Nov 302013
 

Birdwatching Mount Desert Island Maine Rich MacDonaldConsider bird watching.  Once thought of as a hobby for elderly folks of the nerdier sort, in 2011 it was the subject of a comedy starring Owen Wilson.  Mick Jagger and Paul McCartney are both said to be fans of this pastime that originally gained popularity in Victorian England with the publication of such books as Birds through an Opera Glass (1889), but today counts one out of every five Americans as a participant.

My interest in bird watching emerged from my passion for hiking.  If I took a guided bird tour, I reasoned, I could add to my basic knowledge and get even more out of my day hikes in Acadia National Park in Maine.  So, we signed up with The Natural History Center in Bar Harbor.

We arrived early for our 8am appointment, and with more than a little excitement, sat waiting on the bench on Firefly Lane opposite the Bar Harbor Village Green gazebo.

A few minutes later the owner of the center, Rich MacDonald, pulled up and we were off to the first of six stops on the three-hour bird watching tour of Mount Desert Island.  As we drove, Rich introduced himself.

“I grew up in western New York, the oldest son in the family.  We had a dairy farm and cheese shop.  37 types.   But I was an academic, and although I was supposed to take over the farm, my father encouraged me to pursue my passion.”

That was biology and ornithology, in particular. After ten years as a field biologist with The Nature Conservancy and a stint in consulting, Rich met his wife, Natalie Springuel, also a naturalist, who was a Master Maine Guide for sea kayaking.  They moved to Mount Desert Island and opened The Natural History Center four years ago.

As Rich parked the van at Hadley’s Point, the northernmost point of the island, the wind picked up. The yellow leaves of the nearby poplars rustled, as chickadees chirped from somewhere within the grove.  Rich positioned his scope beside the van, which sheltered us on this breezy, but bright October morning.  Although we were novice bird watchers, we knew this was not the best time of year for birding.  Sure enough, the first birds Rich’s scope picked up bobbing around in Eastern Bay were herring gulls—common to every beach and, well, garbage lot.

Rich got excited.  “What do you see?”  We peered through the scope.  Then we saw it: a bright red spot on the bill.  Only when a chick pecks it, Rich explained, does the mother regurgitate food to feed it. “That red dot is key to survival.” It turns out a Dutch scientist won a Nobel Prize for these findings about “signal stimulti.”  I knew I’d never look at herring gulls the same.

We moved on, sighting yellow legs, red-necked grebes, Canadian geese, a bald eagle, several types of ducks, and mosquitoes of avian scale.  The anecdotes about bird behavior, habitat, and history accumulated even faster than the checkmarks on the birding list. 

We saw a mourning dove, which prompted Rich to tell us the story of its relation, the  passenger pigeon.  In the 19th century a pigeon migration, in flocks numbering in the billions, was such a spectacle that John James Audubon described it as “darkening the sky.”  These pigeons are extinct today.

“I see mourning doves pecking at the gravel on the carriage roads,” I said to Rich.

“Eating little stones helps them grind things in their stomachs,” he explained.

“What kind of spruce is this?” I asked.

“Black spruce.  It’s the most common in Maine.”

It was clear we were in the company of a passionate expert.  It’s no wonder that the hedge fund elite hire him to guide extended hiking and kayaking trips.  Even more, it fits that he would be the naturalist for Garrison Keillor on the cruises of National Public Radio’s A Prairie Home Companion.

Yes, birding with Rich MacDonald was another victory for the nerds. 

And I was right.  A walk in the woods is great.  When you know what’s singing in the trees, it’s even better.

The Natural History Center is located at 6 Firefly Lane, Bar Harbor, Maine, (207) 801-2617.

 

Related Stories: 

Wildlife in Maine’s Acadia National Park: Bring Your Binoculars! 

Fall Photo Workshop in Acadia National Park 

How to Cook Lobster and More: A Three-Day Cooking Adventure in Maine

 

 

Sep 282013
 
Blue Hill Fair near Acadia National Park 4H member

4-H member proudly poses with her goat at the Blue Hill Fair

“When the udder is nicely attached like this, that’s good,” explained the pretty, blue-eyed member of the 4-H goat program. Then she moved gracefully over to another goat in the small pen and swung her hand to its underside to demonstrate a dangling udder, pointing out, “Not like this.”

