The perfect weekend getaway is one that makes you feel like you’ve been gone for months. That’s how I felt this Sunday night when I came back from a brief trip to Kennebunkport with my friends Patty, Diana and James. We’d only been there 36 hours–we left early Saturday morning (7 am) and returned late Sunday night–and yet I may as well have gone for a jaunt through Europe. It was a fantastic one night trip and if you click ahead, I’ll tell you how we planned it, where we ate, and how you can do the same.
[Note: all pictures in this post are by James Felder, of Snapshot Artifact]
The idea started, believe it or not, on the west coast. At lunch one day by myself in Seattle, I was flipping through last month’s Gourmet when I saw an article by Jane and Michael Stern about the best lobster shacks in Maine. “That’s the kind of trip I should take,” I said to myself. “It can’t be that far from Brooklyn, can it? That’s what I’ll do. I’ll go to Maine!”
So when I got back I instant messaged James about it. “I want to go to Maine,” I said. “Rent a Zip Car and eat lots of lobster.”
“Cool man,” wrote James. “I’ll come too.”
Soon Diana was on board (the willingness to eat lobster was a major factor: no vegetarians) and then Patty said “sure” also. I’d already spent $25 registering for a Zip Car when Patty told me she was already a member–so I halted my application and convinced Patty to drive us. (Note: in case you don’t know, Zip Car is a fantastic new concept—you sign up online and once you’re approved, you just pick a car anywhere in the city and swipe your card and it’s yours for as long as you need it. Maybe I shouldn’t have halted my membership.)
Early Saturday morning–and I mean early–we congregated in Williamsburg where our car was waiting. It was a Rabbit and we worried that it would be too small but it was fine. As we drove out of New York, I read aloud from the article that had inspired the trip:
Everyone licked their lips in anticipation. We strategized our trip: we’d first hit the Clam Shack (which, in addition to Jane and Michael Stern, many commenters recommended; also Ed Levine wrote me and said not to miss it) and then at night we’d try Mabel’s Lobster Claw. And in the time in between we’d walk around and the see the sites.
Well it took exactly five and a half hours to get there. That’s a short journey to get someplace so incredibly different from home. We parked in front of the Clam Shack–we got lucky with a perfect spot–and stepped out and inhaled the fresh and glorious Maine air, scented with just the tiniest hint of grease from the fried clams. Our stomachs were growling, our mouths were salivating: so we immediately got in line.
Soon it was our turn to order and we’d properly strategized what we would get: lobster rolls all around, a side of fried clams and french fries.
We took our treasures to the back porch where there were three benches where families were squatting and sitting and devouring their grub. Tell me this doesn’t have you renting your Zip Car now:
Here’s a peak inside the sandwich:
It’s all the meat from a one pound lobster, just a hint of mayo (you can get melted butter instead) and that’s it. It’s so simple and so wonderful: the lobster speaks for itself. And being as hungry as I was and as desperate as I was for authentic Maine food, this was one of the best first bites I can remember having in a long time. I devoured that sandwich like it was my job.
But the best was yet to come: the fried clams.
“Dude,” said James. “You’ve gotta try the fried clams. They’re unbelievable.”
And they were. As if the clams themselves hopped out of the sea, opened themselves up and shot their insides into a deep fryer. I can’t express how good they were, how flavorful and authentic. We were in heaven with all this food.
And then the heavens decided to open up: it began to POUR.
Thunderstorms were predicted for the weekend, so we were emotionally prepared for this rain, but we worried that it’d be like this the whole time we were there. Not so. We got very lucky: after this thunderstorm ended, it didn’t rain again.
After our euphoric and very wet experience at The Clam Shack, we decided to check into our hotel at the Franciscan Guest House. This place was recommended to me by my friend Jimmy’s friend Robin: she told us it was incredibly reasonable and that the accommodations were charming. She was right! For the four of us in one hotel room, it cost approximately $170. Not bad at all, especially in a place as posh as Kennebunkport.
That afternoon, we hit the beach (I don’t know what I’m doing in this picture):
Diana played with crabs:
Here’s what James looks like (a picture from MY camera):
Then we hit the town:
James suggested I change the name of my website:
Then I convinced everyone that because Ben & Jerry’s factory was only a state away, we should try the Ben & Jerry’s in town because it would be LOCAL ice cream.
I had the cookies and cream, though I’m not sure this “local” ice cream tasted much more different than the Ben & Jerry’s you can get out of your freezer at home.
After our walk around the town, we hit a bar and had some beer:
And then it was time for dinner: we made reservations at Mabel’s Lobster Claw.
