Every state has something special to offer to those who visit. But, there is something particularly special about Maine. For the past two summers, my husband and I have spent a week in South Thomaston, a small village just to the south of Rockland in mid-coast Maine.
We stay in a rustic cottage owned by our neighbor’s mother. The cottage sits on the Weskeag (pronounced “wes-gig”) River that has a tidal flow of 12-15 feet every 6 hours. Watching the cormorants dry their wings on the huge granite boulders jutting from the water or the eider ducks floating back and forth with the tide to feed are welcome respites from the constant urban growl of D.C. We also spend a lot of time hiking and the rest of our time hunting out good food. Here are just a few of our favorites.
On the way to Owl’s Head Lighthouse and State Park sits the Owl’s Head General Store. This unpretentious, warm and welcoming stop has the best hamburger I have ever had. Dubbed “The Seven Napkin Burger,” this wonder of ground beef, cheese, bun and condiments are meant to be eaten over a plate so that you can slurp up all the delectable drippings. Sounds a little Tom Jones, yes? Well, it is.
The burger is cooked to order. You can have cheese or not. It is placed on a lightly toasted sesame seed bun that has been garnished with just the right amount of yellow mustard, mayo, ketchup, pickles, lettuce, onions and tomato. The hot juices of the beef mix with the condiments to create those delectable drippings mentioned above. Oh, did I mention that “The Seven Napkin Burger” was voted “Best Burger in Maine” by the Food Network? Yes, it’s that good.
If you are ever remotely near Owl’s Head, go. Get this burger. Sit at the picnic tables outside and luxuriate in burger perfection. And if you’re still hungry, have a slice of the store’s homemade blueberry pie for goodness sake! Make sure it’s warm and with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. (see below).
In Rockland, Maine, you’ll find The Brown Bag at the north end of town. This restaurant/bakery/café has received accolades year over year for the amazing sandwiches and baked goods. One of our favorite sandwiches is “The Gobbler.”
As they name suggests, it is a heaping freshly oven roasted turkey sandwich with all of the Thanksgiving suspects – cranberry sauce, homemade bread stuffing, mayonnaise. The sandwich is a monster. Chris and I shared one and could barely move for 4 hours.
Now, I must confess that our first foray into a roasted turkey sandwich in and around South Thomaston/Rockland, was at the “Gig.” Officially, it’s the “‘Keag Store,” and it’s the local general store where everyone goes to get breakfast and lunch.
The ‘Keag Store also has an amazing roast turkey sandwich with all the fixings. It’s not as massive as the Brown Bag’s and the stuffing is not homemade. But, when you are sitting on a boulder on Monhegan Island looking at the ocean after a strenuous hike, it will make your world go round. Just saying.
Sometimes there is a lot of confusion about Maine lobster. Example: Is it a hard shell or a soft shell? How should I cook it? Bayley’s Lobster Pound out of Pine Point, ME (2 hours south of Rockland) has a great site explaining all you need to know. On that first question, it’s important to realize what happens to lobsters during the summer. Per Bayley’s:
“In the summer, generally July and August, lobsters shed their shells so that they can grow. Once the lobsters have shed their old shells, there are new, soft shells underneath. These shells will harden over the course of time and as the water gets colder. Since the lobsters shed their shells in order to have room for growth the following year, there is less meat inside a soft-shell lobster than there is in a hard-shell lobster of the same size. This also accounts for their lower prices. Even though there is less meat in soft-shells than in hard-shells, many people prefer the taste of the soft-shells. They are considered sweeter and more tender than the hard-shells.”
So, where should you buy lobster? In my opinion, there is one way, and one way only, to buy lobster in Maine: Buy it from a lobsterman. This can mean buying it at a lobster pound owned by lobstermen or simply knowing someone who is a lobsterman and getting it from him. With the continued glut of lobster, the cost is a fraction of what you pay at a restaurant or the supermarket and the quality is exceptional. We bought ours from Knight Marine in Rockland and we paid $4.00 a pound at the dock.
How should you cook lobster? I steam them in no more than a cup or two of fresh sea water for 10 minutes. When done this way, it minimizes a lot of water getting into the shell and the meat comes out sweet and tender. I serve mine with melted butter and lots of lemon wedges.
Late July and August is wild blueberry season in Maine. Chris and I are devoted picker/gatherers. As we hiked the Beachcroft trail in Acadia and Ragged Mountain near Camden, we stopped to pick a Ziploc bag or three of the tiny midnight blue treasures.
The taste is nothing like the domestic blueberries we grow here in the mid-Atlantic. Rather, the wild blueberries are about the size of petite peas and are bursting with blueberry-ness. They are amazing in muffins (see post from 7/24/13) or in a pie. If eaten in pie form, the pie must be warm and you must have a small scoop of vanilla ice cream to melt dreamily and creamily over the pastry and fruit. Life just doesn’t get much better.