What makes an award-winning goat was what had piqued my curiosity as I wandered among the livestock shows at the Blue Hill Fair, which was celebrating 100 years of 4-H in Maine.  In addition to these exhibits, which highlight the skills of 4-H members in animal husbandry, the fair draws over 30,000 locals and visitors each year to flower and vegetable shows, midway rides, special events, and entertainment.  It has run continuously since 1891 and, in fact, was the fair that  provided E. B. White’s imagination with the details for Wilbur’s competition, Fern’s Ferris wheel ride, Templeton’s foraging, and, of course, Charlotte’s web.  Along with other Maine fairs, including the granddaddy of them all, the Fryeburg Fair, which takes place September 29th through October 6th this year and draws ten times the audience, it is an important part of Maine’s agricultural heritage and a great thing to do on a vacation to Maine in early fall.

Agricultural exhibits at Blue Hill Fair

Visitors to the Blue Hill Fair pet a terrific pig.

A couple of days before we went to the Blue Hill Fair I read Charlotte’s Web.  Like a magical travel brochure, it lit my anticipation to go back in time to an old-fashioned country fair.  But, when we finally got around to going on Sunday afternoon, my spirits dipped.  The Open Sheep Dog Trials were over, and the Farmers Ox Pull had come and gone.  But the sun was shining, and crowds gathered casually around the barns to witness young 4-H members exhibit the skills they’d mastered in agriculture, community involvement, and leadership.  “There’s no place like a country fair for the youth of 4-H to showcase their skills,” I read in the program, and my enthusiasm built as I chatted with the girls about their Nubians, LaManchas, and Alpines.  (LaManchas are the ones with such tiny ears that they appear to have none at all.)

Blue Hill Fair Maine

Visiting the goat exhibits at the Blue Hill Fair

After applauding the rescued dogs who demonstrated their Frisbee-catching skills in the “Disc-Connected K9 Show,” we headed toward the grandstand to view the 3600 Horse Pull.  This was a contest to see how far teams of two weighing no more than 3600 pounds could pull a sled of weights in five minutes.  Here the crowd watched intensely, politely but firmly asking those standing in front to sit down.

Horse pull at the Blue Hill Fair in Maine

Horse pull at the Blue Hill Fair

Heading back to the barns, I ogled accomplishments of those who had grown everything from sunflowers to peppers to tomatoes to squash.  I watched an old gentleman demonstrating how to cane a chair.  “It’s a lot of work, but you feel good to see it when it’s done,” he said.

chair caning Blue Hill Fair Maine

Chair caning was among the time-honored crafts demonstrated at the Blue Hill Fair

Finally, it was time to find a seat in the packed grandstand to watch more than 100 women compete in the much-anticipated Women’s Skillet Toss.  The announcer’s voice boomed that “The World’s Women” were invited to the Intercontinental and Greater Hancock County Women’s Skillet Toss Championship, and representatives from Maine, New York, California, New Hampshire, and Florida filed in to compete in the Kittens and Cougars classes.

Fans packed the grandstand at the Blue Hill Fair to watch the Women's Skillet Toss

Fans packed the grandstand at the Blue Hill Fair to watch the Women’s Skillet Toss

The contestants hurled cast iron skillets down a center line, suffering deductions when the skillet went off course.  Stacy Connor of Dedham, Maine, who won last year with a throw of 80 feet, 6 inches, demonstrated her dominance again this year, although her footage declined to 57 feet, 9 inches.  (I think she herself got a little “thrown off,” when her first toss in the final round flew over the fence and, as the crowd ducked and gasped, hit the announcer’s stand.

Women's skillet toss Blue Hill Fair

A contestant from Blue Hill winding up for the Women’s Skillet Toss

It was time to go home.  I hadn’t thought about 4-H in a long time.  I had lived in Boston, Chicago, Minneapolis, and New York since my childhood years in Massachusetts, when I sewed aprons and pin cushions in 4-H.  I remembered the pledge that encapsulates the four H’s—head, heart, hands, health—and thought that, at least on this sunny afternoon at a country fair in Maine, they all added up to a fifth: happiness.

Related Stories:

Maine Pie Entrepreneur Gains Bigger Piece of the Market Both Locals and Vacationers Love

Why Visit Acadia National Park This Fall

Attention Foodies: Take a Detour to Bartlett Winery on a Visit to Acadia National Park

Sep 152013
 

 

Bass Harbor Lighthouse Maine

Bass Harbor Head Light Photo by Les Picker

Last March I got to go on a Lindblad/National Geographic expedition to Costa Rica that had a photography emphasis.  One of our guides was both a well-educated, local naturalist and certified photography instructor.  That combination of talents in the field—and Costa Rica is so amazing both close in and from afar—made the trip unusually satisfying.

