Nov 022013
 

Oktoberfest AcadiaI have no credentials that qualify me to review an Oktoberfest event.

When one of the brewers I visited at Acadia’s Oktoberfest described an ale as very “hoppy,” I said, “Yes, happy!” and extended my sampling glass.

With my credentials—or lack thereof—established, I can now share my sentiments about the annual Acadia Oktoberfest, and you can rest assured that I won’t be describing the beers in the manner of, say, a wine critic.

This year, as in the seventeen previous, Acadia’s Oktoberfest was sponsored by the Southwest and Tremont Chamber of Commerce during Columbus Day weekend at Smuggler’s Den Campground on Mount Desert Island. In years past up to four thousand locals, national park visitors, beer geeks, and those just looking for a good time have joined in the imbibing, as well as music and crafts exhibits.

I’d never been among them, even though I come to Acadia from New York City every October to hike.

First of all, admission to the Saturday beerfest is $30.  For that you get a roll of ten tickets, entitling you to ten samplings in your  4-ounce “souvenir” glass.  In addition to the beer tent, there are two others devoted to crafts and food/entertainment.  All food is additional.  (The other option is to pay $10 for admission only.)

But that $30 price tag is nothing for the many fans of craft beers, who view this festival as their chance to sample both the classic and seasonal offerings of 21 breweries, all in the craft or microbrewery category that boasts small batches and artisanal quality.  According to the Brewers Associations, craft brewing sales soared 15 percent in 2012, while U.S. beer sales overall were virtually stagnant at a .9 percent increase.

Anchoring the entrance to the beer tent at this year’s Acadia’s Oktoberfest was Mount Desert Island’s own Atlantic Brewing, founded in 1990 and a driving force behind the festival’s inception. It’s where we tasted our first sample.  Fred chose the classic Real Ale, but I decided to try the Island Ginger, a lightly spiced brew that was a more flavorful alternative to the Bar Harbor Summer Ale I like to drink with lobster.

Scouting out the surroundings, we moved from the beer tent, which was packed with enthusiasts, over to the food tent.  Here the band was playing and couples, flushed from their own circuits of the beer tent, were dancing.

Acadia Oktoerfest

The food stand for Tanya’s Off the Grid Foods caught our attention.  Loading up with a freshly prepared salsa and chips and cups of chili, we found seats at long tables.  Cool autumn air refreshed the tent as we dug into the perfectly seasoned chili.  I ducked back into the beer tent for two more harvest ales, and, returning, stirred some sour cream into the chili.  The band, The Peterson Project, started up a new set, moving from bluesy rock to bluegrass.

The difference in the beers was really remarkable.  Of the 21 breweries represented, only three were from outside of Maine and one—Brooklyn Brewery—from outside of New England.  Some of the Maine beers, such as Allagash, Geary, and Shipyard, are well distributed throughout New England and sometimes farther, such as New York, where I’ve seen them in restaurants featuring craft beers.   Many, however, were local micro-breweries.  We stood in line twice for the Daymark from Rising Tide, a family-owned craft brewery in Portland that specializes in artisanal ales.Acadia OktoberfestSome booths were staffed by sales reps, others volunteers.  “I just moved here from Alaska,” one volunteer told me.  “I thought it would be a great way to meet people.”

In front of the Sam Adams booth, a couple in Bavarian-style, felt hats posed for a photo.

Acadia Oktoberfest

A cut-out of Sam Adams himself marched by.Acadia OktoberfestThere were no lederhosen to be seen, although I did spot a guy in a lime green T-shirt and plaid kilt.

Acadia Oktoberfest

In the midst of the revelers enjoying the fall craft beers, caricaturist Susan Fox sketched a smiling subject.Acadia OktoberfestBack in the food tent Fred ordered a plate of BBQ ribs from Nostrano, the Town Hill caterer that specializes in private dinners.  When he asked for a knife, the owner Frank Pendola simply twisted the rack, and the meat fell off the bones.

It was getting close to the 6pm closing, and we still had quite a few red tickets left in our rolls.  So many more beers, so little time.  The Fatty Bumpkins Maine Draft Cider was too sweet for my taste, but we loved the chocolate and mint-laced coffee and Cadillac Stout that wrapped up our tasting.

