A February 2006 trip
to Maine by moatway
Quote: Mid-coast Maine (the area between Belfast and Portland) is not a magnet for tourists in the winter... perhaps that's its appeal.
For the shopper, there is Freeport which may be a town of retail outlets, but it preserves much of its old charm. Scattered through the other towns is a plethora of art galleries, retail stores, and good restaurants. Other sites not to be missed are the Farnsworth Art Museum in Rockland, the Owls Head Transportation Museum in Owls Head, just south of Rockland, and the Maine Maritime Museum in Bath. Augusta, the state capital, is less than an hour from Rockland. Both the state house and the Maine State Museum are interesting visits.
Other than that, dress warmly. The wind is off the water, and it can be bitterly cold and damp. If you are a fan of winter sports, you are probably in the wrong place. The two premier skiing locations in Maine, Sugarloaf and Sunday River, are far removed, and you won’t want to try to commute. With the exception of Interstate 95, most Maine roads feature varying speed limits as they wind through small towns. It can make for a long day of travel.
Access to mid-coast Maine for the tourist from afar is best made through the international airports in Bangor and Portland—or possibly for tourists using Southwest, through Manchester, New Hampshire.
Member Rating 5 out of 5 on March 28, 2006
220 Warrenton Street
Rockport, Maine 04856
Restaurant | "McMahon's Rockport Grill (Cody's)"
The restaurant was reviewed in 2006. It changed it's name to Cody's Original Roadhouse within the next few months. McMahon’s is part of a restaurant-conference centre that is built around an older, large white house. The barn-like structure attached to the original building is the restaurant and inside is where the barn ends. The interior is extremely pleasant; it appears fairly new and is post and beam construction in blonde wood.
The main level features a bar and salad bar as well as a fair amount of seating in booths and at tables. The booths are all light pine (no cushions) and many are substantial enough to seat six to eight people. The light woods carry through to the table and chairs. The effect, with large windows, is extremely airy. There is often live entertainment and the night we ate at McMahon’s, there was a girl playing the guitar and singing.
It’s an informal restaurant in everything, including the menu, although some of the dishes are inventive as were the specials. The wine list is presented on a wine bottle which stays on the table and features a nice selection averaging about $24; all the selections are available by the glass at about $5. The menu is fairly extensive: a selection of steaks at $17 to $25, chicken and ribs, seafood (scallops, clams, a combination plate, salmon, shrimp and calamari), and even pizza.
We both selected the special… pan-seared prime rib covered with a horseradish topping. Unfortunately, since we had arrived close to 8, there was only one serving left, so my wife volunteered to have the clams. As it turned out, she was the lucky one. The prime rib was cooked to perfection, and the recipe was inventive, but it was the fattiest, most gristle-filled piece of meat I’ve ever had. Even the steak knife had a difficult time with it. The clams, on the other hand, were not particularly plentiful, but they were good. I expressed my disappointment to the waitress who informed the manager, apparently, but it was up to me to go over and talk to him. Assuring me that they guarantee satisfaction, he took the prime rib off the bill thereby leaving me with mixed feelings about the restaurant.
Mixed feelings? Well, the atmosphere was pleasant, the singer could sing, the waitress was quite nice, the salad bar was fine, the clams were good, and the coffee was good. The manager was pleasant and cooperative, but that prime rib…
Member Rating 3 out of 5 on March 28, 2006
McMahon's Rockport Grill
399 Commercial St, (Route 1)
Rockport , Maine 04856
Restaurant | "Marcel's (at Samoset Resort)"
It is an attractive room on two levels. On the lower level there is a row of tables at the windows and further in, a series of banquettes. The seating of the latter is plush and in pleasant off-red. The upper level boasts colonial chandeliers, oil paintings and wood beams. All in all, the room is very tasteful with subdued lighting and the notes of a well-played piano in the background. The staff is formally dressed and in keeping with the general aura of high standards, men are requested to wear jackets.
An exploration of the menu, which is available on-line at Samoset dining, offers up an interesting array of appetizers and main courses and relative to other restaurants in the area which can’t hold a candle to Marcel’s, the prices are quite reasonable. Some of the entrees include a half duckling ($22), filet mignon ($35), salmon filet ($20), pork tenderloin ($21), and beef Wellington ($38), but these are only examples. We chose to have a Caesar salad, followed by a small bowl of clam chowder (which, at $5, was absolutely world-class.), and the Dijonaise rack of lamb for two ($62).