If you’ve always wanted to participate in a photo workshop in Maine, I recommend you consider the upcoming Acadia National Park Photography Adventure that Lester Picker is offering  October 10-14, 2013.  It is conducted in conjunction with the Nikonians Academy, which is dedicated to teaching photography through hands-on practical workshops.

But I recommend it because Les Picker possesses that rare combination of environmental education and photographic know-how that I experienced on my National Geographic expedition.

Les received his doctorate in ecology from the University of Maine and used Acadia National Park for his research. Having lived in Maine for ten years, he knows the intricacies of Acadia in a way that’s rare for those offering photo workshops in Maine, and there are plenty of them.

Fall Foliage Photos

Photo by Workshop Participant Dave Soderlund

One of his students, Thomas Wilson of North Sandwich, New Hampshire, emphasized this in his review of the workshop, “Les’ knowledge of the history and flora of Acadia enriched the experience.”  Another student, Dave Soderlund of Ithaca, New York, echoed, “His depth of knowledge of the landscape, history and biology of the island informed our photography and took us to places that most other workshops just don’t see. Les provided itineraries that were well-balanced between iconic locations (Cadillac Mountain, Bass Harbor Lighthouse) and out-of-the-way gems.”

Les’ itinerary also includes The Bubbles, Jordan Pond, Ocean Drive, Sand Beach, and Cadillac Cliffs, as well as the villages of Bar Harbor, Southwest Harbor, Somesville, and Northeast Harbor—all places every visitor wants to see.

Each evening Les offers an optional image review and critique—an excellent opportunity since the workshop is limited to ten students.  Another Acadia workshop participant, Dr. Lew Rothman of New York City, said, “He offered solid and comprehensive shooting tips geared to our individual needs and provided insightful feedback after each shoot. Perhaps most important he provided additional opportunity to review and improve our images after we returned home from the workshop. He was genuinely interested in our progress and it didn’t end with the workshop.”

To find out more, visit the Nikonians Academy site, but  do it now.  When I was last in touch with Les, there were only a few spots left.

Related Stories:

17 Great Ways to Experience Acadia National Park

Why Visit Acadia National Park in the Fall

Aug 222013
 

Off Mount Desert Island Acadia National Park MaineIn 2011 the Spanierman Gallery in New York City brought together the work of 24 artists, including Will Barnet, George Bellows, and Marsden Hartley, to examine how Maine had inspired them.  Entitled “Maine – An Artist’s Retreat,” the show revealed many representations of the state’s coastline and islands.  Yet, what sets Maine apart, the catalog said, is how Maine’s forests, rocky shores, marshes, and harbors always present themselves as fresh, alive, and unexplored, no matter how many times in the past artists have rendered them.

The opportunity to discover these landscapes for yourself—fresh and alive–will be available to students in an upcoming painting expedition with acclaimed Maine artist Judy Taylor.  It will take place September 3-6, 2013 off the coast of Mount Desert Island, home of Acadia National Park in Maine.

What’s exciting about this workshop, however, is that it will truly be an opportunity to explore the unexplored because it will take place on a small private island.

According to Judy Taylor, the island, which has only one house which dates back to the 1930s, is very close to Mount Desert Island.  It has 360 views, with one side overlooking Indian Point Nature Conservancy “where the seals perch on rocks.”  Says Judy, “You can walk the entire island easily.  It gives us such flexibility to take advantage of light in both the morning and afternoon.”

Acadia National Park Mount Desert Island Maine

Lessons will all be about plein air painting, and students can work in the medium of their choice.  “Blocking in and simplifying shapes will be key,” Judy notes.  Lessons will also focus on color mixing, light and shade, composition, and atmospheric and linear perspective.

Students can register for two days for $350 or four days for $650.  They must arrange for their own housing on Mount Desert Island and bring their own lunch each day.  The day begins at 9am at the dock in Pretty Marsh where they’ll return around 4pm.

For questions and registrations, contact Judy Taylor at punchinellas@hotmail.com.

Remember, to ensure optimal attention from Judy, the class size is limited to eight students.  It’s also the capacity of the boat that will take you to the private island!  So, sign up now.

