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Camden/Rockland (ME) August 2008

what's open/good summer 2008? also looking for roadfood recommendations for the drive from camden to boston for casual dining along the highway.

we're booked at Primo one night, but have at least 2 nights to experiment with hopefully local, slightly less expensive fare. (and yes, i have been to the orlando location of primo and want to go back!..i don't need reviews of that restaurant!)

please do tell. we're leaving in 5 days...

p.s. i'm allergic to shellfish...yes, i know, it is a travesty...dh is not allergic, so as long as there are options, i'll be fine...

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  1. For dinner:

    In Good Company in Rockland. Blows Primo away. Primo is a bit overdone and has had consistency problems the last few years.

    Francine's Bistro in Camden. Make sure you make reservations.

    Gourmet markets: sage Market, two locations, one on Main Street in Rockland, one at the Mill in Camden. Great charcuterie, cheeses, and sandwiches.

    12 Replies
    1. re: JMF

      Primo's not negotiable.

      Francine's looks good, but too pricey. We're having 1 "expensive" meal and it is booked.

      Anyone have more local "dive" type places that they really enjoy? Fried clams?

      1. re: mlschot

        Bob's Clam Hut on Rt 1 in Kittery is an all time fave. I have been going there since I was a little kid. They have THE best fried clams. You might have to what in line a bit- but it's well worth it.

        1. re: mlschot

          Francines is much less pricey that Primos and so much better. But if you are so dead set on Primos then go for it and let us know how it went. In Good Company is a jewel and shouldn't be missed and very reasonable prices and great wine list, also nice and casual.

          1. re: JMF

            Oh I so agree. Cancel Primo and eat at Francine. I just called this morning and got a Friday night res. Or, go to Primo earlier, have some apps at the very nice bar, then dine at Francine, make a night of it.

            In Good Company is definitely a go to place, even if you just go in for some wonderful cheese of before dinner wine and little nibbles. Have fun!

            1. re: aynne35

              I agree Aynne35, we ate there for my birthday and it was amazing. I highly recommend it.

        2. re: JMF

          Hiy'all -- Would anyone be willing to explain this Rockland/Camden scene to me a little? I have read over the years that these are fantastic restaurants, and also "pricey". What does "pricey" mean, specifically, please? I live on the west coast these days and always the food sticker-shock (travelling to the east coast) gets so to me that even inexpensive places take my breath away. So I'm trying to get accustomed to "pricey" and am guessing it's more than a little breath-taking. A $-figure would be helpful (we are not drinkers though; entré prices would work)!

          Price as it may be, I am intrigued to maybe maybe blow a wad and travel to one of these places -- are they really so incredible? I gather Francine's is a savvier alternative to Primo's. In Good Company sounds like it may be more down-to-earth? At least its name is. Does the wonderful sushi place serve all east-coast fresh fish then, or is it flown in from afar? It would be very much fun to have a whole different sushi menu to choose from than west-coast ones. And absolutely cool to think someone just hauled this fish up off the wharf and into the back kitchen before serving it to me.

          Do any of these places compare favorably with Robinhood? I have heard this is a wonderful restaurant also, but can't quite picture whether there is any reasonable comparison aside from the fact that they are sort of within contemplation of my driving to them for a very special meal.

          Is anyone willing to hazard a social explanation of this Rockland-Camden scene? "Who" are the people who fuel it? Is this summer folk from "Connecticut"? Young, indigenous hipsters (with bucks?). Is this food for folk who would "die for" it? [I like food too but I would never intentionally die for it]. If you like food, and a lot, but haven't extra money to blow, is it really worth shelling out for this "pricey" fare or would boiling a lobster at home or taking a trip to the farmstand/farmer's market substitute? I understand these are subjective, squishy questions, but I'm trying to gauge whether this is a scene for scene's-sake, or whether there is some tangible gustatory phenomenon going on that would underwrite a life's-experience.

          Thanks for your thoughts!

          1. re: aliris

            I'm going to answer your questions haphazardly. I expect others to put in their thoughts, and because Rockland and the mid-coast is so diverse, the answers may be as well. that's the main feature to the area and a clue to the 'scene.' Diversity.