The closing event in the beer tent was about to begin.  Someone in the crowd told us they were counting the tickets at each brewer’s stand to determine the people’s choice–who would get to come back next year with no vendor’s fee.  We heard “Testing…testing” on the mike, then, “Brooklyn Brewery.”

It was a sign!  This New Yorker would be back next year, too.

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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.

 

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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.

 

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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”.

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Jun 232013
 

Google “U.S. national parks on islands” and, after five pages on the U.S. Virgin Islands and the Channel Islands in California, you’ll find a listing about Acadia National Park on Mount Desert Island in Maine.

Shhhhhhh.  You may want to keep this discovery to yourself.  Mount Desert Island gets only one-third the visitors to Cape Cod, for example, and half of this spectacular island, which is almost exactly the size of Martha’s Vineyard, has been preserved as a national park.  Plus MDI (as it’s known) not only has sailboat-studded harbors, dramatic ocean-side cliffs, and lobster pounds, but also 24 mountain peaks.

If you’ve been thinking of visiting Maine, why not consider this island with a national park?  Here are some key facts to help you plan.

What are the most popular activities for visitors to Mount Desert Island and Acadia National Park?

acadia mountain acadia national parkStart with sightseeing.  Cadillac Mountain, the Park Loop Road, Jordan Pond, and Thunder Hole are among the favorites of national park visitors.  Active travelers love biking the car-free carriage roads, hiking Acadia’s network of 130 miles of trails, and kayaking on both the ocean and lakes.  Swimming in ponds and lakes, such as Echo Lake, is popular, too.  There’s a variety of boat cruises to explore nearby islands, learn what a lobsterman does, and touch creatures brought up from “the deep.” Nearby miniature golfing, water parks, and attractions such as the Great Maine Lumberjack Show are popular with families.

Get reviews for Acadia trips, guides and outfitters here.

When is Acadia National Park open?  What months?  What hours?

Bubble Mountains AcadiaFrom hiking in the summer to cross country skiing in the winter, you can enjoy Acadia National Park all year long.  Ranger-led programs are featured from June through October.  Certain roads within the park are restricted during winter months, as are visitors’ centers.

In addition to the summer months, popular with families, the fall is a great time to visit.  Over a quarter of a million people visit in October to enjoy the foliage.

Get details about Acadia operating times from the National Park Service.  

How long does it take to see Acadia National Park?

Maine coastline acadia national parkYou can spend three days to three years (and beyond) exploring Acadia National Park.  You can get a sense of the park’s great mountains, spectacular sights, and scenic drives in a jam-packed three-day itinerary.  However, after this introduction, you can invest years exploring the hiking trails, bicycling, and generally enjoying the impact of the seasons on this amazing glacially created landscape.  Around it has grown a vibrant community of restaurants, micro-breweries, and local attractions that draw back vacationers year after year.

Get itineraries for three days, one week, and two weeks in Acadia.

How are the restaurants on Mount Desert Island?

lobster dinner near acadia national park maineMaine is a state of fishermen and farmers.  So, in recent years when restaurateurs have become more committed to fresh, local ingredients, Mount Desert Island has emerged as a magnet for foodies.  From traditional lobster pounds to sophisticated restaurants featuring seasonal menus, it’s an active scene that caters to a wide range of tastes and pocketbooks.  Nationally recognized artisanal ice cream producers and chocolatiers have huge followings.  You may also catch a popular chef like James Lindquist, who was featured in the 2010 cookbook Fresh from Maine, popping into the Bar Harbor artisan olive oil purveyor Fiore to replenish Red Sky restaurant’s stock of blueberry olive oil.

Check out reviews of the best restaurants on Mount Desert here.

Where should we stay when we visit Acadia National Park?

inns near acadia national parkThe interesting thing about Acadia is that Mount Desert Island was an island of prospering villages before it became a national park in 1919.  That adds to your vacation options because these different communities (Bar Harbor, Northwest Harbor, Southwest Harbor, Bass Harbor, Seal Harbor and more) are nestled among the park and offer different activities to complement the experiences of the national park – whether you’re looking for farmers’ markets, shopping, or local art fairs.

