Originally published in Maine magazine, June 2021.
Every year, usually about mid-July, my husband and I create a summer bucket list. After a few weeks of glorious warm weather, beach days, and backyard hangs, we start to feel the creeping anxiety that summer is slipping away. We write a list on the chalkboard of our South Portland kitchen to help us ensure we’re wringing the most out of the short Maine summer.
One of the many things 2020 demonstrated is that you can’t take your favorite restaurant for granted. So, while the days are still long and the patio heaters are stowed, I’ll be making it a point to have as many quintessential Maine food experiences as I can. I’m writing my bucket list earlier this year, hoping I check off all the experiences before the temperatures drop. While your Maine summer bucket list may look different from mine, one thing is certain: it’s time to get started; the summer solstice is nearly here.
1. Maine Lobster Rolls on the Beach
Last August, my husband and I picked up lobster rolls from Bite into Maine’s Scarborough “Commissary” and drove down to Higgins Beach. I enjoyed my “picnic style” roll, lined with cole slaw and topped with melted butter and celery salt, while overlooking the long, sandy beach. This became one of my most treasured 2020 dining moments— simple yet deeply rewarding—and it is easily repeatable this summer. This year the restaurant, with locations in Portland, Cape Elizabeth, and Scarborough, is celebrating ten years in business.
2. Cocktails in the City
While I love mixing drinks at home, from simple gin and tonics to whiskey sours with a syrupy Luxardo cherry, the depth of my home bar will never compete with a restaurant’s. I miss drinking the fine-tuned, outlandish combinations that bartenders dream up. The bar at the top of my list: Portland’s Honey Paw, which has a new cocktail menu with drinks containing pisco, green chartreuse, mezcal, and crème de cassis—all ingredients I don’t have at home and am excited to try.
3. Sail to Crown Jewel
Like many restaurants, Crown Jewel on Great Diamond Island had a rough 2020. Owner Alex Wight offered the eatery’s menu to-go with boatside delivery, but a dispute over the island’s dock access ended its season prematurely. For the 2021 season, chef Sara Devereux, formerly of Eventide Oyster Company, has retooled the menu. Sneak peeks reveal that Devereaux’s new seafood-forward menu features pickled, spicy, and bright flavors that I look forward to enjoying on the island.
4. Sample Portland’s New Food Trucks
Finally, someone created an effective food truck tracking app. Using social media data, Food Truckalico provides the location of food trucks on any given day. Scroll through to see who’s parked on Portland’s Eastern Prom or at the greater Portland breweries. At least a dozen new food trucks are launching this season, serving everything from tacos (Iron Clad Eats) to bánh mì (Vy Bánh Mì). Finding outdoor dining options without a reservation in Portland just got much easier.
5. Enjoy Patio Season
Portland closed several streets in the Old Port to cars last summer to provide more space for outdoor dining. The program proved to be a success with restaurateurs and customers alike, and is returning for 2021. With such a short window of truly ideal weather in Maine, eating outside at more places is a great addition to the restaurant scene. Whether I opt for a Parisian brunch at Petite Jacqueline or cocktails during Aperitivo Hour at Via Vecchia, it will be glorious to be eating outside without needing a blanket or gloves.
6. Road Trip to Kittery
The Kittery Foreside punches well above its weight with so many fantastic restaurants, bars, markets, and shops located in just a few blocks. Enjoy steamed buns, sticky wings, and fiery ramen at Anju Noodle Bar and then dip around the corner for a cocktail on the Wallingford Dram’s asphalt patio. The Mai Tai and Painkiller always call to me, but there’s a long list of diverse drinks to be sipped. Canned cocktails are also available to-go from Anju if you’d rather enjoy your meal and drink at home.
7. Eat Around Biddeford
I find myself heading to Biddeford more and more often to pick up bagels from Rover Bagel, brownies from Night Moves Bread, and wine from Lorne Wine. I particularly want to revisit Magnus on Water, which opened only a few weeks before the pandemic shut-down in March 2020. The small plates and cocktails were fantastic, and I can’t wait to see what new chef Ben Jackson, formerly of Drifters Wife, has to offer when it returns. I am also eagerly anticipating the opening of Jackrabbit Cafe, chef Bowman Brown’s next project after closing his fine-dining outpost, Elda.
8. An Afternoon Brewery Visit
Pizza and beer have always gone well together, and the pandemic has amplified this trend, with several breweries now serving wood-fired pizzas. The slices and stout at Fogtown Brewing Company’s Ellsworth beer garden make for a great pit stop on trips to Mount Desert Island. Maine Beer Company’s hoppy ales pair well with a spicy-sweet Bee Sting pie after a dip in the bracing waters off Winslow Park’s beach in South Freeport. After missing meeting up with friends at a brewery in 2020, I have a newfound appreciation for this simple pleasure.
9. New South Portland Restaurants
The South Portland neighborhood of Knightville has seen several notable restaurant openings recently. Café Louis, SoPo Seafood, and BenReuben’s Knishery join Judy Gibson, Taco Trio, and Foulmouthed Brewing, creating a restaurant row on Ocean Street. I look forward to supporting these businesses that contribute to the growing vibrancy of downtown South Portland.
10. Hike and Feast in Camden
I like to drive to Camden for the best Thai food in Maine at Long Grain, and the brioche yeasted doughnuts at the recently opened Ruckus Donuts are a welcome addition to my Camden routine. I’m looking forward to dining at Wolfpeach, a chophouse with a seasonal menu that is replacing now-shuttered Drouthy Bear in a historic home on Elm Street. I’ll have to wait a while longer, as owners Gabriela Acero and Derek Richard are operating Dickie Steels’ BBQ, serving Texas-style barbecue, in the space until they’re comfortable offering indoor dining. I plan to arrive in Camden early to pick up doughnuts, go for a hike in Camden Hills State Park, and then enjoy a pulled pork sandwich in Harbor Park.