            It's only pricey for Maine, and even then not as much as in Portland for comparable dining. The prices in general are much higher down in the south coastal area. Anywhere else on the East or West coasts and the prices are better than fair, and even low for the quality. At the best places like Primo, Francine's, Natalies, In Good Company, etc.(all are quite different and each has their own style and approach. None require slacks, tie, etc. just jeans and a shirt, even t-shirt are fine, although a nice shirt with jeans is more the norm) apps run from $7-12, entrees from $14-25, desserts $6-9. Sometime higher and sometimes lower, but that's the norm.

            At Primo's and Francine's, not including wine, I have never spent more than around $40-50 plus tax for 1-2 apps, an entree, and dessert. In Good Company I get either an app or soup, and an entree for around $25 plus tax, sometimes just the pizzetta and walk out under $20 total... but I always have a glass or two of wine, so that another $15-20 for two glasses.

            In Good Company is a fine cafe in style; elegant, but not stuffy. A nice 8 seat bar to eat and sip wine at, several two tops and four tops, and a couch and armchairs, and a small back room with several tables for 2-4 or for a group of up to around 12. Apps $3-8, entrees $13-18, with an occasional fine cut of beef at up to but never past $25, desserts $6-9. If Melody the owner is making it, the pizzeta can be excellent, usually arouind $12-14 if I remember correctly. It is a huge meal for one or perfect to chars for two if you also each get a soup and share an app.

            In the area wine goes for around $6-11 a glass and $25-35-+ a bottle; depending of course upon what wine, usually 2-2.5 times retail which is the norm.

            It isn't a 'scene' in the mid-coast like in NYC or the West coast. The average person is a local most of the time. Late 20's to late 60's. College kids tend to move away, and then come back married to raise a family. Lower middle to upper middle class with the occasional folks who have money. But also artists and crafts people abound, and many, many small business owners. (Rockland has around 24 art galleries in town) No hipsters, none of the cool young, goateed and pierced and tattoed types you see in Portland, or even Bangor for that matter. There are several kinds of visitors from away. The people who come for a few days for a long weekend and stay at an inn or motel. The ones who come for a week or two at their family camp (cottage/cabin) or they rent one. The larger proportion of people from away have year round homes, but either live there on weekends or visit for a few weeks or months at a time. Many settle down to retire, or to start a small business. Probably 10% or more of the population are folks of middle age from away who wanted to get away from the city and raise a family and run a small business. Another 10% or more are retirees, from Maine or elsewhere.

            The 'scene' is that you do have a lot of people who like good food at reasonable prices. Local and regional food grown or raised in Maine. The freshest seafood.

            I moved here with a choice of anywhere in the world to be a food / beverage writer and consultant. I wanted away from the craziness of big cities, even though I still stay in contact and visit a lot to stay connected to the food and beverage scene.

            I don't know if the food 'is fit to die for', but then I have rarely felt that way. I trained at The French Culinary Institute, a food and beverage consultant and writer, and partner in a winery, brewery, and distillery; so food is my background and life. I lived 1/2 a mile from downtown Rockland the past year until just moving in June.

            Keiko and staff at Suzuki Sushi focus on local and fresh. They get local, hand picked crab, local oysters, local mussels, local fish, etc as much as possible. They do get organic salmon from Scotland and some occasional premium, dark red sockeye from Alaska when it is available at super fresh and super quality. But again, the focus is on local and exceedingly fresh. Prices are reasonable compared to big cities where this quality, care, and inventiveness would cost 3-4+ times the price. The chef's omakase for one without alcohol, is $25. The most expensive thing on the menu by far. They harvest their own dandelion greens for salads in early spring, and just recently went out with a seaweed scientist to harvest wild seaweeds and prepare them for salads and pickles. This is the norm for them. They pickle their own local herring, order local uni fresh, and I sometimes arrange to have it smoked for them. They just had the place next door cure and smoke local tuna cheeks for them. They make their own shumai from the local Maine sweet ebi shrimp, etc.

            Oh, and it's always worth steaming lobsters at home. Going out for them seems such a rip-off after awhile. $7-8 each and do it yourself. $14-20+ each to order out.

            1. re: JMF

              Hi Jonathan,

              Your reply is very accurate. I just wanted to add a little something. We went to Francine last night, and they just added on that new larger dining area and expanded the bar. It looks fantastic and the place was mobbed, with a fairly young crowd at the new larger bar.
              So, on to dinner. We had two glasses of wine, and two guiness, an app each, no salad course and two entrees. No dessert or coffee. The total before tip was $160.00. I don't know if the prices have increased but I just don't recall spending that much there before without getting more courses or at least dessert and port after. Yes, the food was stellar, amazing, wonderful. But $200 with tip is a bit much I think, even for Francine. Have you noticed anything at all, or have you been since the renovations?