Places to stay are just as varied.  Acadia has two popular campgrounds, Blackwoods and Seawall, within the park itself.  In addition, the local communities offer a variety of accommodations — campgrounds acadia national parkcottage rentals, inns, motels, and private campgrounds.

Since the island covers an area of 108 square miles and a fiord-like sound divides it in half, you should plan what you want to do and factor that into the best area to settle into as your home base.  It will cut down on your driving.

Read profiles of the towns and villages near Acadia National Park.

Does Acadia National Park allow dogs?

dogs friendly acadia best trails for dogsYes!  Hiking trails, carriage roads, the Island Explore buses, and even some of the most popular restaurants welcome dogs.  There are even some walking trails that allow your dogs to run leash-free.  However, the park has restrictions and it takes some planning to find the trails best suited for a dog.

Learn about the best trails in Acadia for dogs, Bar Harbor veterinarians, and more..

 

Does Acadia National Park have special facilities and programs?

carriage drives in acadia national parkIf you’re visiting Acadia National Park, one resource you definitely want to know about is Hulls Cove Visitors Center.  On Route 3 outside of Bar Harbor, it’s a great place to stop for questions and materials.  There’s also a terrific 3D map of the park that is a fun way to plan what you want to see.

In addition, Acadia National Park offers a broad array of fascinating and professional ranger-led programs, as well as park-sponsored franchises, that include carriage drives, walks, talks, and boat cruises.  Curious about birds?  Photography? Geology?  Stars?  There’s something for everyone.

Read more about the Hulls Cove Visitors Center.

What are entrance fees for visiting Acadia National Park?

hulls cove visitors center acadia national parkFrom May through October, the park entrance fee for a private vehicle is $20; it’s valid for seven days.  But there are also annual passes, discounts for seniors, and free park admission for active military, as well as special free days for all national parks.

Check out these ways to save, as well as the fees for certain ranger-led programs, at the National Park Service Web site.

 

What are directions for getting to Acadia National Park?

Mount Desert Island is located on the mid-coast section of Maine – roughly 3-1/2 hours north of Portland, 6 hours from Boston, and 10 from New York.

You can fly from Boston’s Logan Airport directly to the Hancock County Airport, just 10 miles from Acadia.  Bangor International Airport, which is about an hour from Mount Desert Island, serves national flights.

If you drive, head north on I-95 to Bangor, then drive east on Route 1A to Ellsworth.  In Ellsworth take Route 3 to Mount Desert Island.

 

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?

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Mar 312013
 

maine lobsterOne evening when we were having dinner at Red Sky restaurant in Southwest Harbor, Maine, the Executive Chef James Lindquist came over to our table to describe the specials.  The appetizer, he said, featured asparagus which was “in the ground this afternoon.”

James Lindquist

James Lindquist

This focus on what’s local and fresh has been a driving force behind the success of Red Sky and James Lindquist, who was featured in Fresh from Maine, the 2010 cookbook of “recipes and stories from the state’s best chefs”.  His vivid way of describing food and engaging the imagination of his diners is another reason the restaurant has received such acclaim from The New York Times, Travel and Leisure, Condé Nast Traveler, and Down East Magazine, among others.

Now, for the first time, enthusiastic home cooks are going to be able to cook with James, learning his approach, getting unique recipes, and taking advantage of the ingredients of Maine, including lobster.  On June 9-12 he will lead a three-day “Cooking Adventure,” limited to eight participants.

This cooking class will take place at Ann’s Point Inn on Mount Desert Island, home of Acadia National Park.  It will include three nights lodging at the scenic harbor-side inn, as well as local trips to discover the sources of Maine’s coveted ingredients.  Participants will prepare appetizer, entrée, and dessert courses for two dinners.  In addition, the program includes a three-course dinner at Red Sky.

Ann's Point Inn

Ann’s Point Inn

This “Cooking Adventure” is the brainchild of Alan Feuer, a former Computer Science professor, who moved to Maine with his wife Jeannette to start a second career as innkeeper of Ann’s Point. Under their stewardship, the inn, which opened in 2005, has not only been certified an Environmental Leader by the Maine Department of Environmental Protection, but also selected as a Yankee Magazine Editor’s Choice in 2012 for “Best Acadian Escape.”