The lamb is one of three dishes, the others being Chateaubriand for two ($70) and Steak Diane ($35), which are prepared, at least partially, at the table. I’m not fond of flaming dishes in my proximity in restaurants, but the girl who did it was typical of all the other staff… unobtrusive, friendly, and efficient. As I looked through the extensive wine list, I found that I was totally at sea as many of the labels were not familiar. I was rescued by the wine steward who suggested that a Chateauneuf du Pape (Telegraphie) ($49) would complement the lamb, and it did… extremely well.
The entire evening was a pleasure: excellent service, marvelous food, and a wonderful ambiance. There are a number of good restaurants in the northern New England states, but you’ll be hard pressed to outdo Marcel’s.
220 Warrenton St.
Rockport , Maine 04856
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on March 28, 2006
Owl's Head Transportation Museum
Route 73 in Owls Head
Upon entry to the museum ($10.00 adult, 2006), the visitor finds an extraordinary collection of Andrew Wyeth’s watercolours dating from 1938 to the 1990’s. He is considered one of the best-known and most collectable of living American artists.
The works of his father and of his son, Jamie, are found in the Wyeth Center, a converted church, to the rear of the main museum building. N.C. Wyeth began summering in Maine in 1920 and son Andrew would launch his career there with his first show at the age of 20 and his first museum show at the Farnsworth Art Museum in 1951, thus the link to Maine.
In the Wyeth Center, the N.C. Wyeth Gallery contains a number of works which strike a familiar chord, for Wyeth was an illustrator of books. Scribner’s Treasure Island for example, with its 17 illustrations by Wyeth, is still very collectable. The seascapes and country scenes found here are the result of his Maine summers and are a reflection of his desire to be taken seriously as a painter. Upstairs are the works of James Wyeth, who, like his grandfather, prefers to work in oil. The center, with its collection of exceptional works, is a wonderful space and in fact, all the gallery spaces in the Farnsworth Museum are expansive, the ceilings high, the lighting effective… a wonderful place to contemplate art.
In the Maurine and Robert Rothschild Gallery is the museum’s permanent collection of works by New England artists who were inspired by Maine and the Maine coast. The collection, Maine in America, is particularly fine and features works that allow the visitor to trace Maine’s development from colonial times. Artists included in the exhibit range from the 19th century (Thomas Eakins, Winslow Homer and Gilbert Stuart) to the 20th century (George Bellows, Rockwell Kent, Andrew Winter and more). Further galleries feature some of the finest of modern American art, all built around a solid core of artists who live and work in Maine.
Downstairs, in the Tim, Micah and Sam Galleries, we found an exhibition of the works of Maine artist, Frederick Lynch. Although I found his work difficult, it served as counterpoint to the realism of the Wyeths and allows one to consider the diversity in art. In the nearby James Gallery we found a selection of works by Robert Indiana… silkscreens and serigraphs. Included is his most recognizable work, "Love" (1990) which placed him in the middle of the Pop Art movement. The museum has also purchased the sculpted version of the painting which is outside next to the Wyeth homestead.
For more, go to FarnsworthMuseum.
Farnsworth Art Museum and Wyeth Center
16 Museum Street
Rockland, Maine 04841
The Maine Maritime Museum
243 Washington St.
Bath, Maine 04530
Rockland’s directory lists twenty art galleries, all of which are open in summer. In winter? Well, your choices will be somewhat limited and that is true of all kinds of shopping and indeed, restaurant options. As we explored the mid-coast, however, we found a number of interesting specialty shops, and even better, some great places for lunch. This selection is a combination of serendipity and subjectivity, but here it is…
SearsportSearsport is the home of Bluejacket Ship Crafters at 160 East Main Street (on Route 1), America’s premier supplier of wooden-model ship kits and supplies. Even if you don’t plan to build a model, drop into their shop to look at completed examples of their entire product line. There is also a selection of beautiful, completed models at reasonable prices, as well as books and paraphernalia. You can visit the company at Bluejacket.
