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helen's in maine for strawberry/blueberry pie--same in both locations?

l
lebron Jun 26, 2007 02:24 PM

hi guys,

this summer, i've resolved to finally try the famed pies at helen's in machias, maine. i've done my research, and this place seems to get more praise than anywhere else for their pies, esp. their blueberry pies in season (as well as their strawberry pies).

recently, though, i heard that they have a newer location in ellsworth, which isn't as far up the coast. my question: is the pie quality the same at both helen's locations? are the pies made on premises at both branches?

i'm totally willing to drive all the way up to machias for their pies, but if the experience is exactly the same at the ellsworth branch, i'd rather go there, as i'll be driving up from the ny area and am not sure that my travel companions will appreciate the extra 75-90 minute drive up to machias.

thanks so much for the tips.

  1. u
    uman Aug 29, 2007 08:59 AM

    I can't answer the question about the new location, but I did try the helen's blueberry pie recently (the weekend prior to the blueberry festival. It was good pie, but I had a much better pie at the Wild Blueberry land place. To be honest, helen's tasted like canned blueberries and it was totally IN season. Wild blueberry land pie tasted of all-natural goodness and they served it with blueberry ice cream as well.
    Of course Helen's has all kinds of pie and they all looked pretty tasty.

    1. a
      aliris Aug 29, 2007 06:17 AM

      I decided to make a point of comparing pies at the two locations -- get more in that way. Astually, Finelli's in Ellsworth was closed on Sunday (so disappointing!) and when we turned around -- there was Helen's with two wailing kids in the backseat; that's where we wound up. We had a cream pie there and it was in truth quite wonderful, but honestly, all that cream is really over the top -- for me at least. But the inch of whipped cream was very well done -- sweet but just shy of too sweet. The strawberries underneath were thickly cut and in a rather thick sauce -- how do they make that? Tasty, though. Lots of cinnamon. I think that's the "secret" to Helen's pies -- sugar and tons of cinnamon.

      Up at the "real" place, we shunned the uber-cream wonders for the straight-up berry pies -- strawberry/rhubarb, blueberry and apple. Personally I far preferred these all-fruit versions. Again, tons of cinnamon, and sugar are what makes it all float I think. While we didn't compare apples-to-apples between the places, so to speak, my impression is that the pies were awfully similar. My oh-so-houndish nine-year-old maintains that the Ellsworth branch was a little staler, perhaps due to slower turn-over. She may have a point and if you're travelling at less-than-peak season going all the way may be a necessity. OTOH, I personally found the signs of too-much-fame all around at the Machias place kind of tiresome. I really loved the Ellsworth atmosphere -- lots of interesting antiques, attentive, nice waitresses (in contrast with Machias where it -- literally -- took us over 20 minutes for our order (of *just* pie!) to be taken after asking for attention nearly a half-dozen times), and best of all, this focal point in the center of the great one room dining room, of two easy chairs in front of a fireplace. You really get the impression that this place isn't all that hopping in the winter, but is very, very cozy and hospitable. It really felt nifty. Even the bathrooms were delightful with teeny, narrow doors on actual rocked-in *rooms* for each (actually, the "real" Helen's had the same thing, sort of, only with larger door/stalls!).

      I actually enjoyed my turkey dinner a lot at the Ellsworth restaurant though my husband says I was just hungry. The clam chowder was majorly thick, and without the whole clam belly-thing. Kids like it better that way though. It's really a blue-hair place -- it felt really "real deal" to me there in Ellsworth in a way that the Machias place felt less-so. But in the end this is mostly splitting hairs. IMO, one can achieve the Maine-Machias experience in Ellsworth leaving yourself free to do a little chowish exploring elsewhere. We were too full in Machias to try the Artist's Cafe, but that's where I'd head on the basis of reviews here next time in Machias.

      1. f
        fogcoast Aug 23, 2007 08:25 AM

        If pies are your area of interest, a sure bet would be Dysart's, just off I-95 in Hampden(just south of Bangor)...great fresh fruit pies all summer long, in truck-driver-sized portions...and, by-the-way, all the other food is really good,too..