Related Stories:

17 Great Ways to Enjoy Acadia National Park in Maine

Wildlife in Maine’s Acadia National Park: Bring Your Binoculars!

Aug 142013
 

Eight guests had signed up for an exclusive “cooking adventure” at Ann’s Point Inn in Bass Harbor, Maine.  Working alongside Chef James Lindquist of Red Sky Restaurant, they were preparing the evening’s menu:  dumplings filled with just-picked mushrooms, steamed clams and mussels over freshly made pasta, halibut with a triple citrus beurre blanc, and lobster steamed in seawater and seaweed collected outside the inn.  After Chef Lindquist deboned and skinned the halibut, he suggested they lay the skin out on a large rock near the shoreline.  As if on cue, a majestic eagle swooped down to participate in the enjoyment of the evening’s delicacies – ensuring this “cooking adventure” was worthy of its name.

The eagles you see on your next trip to Acadia National Park may not be quite this “up close and personal,” but, if you plan your itinerary to prioritize wildlife viewing, you are likely to bring back photos—and memories—of eagles and much more.  Acadia National Park protects over 40,000 acres on the beautiful and remote destination of Mount Desert Island, thus preserving the homes and habitats of dazzling birds, mammals, and other wildlife.

Don’t leave home without your binoculars.  Considered one of the premier bird-watching areas in the country, Acadia has logged a record of 338 bird species, according to the National Park Service. Twenty-three species of warblers alone have been recorded as breeding in the park!

Eagle sightings have been common on the kayaking trips in Frenchman Bay and boat cruises to Frenchboro that I’ve taken during trips to Acadia National Park.  In addition, when we kayak in Somes Sound, we paddle to a spot where we regularly see eagles.

bald eagle acadia national park

Peregrine falcons are also an important species on the list. In the 1980s, Acadia National Park participated in a cooperative management plan to restore this endangered species.  Today, when you scan the sky near the Precipice or Beech Cliffs, you can see the recovered peregrines diving to attack prey at a wondrous speed that can approach miles per hour.

You’ll spot cormorants, terns, and loons, too.  As we were biking on our way from Eagle Lake to Witch Hole Pond, we spotted this majestic Great Blue Heron atop a beaver lodge.

great blue heron acadia national park

 

Ranger-led bird walks take place between late spring and mid-fall.  In addition, volunteers join the National Park Service in the fall to count the migrating hawks.

Acadia National Park hawk watch

Seals and harbor porpoises are also common sightings on boat excursions around Acadia.  You’re likely to see both harbor seals, as well as grey seals in the Gulf of Maine.

seals gulf of maine

One morning, as we crossed the sandbar between Bar Harbor and Bar Island, we spotted this lost seal pup, which was ultimately rescued thanks to the College of the Atlantic’s program dedicated to marine animal preservation.

harbor seal bar harbor maine

 

As exciting as it is to encounter a seal pup, you should never underestimate the appeal of a marsh full of frogs to a child.

Eagle Lake Acadia National Park

child with frog

And a boat cruise to retrieve wonders of the deep may end up intriguing not only children, but hard-to-impress adolescents.

sea star diver ed cruise bar harbor

rachel lauderBefore we leave this topic, we return to Ann’s Point Inn, the site of the epicurean eagle, to answer the question, “How likely is it that we will see a moose on a visit to Acadia National Park?”  According to the National Park Service, they do exist in the park, but are rarely seen.  However, one morning guests looked out on the same shoreline where the eagle had landed to see this interloper.

moose bass harbor acadia

Related Stories:

Great Itineraries for Three Days, One Week, and Two Weeks in Acadia National Park

5 Tips if You Want to See a Glorious Sunrise from Cadillac Mountain in Acadia National Park

 

Aug 052013
 

What do Oahu, Majorca, Fiji, and Mount Desert Island have in common?  Well, discerning travelers have just ranked them among their favorite islands in Travel + Leisure’s 18th annual poll to identify the “World’s Best.”

This much-anticipated publishing event occurs every August and fuels bucket lists for avid travelers worldwide.  It provides rankings not only of destinations, including cities, but also hotels, cruises, and airlines that “define the very best in travel.”  Travel + Leisure boasts 4.8 million readers, who were invited to participate in the poll from December 1, 2012, to April 1, 2013.

