October 30, 2020

Weekend Eats in Camden and Mount Desert Island, Maine

I went on a much-needed long weekend trip through the Midcoast and Down East regions of Maine two weeks ago. My mom and her husband drove up from Maryland, and we celebrated fall, birthdays, and being together. Any shoulder-season visit to these areas can often be tricky from a dining perspective—many restaurants have closed after a busy summer season. 

Add in the Covid restrictions and despite (what I thought was) careful planning, we at times had to scramble to find options for dinner (someone may or may not have resorted to gas station pizza for a meal). But we had a really memorable trip and so here are the dining highlights. 

We were off to a strong start on our first night in Camden. I had scoped out two places I wanted to try: the new Franny's Bistro (in the former home of Francine Bistro) and 40 Paper, a modern Italian place I've never tried. Franny's didn't have room for us at 7:30 p.m. on a Thursday night (but hey, good for them!), and we found only a short wait for a patio table at 40 Paper. Our meal was one of the highlights of the trip—my mom enjoyed some "cheffy" food that she hasn't had in a while, and we were warm on the patio cozied up to a heater with blankets across our laps. 

We enjoyed a round of cocktails—the Ranchito Verde (tequila, cilantro, mint, jalapeno, pineapple, lime, and velvet falernum syrup) for me and a Tom Cat gimlet for A. We couldn't decide between seared scallops over a celery root puree and potatoes elote—fried smashed potatoes with chile lime crema, grilled corn, scallions, and Parm—so we ordered both plus a Caesar salad. 

We shared two pasta entrees between the four of us—B. and I enjoyed the traditional bolognese on housemade pappardelle with basil pesto, while Mom and A. shared a spinach cavatelli with local mushrooms, goat cheese mousse, kale, and Parm. 

We finished the meal with dessert—a lemon pound cake and a chocolate torta with semifreddo—and walked back to our car along the river over the sweet footbridge in town. It was a really nice evening! 

The next morning, we walked into Camden from our inn Whitehall and then hiked a short ways to the top of Mount Battie. Mom picked us up in the car and we were off to enjoy our Ruckus Donuts along the water. These donuts are made at Boynton-McKay and were easily the best donuts I've had... ever? in the state of Maine? I really can't think of a better donut experience. I hammered a classic glazed, and it was so damn good—tall, slightly crispy exterior, with a moist, light, pleasantly chewy interior.

The other flavors (coconut lemon, blueberry lemonade, the Homer donut with strawberry glaze and sprinkles, maple bacon) were reportedly also fantastic. These donuts are easily worth a drive from the Portland area for (just preorder on Instagram by 5p.m. the day before). 

That evening we ventured up to Belfast to meet friends at the reopened Marshall Wharf Brewing Co. The beloved brewery closed last summer and then was sold to a couple—one of whom works as a general contractor, so he was able to add the needed infrastructure updates to the patio area (and I'm sure much more than just that). 

It was a rainy night, but we found a table undercover and had a great time catching up with the first friends I made in Maine, over 20 years ago now (!!). After realizing our takeout options were dwindling by the minute back in Camden (Long Grain had closed by then, sob), we found Neighborhood in Belfast was still serving, so we were able to get some soup, shrimp and grits, and gochujang tacos to enjoy back at the hotel.

Up in Bar Harbor, we stayed at The Villager Motel, which was a much nicer experience than its name might imply. The first night, we ordered takeout from McKay's Public House which is two doors down. I enjoyed a $40 filet from a plastic takeout container off the footstool of a motel, which I had to laugh about—it was still delicious! 

After a beautiful day exploring Acadia National Park, we were back in town for sunset and some light shopping. We had enjoyed takeout beverages from The Barnacle, a new-ish teeny bar in downtown Bar Harbor, the night before, and as we strolled by we decided to pull a repeat. This time, the weather was more agreeable and there was a table available outside, so we enjoyed cocktails and a dozen local oysters on the patio. 

For dinner on our last night, I searched through as many options as I could, considering who was still open in Bar Harbor, who had outdoor seating (with heaters preferably), as well as a menu that would suit everyone. Eventually I ended up at McKay's Public House again. When I'd gone to pick up my takeout the night before, I admired its oasis of a garden patio with heaters, twinkly lights, and cheerful umbrellas over each table. So we made a reservation and had another lovely meal (this time with 100% fewer plastic takeout containers). 

A. had a Maine Beer Co. while I tried a cocktail of Back River cranberry gin with tonic and elderflower liqueur. Our starters of the sweet and spicy pork potstickers and Kung Pao Brussels sprouts took the edge off our hunger while we waited for our entrees. 

I was really jealous of A.'s entree—the chicken and grits with pepper jelly. The chicken was so crunchy and juicy and the pepper jelly drizzle was a fun twist. My mushroom pasta purses more than made up for my envy, with with fresh tomatoes, spinach, and mushrooms in a balsamic thyme cream sauce. 

It was a lovely trip—one of only a handful I've taken this year, compared to what I had planned. We are fortunate to live in a state where the leadership has taken its response to the Covid crisis seriously and kept our numbers down. Now, as you surely know, Covid cases are going up as people are growing weary of the restrictions that living with the coronavirus requires. I'm continuing to mask up, avoiding going inside others' homes, and getting takeout or even, as we did last night, having a beer on the patio of Banded Brewing's new Portland location despite the pouring rain (all hail the party tent industry right now). 

That's it from me until the dust settles after Election Day—please do your part to put a compassionate, effective, and progressive administrative in office, and have a happy and safe Halloween!