        1. Passadumkeg Jun 29, 2007 03:47 AM

          Eighteen replies and no one answered you request. Helen's here in Ellsworth, has a very good reputation, but old myths die hard. The local "wisdom" is that the old Helen's is better. I like both! Pies are made on site and the fried clams are worthwhile too. A trip up to Machias, through Washington County, one of the poorest in the US, is an education in itself. It is off the beaten tourist path with lots to see and do. Stop at Joshie's Place, in Milbridge and eat 2 six dollar lobster rolls. If you are camping, Cobbs Cook State Park is one of the most beautiful campgrounds I have ever seen, with large, private waterside campsites.
          Turn the quest into a Chowhound adventure, Machias is worth a visit. August is the best time for blueberries. Eastport and Lubec, old dying, fishing towns are going through an artistic and culinary rennaisance and worth a side trip. I am an advocate of downeast Maine. Check out local festivals. It is, in many ways, the way midcoast and southern Maine used to be 50 years ago, the simple(poor?) lifestyle upon which Maine's reputation as a tourist destination was based. No shopping malls here, deary!
          Also Ruth & Whimpies, in Hancock, has great fresh berry pies and the cheapest lobster around.
          Where was the first battle of the Revolutionary War? Canning invented? What are pickled winkles? Go find out.

          14 Replies
          1. re: Passadumkeg
            Harp00n Jun 29, 2007 06:14 AM

            It took you long enough to respond on this Mark, I'm out of my element on this one :-))

            1. re: Harp00n
              Passadumkeg Jun 29, 2007 02:35 PM

              I've been on a 3 day kayak paddle out of Jonesport-Beales, the epicenter of Maine lobstering, and a full day 8 hr paddle yesterday half way around MDI and a Sunset tour for dessert. Just got back from paddling and about to grill steaks w/ a garden salad and baked spuds for our youngest, his girlfriend, my wife and me. Our garden is just starting to take off.

            2. re: Passadumkeg
              l
              lebron Jun 29, 2007 01:57 PM

              thanks for the great tips! i've always wanted to check out downeast maine but my travel companions always said it was "too far" or "probably the same as everything else we've seen". now i have more confirmation from a local that it's worth it. much appreciated!

              would you say that the non-blueberry fruit pies (strawberry, rhubarb, etc) at the helen's locations are worth the drive? or is the blueberry pie the only one that's truly outstanding? if the strawberry pies aren't nearly as good as the blueberry pies at helens, can you recommend somewhere in maine (anywhere up and down the coast) that serves really amazing strawberry pie that's "can't miss"/worth the extra drive? something that's special, even for maine. i'm definitely planning on checking out a strawberry festival on my trip, which would ostensibly have plenty of strawberry pies and strawberry shortcakes, but was wondering if there are any specific restaurants/diners that are especially renowned for their strawberry pies in season.

              1. re: lebron
                Passadumkeg Jun 29, 2007 02:41 PM

                Hey, I saw that we were both on the Indian Food in Middlesex Co. site. My mom lives in Sayreville. Where are you?
                Mark

                1. re: lebron
                  Passadumkeg Jun 29, 2007 07:41 PM

                  Fresh Strawberry pies are not as big a deal here as in the Midatlantic states, but Corinth, Me, west of Bangor, is the strawberry growing center. I miss the strawberry pie at Hesse's in Allentown, Pa.. Disart's, a truck stop on I95 in Hamden is renouned for their home made pies, but our favorite is Chester Pike's Galley on rt 1 in Sullivan, on the way to Machias!
                  ps the above quiz should read first NAVAL Battle of the Rev. War.

                  1. re: Passadumkeg
                    l
                    lebron Jun 29, 2007 11:46 PM

                    thanks again for the pie tips. yeah, i figured that blueberry pies and blueberries were the most quintessential maine dessert.

                    btw, i lived briefly in the highland park area when i was younger, so i'm familiar with central nj/middlesex county. most of my eating at the indian places down in edison/iselin, though, happened after i moved up to ny. i still head out that way, though, since i have friends in the area and love the indian food over there.