Mount Desert Island has appeared on every list of Top Islands in the Continental U.S and Canada during the last five years, with the exception of 2011.  In 2008 it was also ranked fifth among the Top 10 Islands in the World.

So, how did the Travel + Leisure editors organize their survey to uncover the “World’s Best”?   Islands were evaluated on five characteristics: natural attractions/beaches, activities/sights, restaurants/food, people, value.  Romance was optional! 

Natural Attractions: Where the Mountains Meet the Sea 

Maine rocky coastlineThe natural attractions of Mount Desert Island are so great that Congress protected it as a national park in 1919, the first one east of the Mississippi.  Today the park occupies about half of the entire island, which is about the size of Martha’s Vineyard.  Within its boundaries, marked by an iconic rocky New England coastline, are 24 mountain peaks, rich boreal forests, glacial lakes, rolling meadows, wetlands, and dramatic rock formations.  In 1877 Clara Barnes Martin wrote the first guidebook for Mount Desert Island, describing its unique beauty as “the only neighborhood of mountain and sea on all our Atlantic coast.  These cliffs look down not on bay or lake, but upon broad ocean.”

Activities: From Rock Climbing to Curling Up with a Good Book

Kayaking BubblesThe national park challenges travelers with an array of activities and sights.  From ranger-led lectures to sunset cruises in historic sailing sloops, days can be packed.  Travelers usually start with visits to Cadillac Mountain, the tallest mountain on the eastern seaboard, as well as other top sights:  the Park Loop Road, Sand Beach, Thunder Hole, Jordan Pond, Eagle Lake, and the Bass Harbor Head Light.  But then Acadia quickly lures hikers, bikers, climbers, and kayakers to explore more deeply.  A variety of competent guides and outfitters are available to lead the way.  Activities also include museums, galleries, local crafts fairs, and many settings just right for curling up with a good book.

Restaurants: Fresh from Maine’s Fishermen and Farmers

Maine lobster dinnerMaine is the state of fishermen and farmers.  So, it is no surprise that Mount Desert Island delights foodies with fresh, seasonal menus from innovative local chefs.  An exciting array of restaurants has cropped up in Mount Desert Island’s villages from Bar Harbor to Otter Creek to Southwest Harbor.  In addition, traditional lobster pounds attract everyone to sample steamers, Maine shrimp, chowders of many varieties, lobster rolls, and, of course, steamed lobster.  And whether it’s on a fresh white table cloth or knotty old picnic table, everyone has the blueberry pie.

 

People in DownEast Maine

Face of MaineMaine’s state motto is: “The way life should be.”  That means that on a trip to Mount Desert Island you’re going to encounter folks who are genuine, trustworthy, hardworking, and value-oriented.  As the joke goes, you know you’re in Maine, if you leave your keys in the car, and the car is still there in the morning.  People are also ruthlessly practical.  There’s also a joke that you know you’re in Maine when what you expect for Valentine’s is new snow tires.  So, anticipate straightforward, calm, good-natured people who aren’t necessarily going to adjust their schedule to yours.  And you may discover that the highlight of your trip may well be a visit to the hardware store.

Value

hulls cove visitors center acadia national parkIt’s a core value of locals that you need to get the right proportion of quality and quantity of goods and services for the price.  And, depending on your own personal value system, Mount Desert Island is there to deliver.  Whether you choose to stay in an ocean-side hotel in Bar Harbor or one of the campgrounds operated by the National Park Service, you can enjoy great value.  This extends to the island’s restaurants, tours, and shopping.  Best of all is the value—in terms of unique visual beauty–visitors receive for their $20 entrance fee to Acadia National Park.

 

Romance Is Never Optional

sunset downeast friendship sloopsIn recent years Mount Desert Island has become a popular spot for destination weddings.  But sunset cruises and harbor-side dinners don’t have to be reserved exclusively for newlyweds.  Especially in autumn the island seems full of hand-holding couples strolling down carriage rounds or exploring the quaint villages.   Charming inns beckon visitors to relax on their porches in summertime and read in front of the fire in chillier seasons.  Mount Desert Island is an appealing getaway for couples of all ages.

 

Related Stories:

Great Itineraries for Three Days, One Week, and Two Weeks in Acadia National Park

5 Tips If You Want to Enjoy a Glorious Sunrise from Cadillac Mountain

Acadia National Park: Answers to Frequently Asked Questions

Jul 282013
 

Maine Blueberry PieNothing typifies the Maine vacation experience more than lobster and blueberry pie.  And this year Thurston’s Lobster Pound in Bass Harbor, considered by many the best lobster pound on Mount Desert Island, switched its pie purveyor to a start-up baker, who three years ago was worrying about how to pay for new siding on her house.

