September 2, 2019 | BITE: My Journal
Hanging Out at the Harbor
The view from the upstairs patio at Inn on the Harbor, Stonington, Maine.
I switch off my congenital take-charge mode and leave our weeklong north coastal jaunt to the planning of my niece Dana and our pal Diane, a twice-a-year traveler to Maine. I envision cozy bed and breakfast spots, abundant lobster rolls and fried clams with full bellies. Dana lobbies for waterfront views.
We park across the street and roll out bags to the office entrance to the Inn.
The main street of Stonington is well-kept and full of shopping appeal. But first we check in.
The Inn on the Harbor in Stonington, Maine, is the retreat all of us had imagined. We park across the street and roll our bags to the office in the café. We climb up the steep outside stair to our rooms -- simple, cozy, old-fashioned. From the window, the patio overlooks the harbor.
Through the window of our room we have a view of the deck and a view of the street.
It looks like a modest bedroom in a bed and breakfast anywhere. This one costs $185 plus lodging tax.
Diane and I share the J&E Riggin Room, a double bed and a cot, facing town. Dana has the Roseway facing the cove. I unpack a few T-shirts to let them unwrinkled, and settle into reading "A Severed Head" by Iris Murdoch, while Diane goes out to explore the town. Dana is deep asleep when we come to pick her up for dinner. She’d had trouble sleeping the night before so we decide not to wake her.
Diane and I drive around the corner looking for a restaurant on the beach. We almost roll by the Fin & Fern in a white-washed storefront with desserts and pastries stashed in a refrigerated display case.
We almost drove by the Fin & Fern on Seabreeze Ae. And then it became our favored goto for three meals.
“I’ll grab a table while you park,” I say. I take the tiny two-top in a corner next to the door, and watch a late arrival settle with a book at the narrow dining shelf wrapped around a column in the middle of the room. He looks like a regular. He abandons the book when a woman he obviously knows pulls up a chair to join him. The crowd strikes me as local. The staff seems to know everyone.
If there are oysters on the menu, Diane will order them. These are especially fresh.
When the Fin & Fern ran out of these evening special spaghetti with lobster, they served spaghetti and seafood.
Diane orders local oysters on the half shell with the house mignonette. I start with a cup of rich and creamy Stonington lobster stew full of tender nubbins of meat. It’s a very large cup for $14. The evening special pasta with lobster has sold out, our waitress reports, so we share the spaghetti with seafood, San Marzano tomatoes and a flutter of basil – a portion generous enough for two.
Dana (yes, another Dana) at the Inn desk has warned us that all the water in town will be shut off for repairs at 9 pm the next evening. Someone has cancelled their reservation because of that, so Diane arranges for us to be moved downstairs directly facing the water while we have breakfast.
I’m on vacation and it’s breakfast. The Inn on the Harbor’s buffet is irresistible. I’ll taste everything.
I’ll have the granola and yogurt with fruit too before or after the muffin, soufflé and cake.
What do I love about travel besides sleeping late and not feeling obligated to read most of the Times before bedtime? Clean sheets. Fresh towels. Breakfast. Excessive breakfasts. Diane comes in to our rooom with a big plate of coffee cake and muffins. Dana brews a cup of her own coffee in an espresso pot and shares some with me. That gets me going.
Is this my third or fourth cup of coffee? I’m feeling the luxury of being fussed over.
Now I’m really hungry. I explore the breakfast buffet. No need to choose between toast and muffins or corncake and blueberry cupcakes or even chocolate cake. In two rash raids I can taste them all plus my usual yogurt with fruit and granola. Rather than relentless commercial fiber, my breakfast habit , I savor the homemade granola. Is it no-fat yogurt like I have at home? Silly. Why bother to even ask?
I like to believe that calories don’t count on vacation.
The rain stops and starts and the fog creeps in over the water in Stonington.
It’s pouring on and off. I don’t want to catch a cold by going out in the rain. Diane and Dana drive off to explore. Each time there’s a break in the clouds, they come back for me, but just as I zip into my hooded puffy and get to the stairs, the clouds break and send another downpour. Finally, in a lull, I make it to the car.
Maine is famous for its blueberries. It’s blueberry season. These are lush with lemon curd at Fin & Claw.