                    1. re: lebron
                      Passadumkeg Jun 30, 2007 03:31 AM

                      Seven Hills in HP is one of our favorites. If you have never been to Downeast Maine, you'll be in for an experience. Southern Maine is referred to Little Boston up here for its congestion and affluence. Push hard up to Bangor, come to the coast(Ellsworth) and drive leisurely up Rt. 1. Don' miss Blueberry Land or a detour to Jonesport-Beales, the epicenter of Maine Lobstering. Little Cherryfield advertises itself as the blueberry capitol of the world. No box stores, no malls, very, very few chain restaurants and lots of locally owned restaurants of all kinds. Don't miss the reversing falls in Pembroke; it was where we were we heard that Nixon resigned! Google the towns and find out when the local festivals are. Machias has a "wicked good" blueberry festival. We raked blueberries in Machis in '73 (What back breaking work!) for gas money to get back to New Mexico. Calais has an excellent area museum and the walk across the bridge to St. Johns, New Brunswick for excellent fish and chips is fun too provided you have the Bu$h required passport. Great hot dog joint in Calais too. Canucks cross the border for them! Have fun.
                      Mark, New Jersey Escapee, Class of '65

                      1. re: Passadumkeg
                        Keithel Aug 8, 2007 10:27 AM

                        I thought you only needed a passport if traveling by air to CA this year, and next year it was by all means...

                        1. re: Passadumkeg
                          a
                          aliris Aug 19, 2007 09:45 PM

                          Do you mean "Blueberry Patch" just south of Machias?

                          Thank you HUGELY for this wonderful post. This is just exactly the kind of hints I'm hoping to find and receive more of if you're willing...??

                          Also, I'd also heard that passports into Canada still are just a by-air phenomenon. But do apply for yours EARLY!!! I have friends who waited 3 months for theirs (and missed their overseas flight).

                          BTW, Passadumkeg, is your name a reference to the lake I noticed up north on the map called, I think, something like Passadumcook? I have absolutely no idea where I noticed that now.

                          TIA for more downeast hints, especially about historical spots or scenic gorgeosities or, of course, yummy chow. Those reversing falls sound absolutely cool; at least the next best thing to the Bay of Fundy, which I've wanted to see even longer than I've wanted to try Helen's pies.

                          1. re: aliris
                            Passadumkeg Aug 21, 2007 03:43 AM

                            Passadumkeag is a village north of Bangor, with kids in college, the name is a pun on my present affection(affliction?) for cheap beer. Hey bar tender, pass a dumb keg, is a line from a local band, The Wicked Good Band.
                            Three of our kids have actually complained that we cheap drink box wine during their breaks from college. I love it.
                            I'm happy ypu enjoyed your trip, I think we'll hit Tidal falls to celebrate our youngest's 18th birthday this weekend.
                            Mark

                            1. re: Passadumkeg
                              s
                              Shooley Aug 21, 2007 05:48 AM

                              On the subject of great pies, I have found some of the best ones at the State of Maine Cheese store in Rockport on Route 1. I can't remember the guy's name, but his wife makes the pies and they are sublime: lard crust!! Especially the cherry. This pie guy participates in the "Camden Farmers Market" which goes indoors for the winter, starting in Oct. I think, at the cheese store (which has lots of stuff other than cheese, BTW). So II haven't seen him there lately, during the summer, when I stop by for my weekly arugula fix with the Dilly Dally Farm folks, but when he's there, he's always parked right by the door on the right as you walk in. The pies are $9.95, and he makes a mixed berry pie, and others, but I can't get past the cherry. Check it out.

                              1. re: Shooley
                                b
                                blueberrypete Jul 27, 2008 05:59 PM

                                To clarify, the pies mentioned in Shooley's listing are made in Whitefield, Maine and are truly fantastic. The crust is always perfect and the fillings spot-on. Currently they are available also at the Boothbay Farmers market Tues and Weds and at Clarks Produce stand in Damariscotta on Fridays.

                              2. re: Passadumkeg
                                a
                                aliris Aug 22, 2007 09:53 PM

                                Cunning tale; thanks!

                            2. re: Passadumkeg
                              u
                              uman Aug 29, 2007 09:18 AM

                              "St. Johns, NB" = St. Stephens, NB
                              No passport needed for Americans on foot.

                    2. l
                      lebron Jun 28, 2007 06:53 PM

                      thanks to everyone for all the helpful replies so far. still haven't heard from anyone, though, if the two helen's locations (the original in machias and the newer one in ellsworth) have the same high quality pie, and if the pies are baked on location at both. is the blueberry pie the only dessert worth getting, or are all of their pies excellent when using fresh fruits in season? thanks.

                      1. s
                        sopobungalow Jun 27, 2007 06:23 AM

                        i'll second the recommendation for the four-berry pie at moody's, as well as confirmation of the strawberry season being now and blueberries being most widely grown in washington county.