That’s how Mary Musson describes why she started IslandBound Treats.  “It was on a lark,” she grins.  “We were trying to think of ways to earn a little extra money for the remodeling.”

Maine blueberry pie

Photo by Michelle Perry

Today, in addition to Thurston’s, her pies are sold at Sawyers Market on Main Street in Southwest Harbor.  You’ll find them by the register of this well-known island establishment, on the counter right in front of the photo of the original shopkeeper with Julia Child.

Mary also sells the pies from her own house at 302 Main Street in Southwest Harbor, just shy of the village.  Look for a simple sign in front of a white 1950 ranch, now freshly sided.  There you’ll find pies arranged on a makeshift counter, that is, a table put across the open door.  If you go too late, you’re also likely to see a “Sold Out” sign.

Word of mouth is spreading the excitement about IslandBound Treats.  Says Maine artist Judy Taylor, “They are fresh, fresh, fresh.”  Jeannette Feuer, innkeeper at Ann’s Point in Bass Harbor, reports, “Guests returned from Thurston’s and were raving about the strawberry rhubarb pie.”

To produce 40 pies a day, 50 during holiday weeks, Mary still uses her standard household GE oven, but has added two new ones in the basement.  She doesn’t have a dishwasher, but this year hired a helper.

The energetic mother of three girls, 6, 7, and 9, Mary makes three kinds of pie—blueberry (“the classic”), strawberry/rhubarb (“kind of nostalgic”), and triple berry (“my favorite—I kept one for us over the Fourth”).

The recipes?  Well, according to Mary, it was a process to get them where they are today.  In particular, for the blueberry pie, she was looking for “juicy, not thick and gummy.”  The crust?  “Perfecting it just meant more and more butter.”

Mary grew up in Bar Harbor and her husband, an engineer, in Bernard.  They lived in Boston for five years and, when they were on their way home for visits, they’d talk about being “island bound”.  To raise their family, they decided to return to MDI, especially because of the good schools.  “Now I feel island bound in a different way.  I thought it was a good name for the business.”

If Mary keeps baking pies the way she has been, she’s bound for much more success.  Maybe a new sun room, too.

 

Related Stories:

The Best Ice Cream in Bar Harbor Tops Lists of the Best Ice Cream in America

Lobster Rolls at the Quiet Side Café on Mount Desert Island

Best Bar Harbor Breakfasts: Two Cats Cafe

Jul 142013
 

As we drive north on Route 295, more and more vehicles are racked with bicycles and kayaks.  Licenses plates decorated with chickadees and pine cones, loons, moose, and lobster increase, too.  Like kids entertaining themselves in the days before “devices” did that work, we begin counting Subarus.  It’s summertime in Vacationland.  We’re in Maine.

On this trip to Mount Desert Island, we decided to break up the 493-mile drive from New York City to our house in Somesville by spending one night in Portland.  “The journey is the reward,” I said, quoting Steve Jobs to Fred, who wanted to drive through without stopping.  I finally convinced him of the beauty of my idea by reading him reviews of the sublime wood roasted mussels in garlic almond butter at Fore Street Restaurant.  He was in.

Fortunately, we were able to get in.  In July and August you’re advised to book reservations one to two months in advance, but one-third of the tables are held for walk-ins.  We were able to snag a table for two at 7:45, for which there had been a cancellation just moments before.

Fore Street Restaurant opened in a handsome brick industrial building one block from the Portland waterfront in 1996.  By 2004 Chef Sam Entrance Fore Street Restaurant Portland MaineHayward was named Best Chef/Northeast by the James Beard Foundation.  Ironically, Hayward’s personal acclaim results from his celebration of Maine farmers, fishermen, foragers, and cheese makers through straightforward cooking approaches and preparations.

The menu at Fore Street, which changes daily, reflects this.  It is organized by the general origins of the food and preparation methods—garden, raw and chilled sea food, oven roasted sea food, oven roasted and pan seared meats, chilled meats and offal on the first page of appetizers, followed by entrees and sides of pan seared sea food, wood oven roasted seafood, wood grilled meats, turnspit roasted meats, plants and fungi, vegetables.  As with so many of Maine’s most exciting farm-to-fork restaurants, the originating locale of the food is also noted.