FreeportFreeport is Maine’s shopping magnet… the original outlet town. What sets Freeport apart is that it isn’t a collection of mini-malls. The outlets have been integrated into the fabric of an attractive New England community. The Banana Republic store, for example, is housed in a historic, colonial mansion. People come to Freeport for L.L. Bean, and the main store is a real shopping experience for sportsmen and wanna-be sportsmen alike. (And sportswomen and kids, too). From the trout pond to the vast floor-space housing everything from snow shoes to shirts, it has to be seen. (There are actually three separate L.L. Bean buildings in Freeport… it will take a while to see them all.) My favorite store, at 112 Main Street, is The Mangy Moose. You’ll find all kinds of moose paraphernalia including antler sheds, as well as decoys, Mad Bomber hats, and stuffed toys. Decorated with stuffed wildlife, it’s different enough that you’re bound to enjoy it. You can take a look at TheMangyMoose. New in this location at 116 Main Street is Bridgham and Cook, Ltd.. The home of all things British, the shop features everything from groceries… Marmite, Bovril and several brands of marmalade and cereal to beer paraphernalia from England, Scotland and Ireland. You’ll find much more including beautiful outerwear from Barbour… yes, you too, can look like a member of the royal family on the country estate.
Otherwise, in Freeport, you’ll find all the usual outlets, but for lunch, you might try the The Azure Café at 123 Main Street. The lunch area is uncluttered with light hardwood flooring, colonial windows and simple dark-wood tables and chairs… the menu is Italian and very good. There are salads, sandwiches and wraps as well as ravioli, capellini verdure, chicken marsala, lasagna formaggio, fettucini Alfredo and so much more including a nice little wine list. We really enjoyed lunch there. Upstairs, there are attractive dining rooms for dinner. You can find them at Azure Café. Next door to the Azure Café, you’ll find the Jameson Tavern (1779). Apart from the fact that the structure is old, it is the site of the signing of the documentation that created the State of Maine. Now, it features a restaurant and a taproom, the latter being the perfect location for lunch. The taproom is pure colonial tavern with beams, a large bar and a wood-burning stove. It’s a friendly, warm room with great service and great food. The lunch menu features seafood, salads, sandwiches, appetizers etc., most in the $8.00 - $12.00 range. I chose a Reuben and Maureen went for the Tortirustica. Well, I thought my selection with home-cut fries and homemade coleslaw was really good, but the tortirustica earned rave reviews. (Google tortirustica and you will go straight to Jameson’s.) I can also recommend Dr. Hyde’s Angry Ale (Geary’s Brewing Co.) which is apparently made particularly for the tavern.
ThomastonLooking for that gift or keepsake with interesting provenance? Try the Maine State Prison Showroom on Main Street (Route 1). Most of the items here are various types of woodcraft, and much of it to quite a high quality. The pine and oak bureaus, bookcases and tables are reasonably priced and there is a large display of wooden toys, the like of which you’re not going to find in many other places. There are also ship models, lamps, doll houses and boxes and so much more. It makes for an interesting visit. For lunch, try the Thomaston Café at 154 Main St. (Route 1). It’s a nice room bustling with locals who come for the menu, which includes vegetarian dishes, pasta of the day, crab cakes, haddock cakes, etc. With walls decorated with black/white photography (for sale) and with a book case full of volumes for browsing and for sale, it’s a charming place.
RocklandRockland’s charming Main Street offers a number of interesting stores, but the gem among them is archipelago, the Island Institute store, at 386 Main St. Representing 80 island artists, it sells fine art (oils, watercolours) as well as books by Maine authors, and wood, glass and ceramic work. It’s a wonderful place to pick up a special souvenir of Maine. If you’re looking for something to read, just north of Rockland center is the Breakwater Bookland and Market Place on the Camden Road (Route 1). It is large enough that you should find something to suit you. You’ll find well-priced markdowns and upstairs, there are used books at $4. For lunch, you might try The Brown Bag at the north end of Main Street. The Brown Bag serves only breakfast and lunch and seems to be a local favourite. The lunch menu, written on chalkboards, features an extensive variety of sandwiches, soups and chowders… and believe me, these are serious sandwiches. The room itself features brick walls and light wood tables and chairs… not fancy, but pleasant enough. In Rockland’s town center, you’ll find a local favourite for lunch, The Rockland Café (441 Main Street). Serving breakfast, lunch and dinner, it’s an unpretentious restaurant featuring large servings of good food at reasonable prices. Perhaps best described as plain or "down-home", the café will provide friendly service with a Maine accent in a pleasant atmosphere of historic photo-reproductions and a few autographed celebrity photos which attest to the business’s popularity. The menu is more than large… it’s massive, with something for everyone. Our fish and chips came in at $6.95 each and were really very good… fluffy fish with homemade fries and coleslaw. That was a tiny part of the menu which brags many items up-to-and-including a lobster dinner.