Says Alan Feuer, “For many guests at the inn, eating well-prepared food is as important as the breathtaking scenery and exhilarating physical activity Acadia offers.”   The Feuers updated their inn’s open kitchen in 2012 giving it plentiful work space and a direct water view. He adds, “Kitchens are magical places. They turn raw material into delicious food, and strangers into friends.”

In addition to lodging, two dinners prepared by the class, and a dinner at Red Sky, the “Cooking Adventure” package includes three full breakfasts at Ann’s Point Inn. These feature freshly baked pastries, fresh fruit, and a main course that alternates between the sweet and savory. James Lindquist says, “Jeannette Feuer is an accomplished breakfast chef in her own right!”

The eight people who participate in the first “Cooking Adventure” collaboration will take home recipes of the two dinners they prepared together and a signed copy of Fresh from Maine. Cost for the package is $1750 for two people. For more information, call 207-244-9595 or email info@annspoint.com.

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Mar 242013
 

Thinking of visiting Acadia National Park this summer?  It’s the star attraction of Mount Desert Island, an island about the same size as Martha’s Vineyard, but with 24 mountain peaks.  That alone expands the roster of great things to do there.

Acadia became a national park in 1919, but the first village on Mount Desert Island was founded in 1761.  Today Acadia’s boundaries are intermingled with the charming, postcard-perfect villages of this New England island, adding even more activities to engage park visitors.

So, what activities should you plan to include in your visit?  Here are some favorite things to do both in and around the park.

1.  Watch the sunrise from Cadillac Mountain. At some 1500 feet, Cadillac Mountain is the first place from which to witness dawn in the United States, and it is breathtaking. Make sure you wear a warm fleece even if it’s August.

Cadillac Sunrise

2.  Drive the Park Loop Road. You can get your best overview of Acadia by driving these 27 miles of unsurpassed beauty, created in part through the masterful collaboration of John D. Rockefeller, Jr. and Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr. There are many lookouts so have your camera ready.

3.  Eat lobster. Whether you want a lobster roll, lobster stew, or a two-pounder steamed, you can find a wide range of topnotch restaurants, harbor side lobster pounds, and quaint cafes to serve you. Our favorite is Thurston’s in Bass Harbor.

4.  Go biking. Thanks to John D. Rockefeller, Jr., Acadia offers 45 miles of car-free carriage roads that will lead you around mountains, alongside lakes, and into serene boreal forests.  Visit Hull’s Cove Visitor Center first, just outside of downtown Bar Harbor, where there is plentiful parking and good advice about the best bike routes for you and your family. I love their 3D map.

5.  Stroll, hike, or climb. The park boasts 125 miles of well-maintained hiking trails that appeal to all levels of fitness. The most exciting trails, such as the Precipice and Jordan Cliffs, feature rungs and ladders. A beautiful, moderately challenging hike is Acadia Mountain, overlooking Somes Sound, the only fiord in North America. If you’re looking for easier strolls, consider Asticou Trail and Wonderland – they’re lovely.

Hiking The Bubbles

6.  Have popovers at Jordan Pond House. Select a biking or hiking route that stems from behind Jordan Pond House so that you can conclude your afternoon with lemonade or tea – and, most certainly, popovers — on the lawn looking towards the Bubbles, a sight that has mesmerized visitors at teatime since 1896. It’s a favorite destination for everyone, but worth the wait.  What about popovers filled with blueberry ice cream?

Jordan Pond Popovers with Blueberry Ice Cream

7.  Go to the beach.  Sand Beach is a stunning crescent of white sand, with cliffs at each side and the Beehive Trail behind it. The views won’t disappoint, even if the chilly water does. Another option for a swim is the beach at Echo Lake on the island’s “Quietside.”

Echo Lake swimming

8.  Visit a lighthouse.  Maine has over 60 lighthouses, and one of its most beautiful is on Mount Desert Island in Bass Harbor.  It’s a great spot for photographers.  Afterwards, visit the working harbor busy with lobster and sail boats.