This dedication to the elemental flavors of the foods isn’t to say that the dishes are “plain.” The chilled seafood platter, for example, included cured Sockeye salmon with English pea puree and sliced Cape Cod scallops with chili oil. The roasted halibut filet from the Gulf of Maine was accented with roasted garlic scapes and a duck egg and mustard mayonnaise.

The July evening we visited temperatures were over 90 degrees in Portland.  Even the street entertainers seemed to languish.  I ordered a gin and tonic, the most refreshing drink I know, and began to focus on the sea food.  As I studied the menu from our coppertop table, the charms of the large, wood-filled dining room begin to distract me.  The waitress said, “You can imagine how lovely it is on a snowy night,” gesturing toward the large, leaded windows.

Central to the dining room is the open kitchen.  The line of four cooks operates in unison, with high-pitched calls keeping the beat.  With a paddle one cook removes iron-clad dishes from the large, open wood stove.  Flames shoot up.  Another mans the turnspit, roasting pork, chicken, and rabbit.

Kitchen Fore Street Restaurant Portland Maine

So thoroughly has the atmosphere of the place affected me that, suddenly, when the waitress returns, I order wood oven roasted mackerel with roasted red onion sauce and grilled hanger steak!  Fred had already declared his choices of the roasted mussels and breast of Rohan duckling with pickled cherries with black pepper and juniper.  Maybe this “game time decision,” as Fred said, was in anticipation of sharing the excellent 2007 Barbera our waitress would recommend.

After our entrees, we ordered a selection of artisan cheeses as we finished our wine.  We concluded the meal with three sorbets and glasses of refreshing moscato d’asti, preparing ourselves for the reality of the heat outside.

 

Related Stories:

Attention Foodies: Take a Detour to Bartlett Winery When You Visit Acadia National Park in Maine

Fathom Opens in Bar Harbor, Pleasing Both Locals and Memorial Day Visitors to Acadia National Park

Destination Dining at its Best: Xanthus at the Claremont Hotel in Southwest Harbor Maine

 

Jun 302013
 

What are you looking for when you go to Maine?  Views of the rocky coastline, lighthouses, and Cadillac Mountain?  Lots of lobster and blueberry pie?  Hiking and biking in Acadia National Park?

I go to Maine because I also want to “get away.”

To me this means spending time in stores and cafes with a much slower pace than what I experience in New York City, where I live.  I find that a discussion about a new garden hose at the hardware store in Southwest Harbor can be more restorative than any massage or spa treatment.

That’s one reason the Quietside Café in Southwest Harbor is a favorite.  No doubt about it, we go there because their lobster rolls are fantastic.  Packed with the freshest lobster meat from the lobster pound right down the street on Clark Point Road, they’re served with delicious homemade coleslaw and chips.  Fred also loves their New England clam chowder, which is thick and creamy.

Lobster roll at Quietside Cafe Southwest Harbor Maine

But I love the fact that this is a family business.  Frances and Ralph have operated it for 16 years now, with their two daughters growing up working in the business and pitching in to serve customers.  Today, as we sat outside on newly painted picnic benches, the couple continued to show pride in the new 15-year-old waitress who’s a whiz at reciting their 20-plus ice cream flavors.  That’s just the kind of place it is.

The Quietside Café is located on Main Street in Southwest Harbor on the eponymous western half of Mount Desert Island where the pace is far less bustling than in Bar Harbor where the cruise ships dock.  Parking on Main Street in Southwest Harbor is pretty easy.  There’s also a parking lot in front of the post office right around the corner on Clark Point Road.  The Quietside is diagonally across from the hardware store.

Quietside Cafe Southwest Harbor Maine

The café itself is nondescript.  You can sit outside on picnic tables in a small village garden, which attracts battalions of butterflies to its bushes in late August.  Likely there will be a pie cooling in the window.

Inside the tiny, tidy luncheonette decorated with family photographs are a few tables, an ice cream bar, and a lunch counter that’s also jam-packed with what Frances has baked that day – blueberry pie, macaroons, and oatmeal cookies.