This was, by far, my favorite meal of the trip. Basically, because it was so simple and SO the very thing we came there to do: eat lobster. The placemats provided helpful directions:
On the advice of the Sterns, we all ordered the Shore Dinner: it came with clam chowder, a 1 1/8th pound lobster, and two sides. And also this basket of blueberry bread and corn muffins:
The clam chowder was like a bowl of salad dressing: it was super thick and super creamy. And yet it was soul-satisfyingly good:
And then, at last, we had our lobster:
There is nothing–and I mean nothing–like eating Maine lobster in Maine. It’s just one of those experiences that anyone who loves food should have at some point in their lives. I say this honestly–and you may think I’m crazy–but a Maine lobster caught in Maine and served in Maine tastes NOTHING like any lobster you’ve had anywhere else. It’s sweeter, juicier, and smacks of the sea and all that’s good about eating sea creatures. The Sterns say something in their article about the water being colder in Maine and that having something to do with it. I don’t know. But this lobster at Mabel’s Lobster Claw goes into my record book of one of the best things to eat in the world ever.
[Side note: we saw a family outside the Clam Shack with the book “1001 Things To Do Before You Die.” The mother said, “Oh this is the place! This is the place in the book!” So we watched them get in line and watched them order and then they all walked away with platters. Of hot dogs.]
Back to our meal. For my sides, I had corn and coleslaw–both excellent:
Then, for dessert, we had peanut butter ice cream pie:
You might think that means peanut butter flavored ice cream shaped into a pie, but you’d be wrong. It’s vanilla ice cream squeezed between a graham cracker crust and a layer of just pure peanut butter. All topped, as you can see, with chocolate sauce. I think I preferred James’s raspberry pie:
Flaky pie crust and sweet local berries: what could be better?
At this point, we were exhausted. We drove back to our Monastery and passed out (only after watching “Legally Blonde” on TV.) Here we are setting up our cots:
The next morning we wanted a big New England breakfast so we took Robin’s advice and hit The Maine Diner:
This place has local charm up the wazoo. It was packed with locals, tourists and spunky waitresses who took our order and gave us tips like “don’t order the biscuit, hon, you’ll be full enough with those pancakes.” Here’s Patty and Diana with their breakfasts: Patty had the Aces Wild (sausage, bacon, pancakes and eggs) (I had the Deuces Wild, the same thing only double) and Diana had just blueberry pancakes:
James had the lobster quiche which I stupidly forgot to try:
After breakfast, we headed back to town and took Robin’s advice once more: this time, advice to do a Scenic Lobster Cruise.
I know it’s touristy, but I loved this. It lasts an hour and a half and in that time you see the Bush’s house:
You see seals. And then you watch your boat guide catch a lobster:
Actually, that aspect of the cruise was truly fascinating. Out to sea a bit, we saw tons and tons of buoys: each one, apparently, belongs to a different lobster fisherman. There are serious consequences for snagging someone else’s lobster, so there’s a whole lobstering code of honor. The traps are tied to the bouys and in the traps they put oily fish: “Blue fish works really well,” said our guide. “And so do sardines: but they get expensive.”
If a lobster is more than 5 inches long, they throw it back. “That’s because they’re the best for breeding.” So if you ever see a giant lobster being wheeled around a restaurant in a wagon, it can’t be from Maine: that would be against regulation.
I also learned that because of all these regulations, the lobster population in Maine has grown back a great deal–almost to its previous numbers. Now local residents can get a license to catch lobster for themselves (something that was impossible before). It’s amazing how important the lobster is to the culture and livelihood of those who live in Maine.
After our cruise, we sadly knew it was time to start heading back. But first we grabbed our last morsel of lobster at The Ramp at Pier 77 (which many of you recommended). We wanted to try Nunan’s (which more of you recommended) but we were sad to learn it was only open for dinner. So that’s a good excuse to go back (as I’m sure we will, since Craig is so jealous of our trip.) Here’s the lobster roll we had at Pier 77:
Tasty, but a little too formal. I liked the more rustic one we had at the Clam Shack. That lobster roll, those fried clams, and then the lobster and clam chowder at Mabel’s Lobster Claw were taste memories I’ll never forget.
If you live close to Maine and you’ve never been, now’s the time to hop in your car (or Zip Car) and make the journey. It’s not that far, it’s not that expensive, and it’s some of the best food you’ll eat in your life. Plus when you get back, you’ll feel like you were gone for weeks. What else do you need to get up and go?
[To see the rest of James’s pictures, check out his page on Flickr]