Bass Harbor

9.  Take a horse-drawn carriage ride.  Carriages of Acadia offers a number of picturesque drives within Acadia National Park, starting at Wildwood Stables and encompassing destinations including Day Mountain and Jordan Pond.  Another option is to enjoy a tour of downtown Bar Harbor with Wild Iris Horse Farm.

Carriage Drives in Acadia

10.  Learn from a park ranger. The National Park Service offers very entertaining talks and walks on subjects ranging tidal pools to birds of prey to the stars over Sand Beach. Scan The Beaver Log to figure out how you can fit in more than one.

11.  Touch nature – literally. There are several enterprises, including Mount Desert Biological Laboratories, The Dive-In Theatre, and the Mount Desert Oceanarium, that feature touch tanks full of lobsters, crabs, and sea cucumbers. I always end up liking this stuff just as much as the kids do.

12.  Visit the local wineries and micro-breweries.  On Mount Desert Island you can enjoy free tours and tastings of two award-winning micro-breweries, Bar Harbor Brewing Company and Atlantic Brewing Company.  Venture off the island to discover the acclaimed fruit vintages of Bartlett Winery.

13.  Get out on the water. This great national park is on an island so you must see it from the vantage point of the sea. Whether you’re powering yourself in a sea kayak or the wind is propelling you on a Downeast Friendship Sloop or the Margaret Todd, being on the water is a special part of a trip to Acadia National Park.

Sailing in Acadia

14.  Experience farm to table cuisine. Maine is known not only for its great fishermen, but also its farmers.  And nowhere in Maine has the renaissance of local and organic ingredients been as great as on Mount Desert Island.  A long list of top restaurants, including Burning Tree, Fathom, Red Sky, and Town Hill Bistro, awaits the discerning diner.  Make reservations!

15.  Take an art class.  If you’ve ever pictured yourself sketching or learning watercolors in an idyllic seaside location, make that fantasy a reality.  Among the many wonderful artists on Mount Desert Island is Judy Taylor, who offers workshops that include cruises to some of the most picturesque islands surrounding Mount Desert Island.

Judy Taylor Sketch Class

16.  Relax at a spa. Bar Harbor is home to a number of spas that run the gamut from sophisticated to funky.  If your idea of a great vacation is a day of outdoor activities topped off by a soothing massage, then you’ll find a vacation to Acadia perfect from the pine-scented trails to the aromas of the spa.

17.  Experience the “Way Life Should Be.”  That Maine slogan is your personal invitation to church suppers, local parades, blueberry festivals, farmers’ markets, crafts fairs, and terrific libraries.  If you pull off the road and depart from your schedule, you’ll be amply rewarded.  After all, those practical folks who invented ear muffs in 1873 just named Whoopie Pies as their “State Treat.”

Public Suppers in MaineRelated Stories:

5 Tips If You Want to Enjoy A Glorious Sunrise from Cadillac Mountain in Maine

Where to Stay on a Trip to Acadia National Park: A Profile of Mount Desert Island’s Villages

 

 

 

 

Nov 032012
 

When Fred told his son Josh that we were going to Acadia in October to see the foliage, the 27-year-old wisecracked, “Why don’t you just go to Central Park?”

The horror of turning into middle-aged leaf peepers flashed in my mind.

Ironically, one of the best reasons to go to Maine in the fall is to be very active outdoors.  With visitors to the national park at half of what they are in August, the carriage roads and trails are less populated.  That means easier access to the most popular biking and hiking spots such as Eagle Lake and Cadillac Mountain, Mount Desert Island’s highest point.  The rock climbing companies are still open.  And the weather is terrific for being outdoors.

So, as we approached our autumn visit to Acadia, now an annual ritual, our plans were very much set.  We know what to do in August and what to hold until October to make the most of the seasons and avoid any crowds.

During previous fall trips, we had hiked Cadillac’s West Face (a favorite) and the North Ridge, but we had only done the northernmost parts of the South Ridge in conjunction with other hikes, the previously noted West Face, as well as Canon Brook Trail, another fall favorite.  This year we hiked the entire 7.4-mile South Ridge Trail, up to and back from the 1,530-foot summit, in four hours.  We stopped very little, just to eat an apple at the summit and take this photo of the glacial cirque known as the Featherbed.