RockportThe State of Maine Cheese Company is at 461 Commercial St. (Route 1) in Rockport. It is Maine’s largest cow’s-milk cheese company and to check out their product line, you can drop into Maine Cheese.. While you can do your business with them through mail-order, the store is worth a visit. You can watch cheese production or you can browse through a selection of Maine wines (and some California brands as well), souvenirs, soaps, jams and jellies, venison and seafood. Our initial impression was, "Who would have guessed that they made so much stuff in Maine?" Where else can you find a can of "Road Kill Stew… It’s Got to be Good, It’s from the Hood?"
BathBath’s short, historic Front Street has a marvelous kitchen store in numbers 45 to 51. Now You’re Cooking features cookware from La Crueset, Anolon, Viking, Cuisinart, All Clad, Chef’s Design, Emeril, Endurance and Gourmet Standard. And that’s just the beginning… glassware from Reidel, Rosle implements, cook-books, small appliances, wooden salad bowls (running to $399) and dishware from Denby, Nigella, Pillivuy and Emile Henry. There is also a teaching kitchen on site… a serious cook or just a dilettante will enjoy the store. For lunch, there is JR Maxwell & Co. at 122 Front St. They boast that they prepare all their own salad dressings and the lunch menu is extensive in this pub/restaurant with support columns, brick walls, stained glass and beams. It’s pub grub with imagination at about
Camden is, without doubt, the premier of the towns on the mid-coast. Incredibly busy in summer, much of the same shopping and lunching is available in winter. A wander around the town will bring you to three businesses that we enjoyed very much… all on Bay View Street. For artwork, try the Duck Trap Bay Trading Company (37 Bay View). There are a number of galleries in town, but it you are looking for a wide selection in all price ranges, this is the place. With two floors of exhibition space featuring everything from reasonable watercolours to expensive oils and some sculpture thrown in for variety, the Duck Trap has something for you. Next door, you’ll find ABCD Books(23 Bay View). Old, high-ceilinged rooms are packed with an eclectic collection of used books - mostly in hard-cover. The strength is in history, literature and fiction with a nice collection of children’s books. Prices aren’t particularly low and first editions demand a premium. Buy or not, it’s a great visit for the book-lover (I know, bibliophile). Across the street, you’ll find the lovely Once a Tree (46 Bay View). The large shop features beautifully crafted woodworks, everything from salad bowls to jewellery chests, as well as pottery and any number of tasteful and attractive things. Just a wonderful shop.
If your visit has you feeling peckish, then you might try Cappy’s which is highly recommended. We arrived only to find out that it was closed on winter Wednesdays and settled for the Village Restaurant next door (5 Main Street). The restaurant is a bright attractive room with a fantastic view of Camden harbour through the large windows. You’ll find appetizers including clam chowder and lobster stew, salads ($7.95-$16.95), sandwiches, wraps and burgers ($6.95-$13.95), seafood, chicken dishes and salmon ($8.95 - $13.95). To our dismay, both clams and salmon were unavailable and we both chose the fried scallops ($12.95)… it was a big meal, all very nice and quite well done. If you’re from away, this is an opportunity to try Belfast Bay Brewing’s Lobster Ale. Not bad, at all.
Belfast may not be the most attractive town on the mid-coast, but its little Main Street features some interesting shopping. Two businesses that grabbed our attention were The Green Store and The Clown. The Green Store calls itself a general store for the twenty-first century and for a while, I wasn’t really sure what it was trying to be, but if I were and environmentalist or survivalist, I would have to check it out. But it’s so much more than that… eclectic and interesting. The Clown is your place for wine and olive oil… there’s more than that, but it does have a good wine selection and the place just makes for a nice visit.
Riverview, New Brunswick