              There is a rooftop soiree with apps and wine tonight on the top of Harbor Square gallery downtown. That is one of the things I love about Rockland, always something cool to do. If you are in town you should stop by.

              Lastly, I so agree on lobsters at home, way better, and cheaper, and much more fun!

              1. re: aynne35

                I haven't been to Francine's since May. That sounds like the prices went up or they made a mistake. It should have been at least $50 less than that.

                1. re: JMF

                  Thank you, JMF especially and aynne35 also for that truly enlightening sociological and gastronomical inspection. Also economical! I really appreciate the insight. I still, after many many summers here, can't really get the drift of what's going on, who's what, where, etc. This is a most confusing state! To me at least. I think I may take a day's "holiday" and roam the streets of Rockland soon. The sushi really sounds like an opportunity not to be missed. Hopefully not to die for either.

                2. re: aynne35

                  Actually, the rooftop soiree was a benefit for the local hospice, and the bar was a cash bar only. Still, it was a lovely evening on the roof and in the gallery, and all for a good cause.

                  1. re: Shooley

                    Yes I knew it was a cash bar and a beneft as well. Soiree sounded better for a lovely summer evening thing tho ;)
                    We were there as well, then we walked down to In Good Co., but they were closed for a private function so we went to The Bull for a martini. What a gorgeous night out.

                    I think it was not a mistake, I forget to add on a bottle of sparkiling water as well which was 12 or so, but when I scanned the reciept the prices were correct. My glasses of wine ( 2 ) were 14.00 each. so forty bucks for two glasses of wine and a bottle of water. It was still all in all a great dinner.

          2. The Prism Cafe in Rockport might be an option for lunch. The food is good - I especially like the gourmet lobster rolls - and it's located in a glass gallery. Also for lunch, the Camden Deli has great sandwiches and a great view overlooking the water.

            If you like sushi, there's a good place in downtown Rockland - Suzuki's.

            In terms of roadfood, I concur with the post about Bob's Clam Hut. I also like Billy's Chowder House in Wells. They serve great clam chowder. The Clam Shack in nearby Kennebunkport serves great lobster rolls and, if you're going to be travelling through Freeport, the Broad Arrow Tavern (not really road food) is good for lunch or dinner. I like that they get their food products primarily from local purveyors.

            1. Rockland Cafe has a great breakfast. They make a great Homemade corn beef hash, and if they have them get a grilled butter rum muffin.

              For a good burger, stop by Waterworks Pub in Rockland.

              Hot dogs, Wasses in Rockland and Scott's in Camden.

              Sushi, Suzuki in Rockland and Mikado in Camden. Both are excellent.

              If you want a nice afternoon trip, stop by Toast of the Town in Rockland and pickup a few sandwiches. They have a very good selection on their normal menu, and run about 10-15 specials daily.
              If its a nice day, take it to go and head out to the Breakwater.

              Enjoy your stay, this time of year is one of my favorites.

              1. It's a little north of Camden in Lincolnville but my favorite without a doubt is Chez Michel. Always the freshest possible seafood and great meats. Some French items on the menu but the usual lobster and fried seafood dishes too. And the homemade desserts, especially the creme brulee are to die for.

                1. Agree with the recs for rockland cafe and Chez Michel. Oh, my, what a place to be when you're allergic to shellfish!
                  Village Restaurant in downtown Camden is good solid casual place.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: jillso

                    I went to the Village once. Thats all I'm saying about it.

                  2. There is also Conte's it is what it is and is certainly entertaining

                    2 Replies
                    1. re: Mainecuisine

                      I think we're getting a little off-kilter. The OP asked for recommendations for less expensive fare. They said Francine's was "too pricey" at the top of this thread.

                      The sushi chef at Mikado is American, yes, but trained in Japan and is a Master Sushi Chef. I am told he trained Keiko from Suzuki's. I have only had Sushi, drinks and dessert at each place, so i can't really comment on their other menu options.

                      Conte's....lol. I went there a few weeks ago for the first time. The place definitely has character. We had a bad bottle of wine, and when told the server about it she looked at us like we had two heads. "What do you mean its bad, you don't like it?" Haha.

