The best lobster roll in Maine, Part 2
Once I'd dropped off my friend's new Bernedoodle puppy in Boston and enjoyed some culinary offerings in one of my favorite cities in the country, I fashioned a leisurely itinerary enjoying the gorgeous summer weather on the Maine coast, including camping, hiking, and over 50 oysters by the end of the week.
One or both of my loyal readers (although intel tells me I may have three or four now!) may remember a recent autumn escape to mid-coast Maine upon which I embarked last year. Due to my focus on a mere slice of the coast and the fact that the widely-recognized allerbeste place was closed for the season, a second round of lobster roll hunting was in order once the summer season commenced its full swing. And, of course, a few little Maine bonuses can pad the lobster roll content.
One of the disadvantages of driving my new (but oh-so-wonderful) electric car long distances is that it doesn't go too far before I need to stop and charge, meaning many of my driving days, when measured in time from origin to destination, are about 50–70% longer than with a standard gasoline car. This doesn't necessarily bother me, because it helps break up the monotony of the drive and keep my mind fresh, but it does mean I am often, well, late. Like to a happy hour.
Primo is a widely acclaimed restaurant in the otherwise sort of drab port city of Rockland, just south of far more picturesque Camden. Chef Melissa Kelly has been sourcing food from the restaurant's garden and various local purveyors for over 20 years, and the food-minded flock to sample her wares. 0KM is her latest project at the restaurant, which is a lovely outdoor barn open Sundays peddling $1 Maine oysters and various beverages, though I almost missed the happy hour happenings because of extended charging times! A funky glass of Sicilian cattaratto accompanied my dozen, as did picture-perfect views of the grounds on a perfectly crisp May Maine evening.
I was too hungry after happy hour ended to stay out of the dining room, and slid into the last seat at the bustling upstairs bar faithfully guarded by a laughably shabby plaster moose head.
The culinary offerings were decidedly less shabby––a garden gin and tonic made with heady Botanist gin was loaded with dried garden flowers and peppercorns, an impossibly creamy local burrata with farm greens was sopped up with in-house sourdough croutons, and a too-expensive but fantastic spring pasta loaded with mushrooms and watercress pesto filled me right up with good things for the evening.
McLoon's was the lobster shack I'd heard the most about when researching back in the fall, but a terse "closed for the season" on their website dashed my dreams of chowing down on Maine's finest. Memorial Day weekend happens to be their season opener, and though the Memorial Day crowds were in full attendance, I was lucky enough to land a harborside Adirondack chair to enjoy McLoon's contribution to the quintessential Maine sandwich and a local brew.
Those of you who peeped the OG Maine blog may remember that the most fervent debate among warring lobster roll factions is the cold/mayo vs. warm/butter debate. McLoons' is a pacifist style––the Switzerland of lobster joints––and the Maestro thinks it's perfect. In the very bottom of the roll, filled with sizable chunks of a killer blend of tail and claw meat, was just a dollop or two of mayo. Here the mayo was refreshingly treated like a condiment, and not a dressing, for distribution as the eater desires. Alongside was served a plastic ramekin of drawn butter for dipping or pouring to please the butter crowd. "Give peace a chance," says McLoon's, though by the time the roll is distributed, happy guests on the lawn can't remember there was a battle in the first place. The yin and yang of condiments is instead in perfect harmony, ready to be washed down with a Maine IPA, perhaps like this one from Baxter Brewing.
The seating at McLoon's also can't be beat––accompanying the classic picnic tables arranged harborside was a healthy population of chair pairs overlooking Casco Bay. As mentioned in the previous lobster blog, a view is an important criterion when evaluating a lobster shack, and I found it difficult to leave this one behind.
The ride from midcoast Maine to Acadia National Park is winding and scenic, but with few charging stations for my power-starved car. Once you cross onto Mt. Desert Island, the home of the bulk of the park, a charger can be found at one of the first lodges off the highway, as can one of the most exciting breweries in the area.
Maine is a beer state––craft beer in Maine is a major enterprise and rivals the beer operations in the craft beer capitals in the US like Colorado and North Carolina. Atlantic is a Mt. Desert Island-based brewery with tasting rooms in Bar Harbor and this little town in the woods en route to Acadia. I enjoyed two leisurely flights of their flagship beers while I got some work done on my computer and chatted with fellow tourists in their woodsy tasting outbuilding.
Particularly notable was their blueberry amber ale, made, of course, with harvested Maine blueberries but not overwhelmed by them, and their fantastic New England style IPA, a four pack of which accidentally followed me back to my car. A worthy stop.
You should camp in Maine, and when you camp, you should cook something on the fire with Maine seafood. I hauled my paella pan all the way from Iowa to cook some Maine shellfish paella over the campfire at my little patch of land for the night in Acadia National Park. Though I was only able to find Maine mussels at the only serviceable area market, the paella was a success, weighty with the umami of bountiful campfire smoke, even if I scorched the bottom a bit.
After filling up with paella, I enjoyed a night under the bright bands of the Milky Way in my hammock strung between two conifers, and in the morning I broke camp and braved the famous iron rungs of Acadia National Park in an early morning hike up the Beehive. Dizzying routes, but a little fear of death is good for the soul, and the views at the top bathed in some of the country's first sunlight felt like one hell of a reward.
Duty called me back to Boston a too-short four days after my arrival in the Maine woods, but once again my little car's appetite for electricity provided me the opportunity to stop and explore another cool place––Portland. The "big" city in Maine is growing like a weed these days, buoyed by a thriving culinary scene that has been called one of the best in the country.
I ate about 50 oysters in Maine, and six of them were at The Shop, a utilitarian and super-hip little... well, shop... about ten minutes' walk from my car charger. Highlighting varieties from all over Maine at stupid-reasonable prices, The Shop is not to be missed for raw bar lovers, and their also-inexpensive cocktails, like the paloma I enjoyed, are all designed to pair brilliantly with Maine's finest bivalves.
Eventide was my target for the other lobster roll to evaluate on this visit. This classic-style oyster bar regularly appears on lists of the best spots in Portland and Maine at-large, and their take on a lobster roll is particularly lauded. Of course, I needed some oysters, too, bringing my total for the week well north of 50.
Their rather tiny lobster roll is made on a "bao"-style Chinese bun, though when consuming it was difficult to discern a difference between this and other buns I'd tried. The biggest difference is that the warm roll is bathed in gloriously nutty brown butter, a product of gently heating the butter until the milk solids separate out and become slightly toasted. The resulting umami was irresistible, and I devoured the too-small roll in just three bites. A worthy contribution to Maine's lobster scene that is just unusual enough to be exciting.
Maine delivers again for glorious gastronomy. Next stop: Philadelphia, where I sampled one of Eater's "11 Best" new restaurants in the country. Stick around!