Featherbed glacial cirque Cadillac Mountain AcadiaThis year autumn rainfall gave us gushing brooks, topped-off lakes, and lots of active waterfalls.  We hiked along Little Harbor Brook, for example, where there were frequent crossings along stepping stones, something that holds endless charm for me.  I don’t know why.A highlight of the Little Harbor Brook Trail was reaching Amphitheatre Bridge, where we enjoyed a very pretty waterfall.

Another day we made our own hike/bike tour.  After dropping our bikes off at Jordan Pond House, we parked on Route 3 near Hunters Brook.  We hiked north along this lovely brook, then headed west over The Triad where we picked up the Ponds Path to emerge here on Jordan Pond.

Jordan Pond with Bubbles in background

We had lunch at Jordan Pond House where we witnessed – but did not partake of! – such spectacular desserts as popovers filled with ice cream.

Jordan Pond House Ice Cream Stuffed PopoversAfter lunch we got on our bikes and pedaled back on the carriage roads to Signpost 36.  There was only a short expanse of about .2 mile where we had to walk – and carry – our bikes on a trail through the woods.

Although it was close to dusk, we locked up our bikes and hiked another mile to Hunters Cliffs, where we marveled at Maine’s rocky coastline.

Hunters Cliff

When you pack so much into each day, there’s not much tension left in your body as evening approaches.  What’s left quickly dissipates with a glass of a favorite libation – I am happy to promote my recent discovery of Shipyard Pumpkin Ale — at one of Mount Desert Island’s great restaurants.  This year outstanding fall fare on MDI ranged from lobster pot pie at Fiddler’s Green in Southwest Harbor to an Autumn Sweater Salad (mixed greens with sliced apple, garlic marinated feta, herbs, and balsamic vinaigrette) at Lompoc Café in Bar Harbor to risotto with butternut squash at Sips in Southwest Harbor.

Near the very end of our fall vacation in Maine, we went for an easy walk along a path called Murphy’s Lane, in the shadow of the Precipice.  Actually, there was no shadow that day because it was raining lightly.  Despite the precipitation, I was lighthearted as we strolled through birch groves and among rain-kissed leaves and grasses.

We reached Bliss Field over which Champlain Mountain and the Precipice Trail rise, but the mist obscured their magnificence today.  I didn’t care.  I was blissful.

Josh was right.  I could have seen leaves like these in Central Park…if I had been open to them.  Instead I needed to follow John Muir’s instructions to get to that special place:

“Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop off like autumn leaves.”

Related Stories:

Tips for Fall Trips to Acadia National Park

If You Want to Hike Cadillac and Champlain Mountains in Acadia National Park, Go in the Fall

Acadia Photo Workshop – Seeing Maine’s Fall Landscape Through An Expert’s Eyes

 

Oct 212012
 

Ann's Point Inn Bass Harbor

As the sun softened over Bass Harbor, the guests at Ann’s Point Inn leaned forward to listen to the innkeeper introduce the two Bartlett wines, a semi-dry peach and a semi-dry pear, he was pouring that afternoon.  We took another nibble of Seal Cove goat cheese, then tasted.  Wine made from peaches and pears, not grapes?  It was delicious.

“I like featuring Bartlett because my guests appreciate trying wine only available in Maine,” says Alan Feuer, a computer sciences professor turned innkeeper.  “And I like supporting local businesses making high-quality products.”

These wines are the fruits of the labor of award-winning  winemaker  Bob Bartlett, who founded  Bartlett Maine Estate Winery in 1982.  It was Maine’s first winery.   Bob, in fact, had to write the legislation himself to get the license for the tasting room.  Today he and his wife Kathe produce 6,000 to 7,000 cases a year, depending on the availability of fruit.Bartlett Estate WineryAfter first tasting Bartlett wines at Ann’s Point, I spied the bottles with the labels that look like botanical art at wine stores and markets around Mount Desert Island.  I was curious about the winery in nearby Gouldsboro and wanted to taste more.  This cloudy October afternoon seemed just right to take a break from hiking in Acadia and go on a field trip.  What we learned was not only about wine, but also about a couple who three decades ago foreshadowed today’s local and artisanal food movements.