We stop at an antique store. I find a little wooden chest I consider buying. I have three of them in my living room quite like it. I remind myself I’m not buying anymore. I’m selling, I’m offering my treasures online at TheAccidentalBagLady on Etsy. I remember when my husband Don and I could never pass an antique shop or a flea market without buying something for our little white church on the hill near Woodstock. Buying is definitely more fun than selling.
Acadia Chef Anthony Tahlier made his Michelin two star mark at Acadia in Chicago, then opened this annex.
Diane has called ahead to reserve dinner at Acadia House Provisions Restaurant, the much-in-demand local outpost of chef Ryan McCaskey. I’ve never eaten his food, but we’re here because his Acadia in Chicago has won two Michelin stars for its seasonal coastal-Maine-inspired cooking. Every summer McCaskey brings staff from Chicago to Deer Isle where his family spent vacations.
Acadia, as a seasonal outpost in Stonington, has a commitment to (and from) local area farms.
Diane could only get a 7:45 table. But because of the water shutdown, our reservation has been moved to 6:45.
The house baked rolls are warm and come with a flavored butter.
The $14 iceberg wedge is flanked with Penobscot Bay lobster, blue cheese, local bacon, avocado, and green goddess dressing
Acadia, with its faded grey shingles, bright white door and flower boxes at mullioned windows, is just steps from the inn. The rolls, warm from the oven, come on a wooden board with a saucer of flavored butter. (The chef says he blends caramelized onion, blanched chives, scallion, parsley and green garlic.) Diane is still into oysters. Acadia offers cocktail sauce or blueberry mignonette. Dana takes a small bite of my iceberg wedge with lobster, blue cheese, local bacon, a farm egg, and green goddess dressing. I try to persuade her to finish the avocado.
Isle au Haut scallops are served with short rib, cauliflower, braised radish and mustard greens in buerre rouge.
We trade plates, of course. Both Dana and Diane want Isle au Haut scallops with short rib, cauliflower puree, wilted mustard greens, butter braised radish and beurre rouge sauce. So Diane orders Rohan duck breast, rare. with local farm vegetables, truffle polenta and truffle blueberry duck jus instead.
The lobster pot pie is a dramatic tower of fennel, whipped potato, local carrots and pastry.
I’ve got my dibs on the super rich and elegant lobster “pot pie” with fennel, whipped potato and carrots in a savory bisque. The quotation marks promise that it won’t be just another boring pot pie. And it isn’t. It’s a tower of surprising texture and flavor.
Smoked ice cream with a collection of add-ons. Of course, we would try it.
My pals delegate me to choose dessert and agree that smoked vanilla bean ice cream with a collection of toppings is unusual, and a winner.
27 Main Street, Stonington 207 367 2555. Open Wednesday through Sunday 11 am to 8:30 pm.
Lunch at A1 Diner
This beautifully restored vintage diner sits on a bridge in Gardiner, Maine.
The interior is perfect right to the vintage tablecloths and classic floors.
We stop for lunch at the A1 Diner in Gardiner. No way we can resist this spectacular resurrection of an Airstream with cozy booths, pink marble countertops, and neon light fixtures. It is, surprisingly, almost empty now as we settle in for a late lunch.
I found this ad on line for the days when it was Heald’s Diner: “Maine’s Most Modernistic Diner.”
Grilled bacon and cheese sandwich with a side of crispy fries.
I want the gruyere melt. Diane orders grilled ham and cheese on rye. We share the fries, dragging them through catsup. Of course, we should have had an old-fashioned malt or orange poppy seed waffles, a house tradition. “But I’m supposed to be on a diet,” Diane reminds us.
It isn’t easy to settle on just one dessert with so many old-fashioned options.
Dana and Diane swear they won’t even taste dessert but none of us can resist the raspberry chocolate shortbread. The bill says $34.80 for the three of us. Seems very modest.
Taking a stretch after lunch before going off on the road again.
A1 Diner 3 Bridge Street. Gardiner, Maine 207 582 4804. Monday to Thursday 7 am to 8 pm. Friday and Saturday 7 am to 8:30 am. Sunday 8 am to 1:30 pm.
Hamptons Feasting Fore Street Page at 63 Main Street