                        one other seasonal fruit note: if you're into fresh strawberries, you should try the strawberry ice cream at red's dairy freeze in south portland. they send employees to the u-pick fields at maxwell's and then make fresh strawberry ice cream. it's a limited time deal -- last year i believe it was nine days -- and it is WELL worth a special trip. the strawberry shake is my favorite -- it's got chunks of fresh strawberry in it. i'm waiting for the sign that it's available to go up any day now...

                        6 Replies
                        1. re: sopobungalow
                          l
                          lebron Jun 27, 2007 07:48 AM

                          wow, red's dairy freeze sounds great. thanks for the tip!

                          i'm going to call this red's place today and see when the fresh strawberry ice cream will be available; if i find out i'll post the dates here.

                          1. re: sopobungalow
                            l
                            laurmb Jun 27, 2007 07:28 PM

                            Maxwell's is no longer open in Cape Elizabeth - hopefully Red's will find another location close enough to use instead!

                            1. re: laurmb
                              s
                              sopobungalow Jun 28, 2007 06:14 AM

                              actually, they are still open; they just don't operate the farm stand anymore. they're concentrating on growing lettuce for wholesale, and they're running their pick your own strawberry fields.

                              http://www.maxwellsfarm.com/index.html

                              1. re: sopobungalow
                                the_MU Jun 28, 2007 07:23 AM

                                Phew! I was worried there. Though Jordan's is just down the road from Maxwell's and has wonderful PYO strawberries.

                            2. re: sopobungalow
                              l
                              lebron Jun 28, 2007 10:33 AM

                              i've tried calling red's dairy freeze a number of times yesterday and today, but to avail; nobody's picking up. the message on the answering machine mentions that the fresh strawberry soft serve ice cream will be "coming soon", but doesn't say any more than that.

                              i'm going to keep trying, but if someone up in the south portland area knows the exact dates when the strawberry ice cream is available, pls. post here...thanks!

                              1. re: lebron
                                s
                                sopobungalow Jun 28, 2007 10:45 AM

                                I just drove by, and the sign saying strawberry is up in the window. Will stop on my way home in a couple hours to confirm... didn't have any cash on me earlier or I'd know by now! (Red's is strictly cash only.)

                            3. l
                              lebron Jun 26, 2007 02:40 PM

                              a few other questions (sorry if this is very obvious info to the maine natives/experts, but i tried looking online and wasn't 100% sure of the following):

                              1. i understand that strawberry season is in full swing right now in maine. am i correct in assuming that mid-july is the endpoint of the season (meaning that i need to get up to maine within the next 2-3 weeks to take advantage of it)?

                              2. i've also heard that the down east region of the state (where helen's in machias is located) is the principal blueberry region of the state. is this true, and does it explain why the blueberry pies at helen's are so fantastic in season?

                              3. are there any other places in the state besides helen's that are renowned for their pies? i'm willing to travel anywhere in maine as long as it's pretty close to the coast. last year i went to bartley's dockside and had their blueberry pie in season (i thought it was very good) as well as the one at waterman's beach in south thomaston (also good, but their lobster really stole the show)--can you guys name any places that are better?

                              based on my research, i'm considering the following spots for pie. which are the best of the best, and worth sampling no matter what (and, conversely, which are good-but-not-mandatory eats)? if possible, please let me know which type of pie (blueberry, strawberry, etc) is considered the house specialty/can't miss at each of these places:
                              -maine diner in wells
                              -moody's diner in waldoboro
                              -miller's lobster pound (near camden)
                              -pie in the sky bakery in cape neddick
                              -reilley's (sp?) market in pemaquid

                              i realize this is a really short list, so please add any suggestions.

                              4. is there a particular region of the state that's renowned for their strawberries? if so, which are the best places for strawberry pies in season in these areas (or anywhere in the state, really)? are helen's strawberry pies just as good (and worth the trip) as the blueberry pies, or are there some places in mid-maine or in the portland area that also serve fantastic for strawberries and strawberry pies?

                              thanks again.

                              12 Replies
                              1. re: lebron
                                othervoice Jun 26, 2007 04:24 PM

                                I haven't tried Helen's, but I have tried the Maine Diner in Wells. Was not impressed. We had terrible service and the food was only satisfactory. We may have hit it on a bad night but we spent close to $100.00 for 2 adults and 3 kids and that's a lot of money in my budget to spend on so so food. Blueberry pie was ok but not the best by any means. Dunstan School House had one of the best blueberry pies I've ever had, in fact all of their pies were fantastic. They even offered two or three "no sugar" pies for those that "need" that sort of thing. Have a great trip and enjoy as many as you can.