Quietside Cafe Southwest Harbor Maine

Sit there on a stool at risk to your waist line because what TripAdvisor reviewers say is true:

“Blueberry pie in a class of its own, piled a mile high with the sweetest wild berries”

“Ethereal blueberry pie”

“Amazing pie well over an inch thick”

“Best pie around”

“Best key lime pie ever – I suspect it was that chocolate crust”

“The best was the apple pie – pecan streusel topping and loads of apples”

“Pie tastes like the berries were just picked…”

blueberry pie quietside cafe maine

macaroons quietside cafe southwest harbor maine

Speaking of TripAdvisor, I also liked the reviewer who said: “We camped 10 nights and visited the café 5.”  Repeat visitors and regulars are common at the Quietside.

9 of the 10 times I go, I have the lobster roll, but the crab rolls and BLTs are also my personal favorites.  Others are fans of the turkey melts and the “to-die-for” sweet potato fries – in addition to the pizza!

The ice cream also gets rave reviews, for both the quality and flavor variety.  Take Moose Track, for example.  It’s a rich vanilla studded with chocolate and peanut butter chunks.

It’s surely from another world.  And that takes me back to my first point: I go to Maine to get away from it all. Going to the Quietside is like visiting America in another time.  It’s a chance to engage with simple things: value for the money and nice people.  The way life was meant to be, as the Maine slogan states.

It’s telling it like it is when the locals on MDI refer to us off-islanders as people “from away”.

Related Stories:

Best Bar Harbor Breakfasts: Come This Way to Café This Way

Mount Desert Island’s Most Scenic Lobster Pound?  It’s Unanimous

What Is Peekytoe Crab and Should a Maine Lobster Lover Opt for It?

 

May 182013
 

maine destination weddingsApril showers bring May flowers, then June graduations and weddings.  And, although my daughter graduates from college in June, she’s pretty far from a wedding (although she has been dating a great guy for three years).

I was the one who began thinking about weddings recently when my online browsing introduced me to Maine wedding photographer Brea McDonald.  Her work would convince any couple to choose Mount Desert Island as the destination for their wedding!

During the last ten years destination weddings have skyrocketed like love on a starlit night. Today they represent one out of every four weddings.  Says Laura Cave of The Knot, “Our families and our friends are so far flung throughout the country.  It makes total sense that a bride and groom would want to choose a wedding site that’s beautiful for them and a lot of fun for their friends.”

Mount Desert Island fits those criteria.  Brea McDonald, whose home base is York, Maine, has photographed weddings in Maine, New Hampshire, Nantucket, Cape Cod, and Boston.  According to Brea, Mount Desert Island is a great location for a New England wedding because “it has it all — boating, fishing, hiking, shopping and, of course, eating.”

That’s particularly because Mount Desert Island is home to Acadia National Park, the first national park east of the Mississippi.  Its granite-topped mountains, rocky coastline and glacial lakes attracted 2.4 million visitors last year.  And these distinctive geographical features make a stunning setting for wedding vows, whether anchored by spruce or birch…

wedding acadia national park maine

maine wedding venue harbor

…or enclosing the couple in an autumnal tunnel of love.

maine weddings fall

Charming villages are located throughout Mount Desert Island.  Their harbor-side classic inns and elegant gardens are the kind of venues brides dream about and cherish through their photographs for years to come.

asticou inn northwest harbor maine

maine wedding venue garden

One couple Brea photographed opted for the ceremony aboard a four-masted schooner and the reception in a harbor-side meadow.

maine wedding venues boats

maine wedding venues harbors

Couples who have a bent toward the casual seem to gravitate toward Maine for their weddings.  They may start with their topsiders on, but are likely to kick up (and off) their heels before long.

maine wedding venues casual

maine weddings casual

And they’re not afraid to be caught in a wedding photo tasting a lobster leg.  In fact, that’s part of the instructions.

wedding menus lobster

maine weddings lobster

That brings us to food.  Mount Desert Island is home to fishermen (including lobstermen) and farmers (including wonderful organic growers), so the culinary delights at a Maine wedding are great.  What floats your boat – clams or oysters?

Maine wedding menus

maine weddings menus oysters

A lobster bake makes a memorable menu.

maine wedding lobsterbake

So, if my daughter gets engaged and asks me what I think about a wedding on Mount Desert Island, I’m going to say: “A beautiful setting? Check.  Great food for the reception?  Check.  Fun for your friends? Check.  Memorable?  Check.”

And did I mention her boyfriend is graduating from Harvard Law in June?

Related Stories:

Brea McDonald Photography

The Knot’s Maine Wedding Albums