September 2, 2015

Dining Out Casco Bay Islands: Down East Feature

First, the business! I'll be reading from Distilled in Maine and sharing stories of Maine's alcoholic past and present at Maine Historical Society on Friday, September 11th at 5:30. What - that's cutting into happy hour, you say? I hear ya. Cocktails will be provided by Steve from Vena's Fizz House. Tickets are $10 for MHS members and $15 for non-members. Hope to see you! 


I was asked in early July to write a feature for Down East magazine, and I was extremely! excited! One, I'm always excited to write for magazines, and two, the feature was about eating out on Casco Bay islands. The Island Issue is on stands now - pick it up to see my seven page spread (!!!) of dining on three islands in Casco Bay: Peaks, Great Diamond, and Chebeague Island. 

But then there was a catch: a short deadline, made even shorter by my family's visit over the upcoming weekend. So I had about a week to visit the islands and write the piece - which meant I visited three islands in three days. It was a whirlwind tour, but certainly a worthy challenge. 

After my friends and I caught the ferry back to Portland, we really felt we'd gotten away - more so than if we'd driven to Cape Elizabeth or Yarmouth for dinner. The islands are special places, and when you visit, you feel like you're part of a club or at the very least, capture some of that feeling you get when you're on vacation, far from your daily responsibilities. Check out September's Down East for my write-ups as well as some behind-the-scenes tidbits below. 

We thought it'd be great to sail to Peaks Island on a Sunday for lunch at Milly's Skillet, the new food truck on the island, or The Cockeyed Gull, an adorable shingled restaurant I've always wanted to visit. Unfortunately, our sailboat's steering gear had other ideas and we ended up being towed back to Portland before we could dock at Peaks. Whomp whomp. 

But a schedule is a schedule, so we hopped on the ferry and motored back out to Jones Landing. I ordered aggressively from Milly's: fish chowder (not normally green - the hue is borrowed from the picnic table umbrella), fish tacos, a lobster roll, and fried Brussel sprouts. 

The lobster roll was a hit - the brioche bun was thick and sweet, with a nice, buttery crunch. There was tons of lobster meat and was enough to split for $18. Portland Food Map recently shared the update via the Forecaster that owner Molly Ritzo will open another truck in Falmouth on Route 100, so look for Maine Mountain Trader to get a taste of Molly's cooking if you don't make it out to Peaks before she closes for the season. 

But there's still plenty of good weather forecasted this summer in which to check out the Cockeyed Gull. After our food truck lunch, we headed to the Gull and sat on the deck overlooking the water. While we ordered several things, my favorite dish was the risotto with peas and mushrooms, topped with scallops, shrimp, or chicken. I went for grilled scallops - I can't get enough of them. 

When I saw that the Gull made their own desserts, I had to order a slice of key lime pie, even though we were all groaning with discomfort from our double lunches. The pie didn't disappoint, tart and creamy with a nice crunchy graham cracker crust, even though we were seriously pushing the limits of reasonable consumption at that point. 

The next night, we caught the ferry from Portland to Chebeague Island. I'd never been, and we loved the luxury of being picked up by the friendly young guy from the Chebeague Island Inn in a van that shuttled us from the southern end of the island to the restaurant, three miles away. 

We dressed up for the occasion, as the Inn is a little more formal, although like most things in Maine, it manages to be refined and relaxed at the same time. I have to admit that dinner at the Chebeague Island Inn would be out of my weeknight price range otherwise, but you could manage a less expensive version by sticking to the burger and a beer. 

The arugula, tomato, feta salad was zippy with strong flavors from the Aleppo pepper and pickled watermelon rind throughout (and room temperature, which is a rarity). We didn't love the mussels, that while local, were dry rather than in a broth for slurping and sopping. 

Aside from the burger, which was salty and rich with onion rings on it, the seared scallops over white asparagus were my favorite entree. The other fish dish we ordered was a little overcooked, and thus dry, so stick with the scallops and the burger. If nothing else, the porch of the Inn is a great place to enjoy a cocktail during the sunset. 

We were on track to miss the ferry back to Portland, so we opted to take the shorter ferry to Yarmouth and fortunately one of our dear friends was available to come pick us up in Yarmouth. The ferry ride from Portland is lovely, but it does take longer, so be more prepared than we were to call it an early night. 

Lastly, I headed out to Great Diamond Island to Diamond's Edge with my honey. We enjoyed a romantic date on the lawn of the restaurant - until the rain began and forced us onto the deck of the restaurant. 

I'd been to Diamond's Edge several times for drinks in the past, while out sailing, but never for dinner. The menu is huge, so there's surely something for everyone. The standout for me was the fried oyster, pork belly, and spinach appetizer - all served over a bold mustard-Porter sauce. 

We both enjoyed our entrees, an island bouillabaisse packed with tons of seafood and the filet mignon - classics that were satisfying in their familiarity. Instead of dessert, we retired to the bar for a nightcap, watched the Red Sox with a few other people, then strolled down to the ferry dock when we saw its lights appear around the corner of the cove. 

It's pretty special that we're able to pop out to an island in Casco Bay for an evening, letting you leave behind the rhythms of daily life to enjoy a special late summer meal. If you're the summer bucket list type, I suggest adding an island drink or dinner to your list as we enjoy these last few weeks of my favorite season in Maine.