                                1. re: othervoice
                                  Harp00n Jun 26, 2007 06:03 PM

                                  Hey othervoice, how are you?
                                  We haven't been to The Dunstan in years, although I did rec it a few weeks ago for someone looking for a quick non-chain resto bite before a business meeting. I don't think I ever had any pie in all the times we were there. So my question is this; since it's a buffet, can you order whole pies to go?

                                  Harp00n

                                  1. re: Harp00n
                                    othervoice Jun 27, 2007 07:15 PM

                                    Hi Harp,

                                    You know, they should sell them whole....I don't know for sure but I'll be sure to ask next time. I'm going back up in August so we won't know until then unless we hear from another Chowhounder, The pies really were the best thing going. The rest of the food was good but I would buy a whole blueberry pie from them in an instant.

                                    1. re: othervoice
                                      Harp00n Jun 28, 2007 06:13 AM

                                      Since The Science Chick already "outed" one of my, previously,Hidden Maine go to's, The Fisherman's Catch in Wells, you should definitely go there with DH & the kiddies in August. At the same time, I'll be gourging myself at the Scallop Capitol of The World, Digby, Nova Scotia! Obtw, have a safe & happy 4th.

                                      Harp00n

                                    2. re: Harp00n
                                      i
                                      irwin Jun 28, 2007 12:36 PM

                                      Their telephone number is
                                      207-883-5261

                                      There are much better pies in Portland at:
                                      Two Fat Cats India St Portland
                                      Rosemont Market in Portland and Yarmouth
                                      European Bakery on Rt 1 in Falmouth

                                      1. re: irwin
                                        Harp00n Jun 28, 2007 03:51 PM

                                        Thanks, Irwin, and of the three, if you had to choose, which is your favorite?

                                      2. re: Harp00n
                                        h
                                        happylandings1 Jul 1, 2008 04:54 PM

                                        So my question is this; since it's a buffet, can you order whole pies to go?

                                        The answer to that question is yes,,, you can buy pies to go,,, they make the best pies,,, and being a buffet you can sample them all,,,, we eat at dunstan at least twice a week sometimes more,,,, we live just down the street,,, we also like the clambake which is owned by the same people,,,, great people and the waitresses are treated very well so they stay year after year,,,, they offer great breakfast also,,, all for great prices,,,,

                                    3. re: lebron
                                      h
                                      HDinCentralME Jun 27, 2007 03:59 AM

                                      1) Yes. The "U Pick Em" farms opened June 23-25 and will probably go thru July 7-10 this year. I am told to expect a strong (plentiful, healthy) season.

                                      2) Yes, Downeast is the location of the bulk of blueberry farms. I can't say whether that is the reason Helen's is so good but fresher is better right?

                                      3) At Moody's I recommend the Four Berry pie.

                                      1. re: HDinCentralME
                                        Keithel Aug 8, 2007 10:20 AM

                                        I had Moody's Four Berry pie last time I was up, and it was absolutely delicious. Yum!

                                      2. re: lebron
                                        e
                                        emilief Jun 27, 2007 08:55 AM

                                        Pie in the Sky in Cape Neddick has excellent pies. All of their pies are very good, no one more than another. Just get your favorite. They are very expensive, about $20 a pie.

                                        1. re: lebron
                                          s
                                          sciencediet Jun 27, 2007 10:44 AM

                                          One more blueberry pie to add to your list: the Cod End in Tenant's Harbor (the St George Peninsula).

                                          Strawberry picking just opened yesterday in the Portland area--hope to go this weekend.

                                          1. re: lebron
                                            b
                                            BabsinTX Aug 7, 2007 03:08 PM

                                            Hope you haven't made your trip yet. I just got back from Maine (AKA "heaven on earth") and enjoyed 3 pieces of four-berry pie in 3 days at Moody's Diner in Waldoboro. I did NOT enjoy the blueberry pie at Union River Lobster Pot in Ellsworth ("famous for our blueberry pie"). It didn't even taste like blueberries, and the crust was a disaster. Eat their great raw oysters instead.

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