Get Away to Kennebunkport

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]

30 thoughts on “Get Away to Kennebunkport”

  1. good stuff here. fyi: zipcar has been around since 2000, great service for this type of trip.

  2. Mmm…so jealous! Granted, we have some damn fine seafood here in California, but there is nothing quite like a fresh Maine lobster consumed close to its point of origin.

  3. My lord, this post is making me insane – everything looks incredible – nice work on the pics James! The Flaming Gourmet, hah! I love it.. Rock on AG…

  4. I love the down home, fill your plate with insane amounts of unbelievable food that you seem to have found in this post. I’m craving a weekend getaway myself like no other. I’m aiming for Brussels via the Eurostar, but I may only get as far as kent…


    Hand to Mouth

    A blog for the penniless gourmet

  5. I got to your post too late, but I live in Arundel next to Kennebunkport. You did a great job hitting some great spots. Please come again, email me and I can direct you to other places you will enjoy. I have been living here for almost 20 years, but I was born in NYC and grew up in Westchester, got my MS at NYU! I am a big fan of your blog, and in fact just printed out NYmags cheap eats that you recommended; my husband and I will use it when we are exhibitors at the New York Gift Show in two weeks.

    Thanks for a great blog.

  6. Two things.

    #1: Flaming Gourmet picture? Awesome. :)

    #2: When I read the Side Note, my reaction went like this:

    “[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!'”

    Oh, that’s neat!

    “So we watched them get in line and watched them order and then they all walked away with platters.”


    “Of hot dogs.]”



    Another great story. Can’t wait for the book. :)

  7. I’m a Zip Car member and I love it too. BTW, they love to hear about wonderful trips made in their cars, so I just sent them a link to this post. Who knows maybe they’ll do something nice for you.

    Thanks for the great photos and all of the inspiration.

  8. I can’t believe it! We went to Kennebunkport and stayed at the Franciscan Guest house last fall! We didn’t go to that clam shack, but now I know we should have!

  9. You described Maine so well. I’ve never been to Kennebunkport, but you are right, it may as well be another country, it’s just another world. My favorite state, my favorite getaway, my favorite summer paradise. Summer in Maine? It’s better than Paris!

  10. Nothing lucky ever happens to me, generally.

    However, my college roommate happened to be from an island off of Rockport, ME, and I was lucky enough to get an invite after graduation. Her brother was a lobsterman, and her grandma cooked the best dinner I have ever eaten in my life – the lobsters her brother caught for our visit.

    The second best meal of my life was the lobster rolls she made for lunch the next day with the leftovers.

    This post brought me back and makes me want to move to Maine.

  11. The trip sounds like it was an absolute blast! I haven’t been to Maine in years, but I remembering having fun when I was there.

    By the way, it is buoys, not booeys.

  12. The lobster roll with the whole claw meat looks friggin’ fabulous.

    You really should have clubbed that woman over the head with the 1001 things book. Why the hell would you buy hot dogs in Maine? Honestly.

  13. AG, congrats! It’s posts such as this that makes all your adoring fans love you even more, amazing job!!

  14. You just gave me a reason to drag my whole family up to Maine. And that lobster roll (yay! on being able to get it with melted butter instead) and clams just made me want to leave right away. Sooo jealous.

    I might just have to have some fried clams for dinner tonight!

  15. When I lived in NY we used to “zip” up to Maine for a long weekend. York Beach, Kennebukport, Oqounquitt and Wells Beach come to mind. It was always one big “Lobster Eat-a-thon”! If I remember correctly there were little stores hawking things like lobster popcon and lobster lolipops. (Never had the courage to try those things)

    Thanks for the bringing back some great memories. I think I’ll steam a lobster this weekend!

  16. Thee spot for a lobster roll is in the town of Wiscassett. It is further north on Rt 1. The spot is “Red’s Eats”. It is a similar walk up like the clam shack. The line is usually 45 mins. If you must have a hot dog in Maine, then the place is “Wasses” hot dog stand in Rockland. They fry them in butter and top them with anything you can think of!

    Thanks for a great story on my home state!

  17. OMG! Everything looks sooooo good! I can only imagine how tasty it was.

    The only thing I can figure about the family with the hot dogs is maybe they were on a tight budget? I dunno. I hear that even McDonald’s has “lobster” roll on their menus there. My friend who lives in upper Mass says they are made of those fake lobster tails made of surimi. I actually like surimi, but it’s certainly NOT lobster.

    As for the Flaming Gourmet, how perfect is that?! Flame on, Adam!

  18. Thanks for posting 18,000 pictures with this post! I loved them, ESPECIALLY the Flaming Gourmet picture, hehe. Also, that was ONE HUGE lobster! Mmmm….

  19. What a fabulous story – I think it’s your best to date. Congrats!

    Could you share your travel route with us – I have a couple of cell mates here who are incredulous with the 5 1/2 hour time frame from Brooklyn to Kennebunkport.

    I’ve been “Zip-Car-ring” it ever since they offered the service in Brooklyn. It really is one man’s greatest achievements of the 21st Century.

  20. it is so very reassuring to see that the Clam Shack has not changed one iota since I ate my first fried clams there at age 4 (and that was A LOT of years ago)

    sounds like you had a fabulous time in my favourite place in the world

  21. The “Flaming Gourmet” picture made me laugh so hard I really did fall out of my chair. Do it!!

    As for the lobster, I’m insanely jealous of you!! I can’t remember the last time I had good lobster!

  22. Adam–

    Julie and Lauren just turned me and my partner Bryn on to your blog (ask them about our very tasty meal at EVOO in Somerville, MA this past weekend…). We’re heading up to Maine in a few days — can’t wait to check out the Clam Shack and Mabels.

    A few years back, we had world-altering lobster and clam rolls in a little coffee shop in Searsport, Maine. Everything ultra fresh and local, down to the lettuce and mayo. We were in heaven — and we had only stopped in for coffee. Sadly, they’ve changed hands, and the lobster rolls are no more. So we’re eagerly in search of the next great lobster roll…

  23. I have to agree with the other comment regarding Red’s Eats in Wiscasset. If you are headed farther up the coast (its about an hour north from Kennebunkport) it is worth it to stop at Red’s. It’s right on Route 1 and is arguably the best lobster roll in Maine.

  24. KBP is a wonderful place, I have been going there for 41 years. I read your story and revisited a few, and loved Mabel’s on my first time there.

    And I HAD to do the picture under the Flaming Gourmet ;-)

    Next time you go, drop me a note ad I can suggest more places. A GREAT area.

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