The drive east from our house in Somesville on Mount Desert Island would have taken about 45 minutes along Route 1, but we decided to explore the Schoodic Peninsula, stopping in Winter Harbor for some clam chowder and a lobster roll.  This part of Maine – with its white-steeple churches, harbors full of lobster boats, and quiet villages – make a town like Bar Harbor look positively bustling.  It was easy to find the winery at 175 Chicken Mill Pond Road, also known as Old Route 1 Bypass.

It’s not surprising that the driveway into the quiet wooded setting of the winery is marked by an oversized granite sculpture.  Bob Bartlett came to Maine in 1975 as a trained architect and glass artist.Kathe Bartlett Winery Gouldsboro MaineAlthough Kathe has two employees managing tastings in the summer, we were fortunate to have her as our host today.  Friendly and articulate, she selected for our testing, which was free, seven of the 18 wines and two honey-meads they produce.   Ranging from dry to sweet, the wines are made from apples, pears, peaches, raspberries, blackberries, loganberries, and of course blueberries – and combinations thereof.  The fruit is brought to the Bartletts as fresh whole fruit – ninety percent of which is from Maine and “always from someone we know.”

The fruit is the key here.  “That’s what I get most excited about…when the fruit comes in,” says Kathe.  “It is so luscious.”

Bartlett wines are made totally with fruit, with no concentrates or flavorings.   High-quality honey and great fruit that is clean (to minimize the risk of bacteria) are necessary for their wine and mead, and limit how much can be produced.  Sourcing honey, for example, can be a real challenge, Kathe says, adding that honey from New Zealand might really be from China.

Fruit also played a major role in the history of the winery.  Seminal to Bob’s idea of producing wine in Maine was using Maine fruit and thus promoting Maine agriculture.  He even wrote it into the legislation.

At this point in the tasting we had moved to the wines made from blueberries, and I was trying to decide whether I preferred the medium-dry Coastal Red, a blend of local Maine apples and wild blueberries, or the oakier, barrel-aged Dry American, which Kathe says pairs with lamb, venison, and turkey and goes particularly well with rosemary, thyme, and sage seasonings – “perfect for Thanksgiving.”

At that moment a man arrayed in rain gear and totally drenched passed by the door leading from the tasting room into the winery.  It was Bob.  He looked like a very wet lobsterman, not the “dean” or “godfather” of the Maine wine industry, as he’s frequently called.  “What I do to make wine for you people,” he said happily, and then moved on.  He’d been cleaning the inside of vats.  The cleanliness of the equipment is obviously as important to him as the purity of the fruit.Bartlett Estate Winery Gouldsboro MaineIt’s a big job for two people to run a venture of this size and caliber.  Says Kathe, “The longest we’ve ever been away is three weeks.”  The tasting room at the winery is open June until Columbus Day, Tuesday through Saturday, from 11am to 5pm.

Kathe and Bob seem anything but tired or complacent, however.  One of their newest ventures is the Spirits of Maine Distillery, which is also gaining recognition in international awards competitions.  American Apple Brandy and Pear Eau de Vie are two of the stand-outs.

Bartlett Estate Winery Gouldsboro Maine Tasting Room

Suddenly, we noticed it was after 4:30, and we found ourselves in a rush as Kathe packed a case of wine for us that included the Coastal White, Peach Semi-Dry, and both of the blueberry wines between which I had been trying to decide.  Before it closed at 5pm, we wanted to get to the Sullivan Harbor Farm Smokehouse – “the hottest little smokehouse in Maine” that gets raves of “delectable” from The Boston Globe and “highly recommended” from The New York Times. Kathe picked up the phone and asked if they would wait for us for five minutes.  They did, and we left very happy with smoked salmon bacon brushed with maple syrup and the best smoked salmon pâté I have ever had.  (Sorry, Zabar’s.)

Maine has always been the land of farmers and fishermen.  But, as the Bartlett Winery and Sullivan Harbor Farm prove, it is increasingly the home of culinary artisans who are adding true craftsmen’s value to what’s offered by the great state of Maine.

Next time I won’t wait for a cloudy day to visit.  I’ll bike the Schoodic Peninsula, then head over to Bartlett’s.

 

Related Stories:

Biking in Maine:  A Road Less Traveled in Acadia National Park