some of the best “down home” eateries in the area. First up, we tried Seafood Center on Rt. 1 in Arundel, just one mile north of Kennbunkport, and one of the four villages of the Kennebunks.
At the counter, order the Fried Seafood Platter to cover the bases. Pick up when your name is called and bring your tray to a plain wood table in a big dining room full of local people. The platter was a good choice because the haddock was tender with a light batter wrapping in the flavor. Whole-belly fried clams? Yup, the real deal and plenty of tartar sauce for dipping. Onions rings, check. They were lightly battered so you get the true sweetness of the Vidalia onion and the scallops, sweet as can be while the clam cake, (Marsha’s first ever ) was full of flavor and that slight chewy texture of the clam came through with a dab of cocktail sauce. Oh yeah, did I mention the lobster roll? Fresh meat with a dot of mayo, indeed the real thing.
A short and scenic drive down Rt. 1 to Wells Maine will bring you to the Maine Diner. It is an authentic no-frills old time diner and although most people were enjoying their weekend breakfast of pancakes, eggs and hash, at 10:30 on a Sunday morning, Marsha and I needed to sample two specific classic lobster house specialties. Featured on the Food Network, the Maine Diner is known for their lobster pie and their lobster mac-n-cheese.
After a quick sip world’s best coffee at a Dunkin Donuts, another New England landmark (no Starbucks in these here parts) and we roll up our sleeves for the ultimate in fat and butter goodness – the lobster mac-n- cheese at Maine Diner counter. From the first mouthful this is a “Holy Cow” culinary moment. The casserole is gooey, rich in flavor and loaded with lobster deliciousness. In lobster pie lobster, the meat covered in Ritz cracker crumbs and melted butter and baked just until the meat is cooked. Overcooking means rubbery lobster. Timing is everything. I used to make lobster pie in my own restaurant in Glouster, Mass. The Maine Diner lobster pie was right on the money.
We simply could not fit in dessert – but, when you go to the Maine Diner, do try Indian or grapenut pudding, a nostalgic desert that transports me back to my New England days in mom’s kitchen.
The fact that we were eating two huge entrees, accompanied by a fat blueberry muffin, at 10:30 in the morning (we had a plane to catch in Portland in a few hours) did not ruffle the women behind the counter one bit. These energetic (and funny) Maine Diner ladies serve up to 1,700 meals a day and strange orders day or night are as common to them as a Maine blueberry. Before you waddle out, do check out the gift shop. It’s the best in cheesy souvenirs that will make you laugh. Now look at more pictures from out Maine culinary adventure on the gallery that Jim Galiano has set up.