                      1. re: Mainecuisine

                        Conte's reminds me of a sea-coast version of Durgin Park in Boston. WYSIWYG.
                        dont expect anything fancy. Looks like a hole in the wall; their poor dog is tied outside, hopefully not in freezing weather. I have eaten there twice, and first time, we went with friends, the place was bustling, and I remember large portions, and the fish was very fresh.
                        All entrees are chalked onto a large blackboard at the front door. Salads are not complicated.
                        everyone gets whatever the chef decides that day. On our recent visit, there was a platter of fresh cut straw berries, sliced peaches, with large leaves of romaine; you make your own salad. The seafood portions are large(tuna,etc) quickly seared and served over pasta in oil. This time, the tuna seemed under-spiced. the spaghetti, altho copious in amount tasted bland. $16 for entrees. Buyer beware, the waitress/owner? offered us a bottle of wine, but did not mention the price. when the check came....$28 for a portuguese table wine?? not cool. Be sure to ask the price. If you are not looking for atmosphere, but just decent food. go to Conti's. right on the waterfront. ~tiaotse

                      2. okay. here's what we did.

                        drive up--ate at the Sea Basket near Wiscasset. really not bad for a spur of the moment decision.
                        next day, had breakfast at Thomaston Cafe--my friend in Waldoboro recommended it. Busy spot, friendly. (had lunch at lobsta-fest, nothing to write home about there. dinner was at friend's house)
                        next day, had blueberry pie for lunch. at moody's diner. okay, not fabulous, but love, love, love blueberries. dinner at primo, which as i said, i've been to before, and it was good, and our friends enjoyed it. sorry, there it is.
                        next day, had dinner at cappy's chowda house--we wanted inexpensive, and this wasn't bad considering.
                        then we drove back to bos to fly home and stopped at the todd english restaurant at the airport before our flight.

                        thanks for the rec's for cheap eats. we were trying to "unsnobbify" our palates this trip.

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: mlschot

                          oh, forgot that on the way back to bos, we stopped at the five island lobster company. it was way more commercialized (hats, t-shirts, etc) than i thought it would be....

                        2. Ventured off the penninsula for a rare dinner out. Wanted very casual and fairly cheap. Stopped by The Big Fish Grill and had a good meal. The place is kinda funny..trying to look nautical but not quite making it. Service was fast and effecient. I had blackened salmon over salad which had fresh dark greens, artichokes, olives, cherry toms, carrots, onions and hommade mustard tarragon dsg. He had a battered fried fish n chips w a lovely salad and homemade tarter, Great garlic bread on the side. 2 local beers, an iced tea all for <$50. We'll be back.

                          3 Replies
                          1. re: shaebones

                            I've heard that the Big Fish is good. I have to make it there soon.

                            1. re: JMF

                              The Big Fish Grill is worth a try ---- linguini and little neck clams are a treat. The calamari is super. Homemade tarter here is spot on.

                            2. re: shaebones

                              I've been once, and had a good meal. It won't blow your mind, but its very fresh, well prepared seafood at a decent price.

                              My parents have been numerous times, and swear by the place.

                            3. Good review of Peter Ott's:

                              I was traveling with my mom recently through Camden. I had done all my Chowhound research to avoid the (dum, dum, dum, dum) dreaded bad meal on vacation which is sometimes also the plan for the entire evening. Of course, my dear mother refused to adhere to any sort of schedule or make any sort of reservation. She's still living in her crazy, wild 60's ways, I guess. So, we ended up with nowhere to eat. I was fearing the worst, but we walked into Peter Ott's and they were able to seat us in just a few minutes.

                              The salad bar sort of caused me to inhale sharply- I haven't eaten at a place with a salad bar in quite some time. They seem to have gone extinct in the Boston area. After studying the menu, my mom was sold on the value provided by the salad bar (I think about $8) and an appetizer (mussels, also about $8). I decided in the spirit of the place to order a dinner which came with the salad bar. I got a daily special of fish cakes ($17 including salad bar and a choice of side, which I'll get to).

                              The salad bar was a pleasant surprise. Fresh frise, nothing wilted, a delicious house-made quinoa salad and really top-notch vinaigrette options. Plus real bacon bits.

                              My mom had mussels steamed in beer. The funniest thing was that when we ordered the waitress warned us sote voce "they are steamed in BEER, not WINE." As a complete beer head, with both of us visibly sipping pints of local brews, I found this sort of funny. The mussels were very good and beery, just as they are in much of Belgium I've heard.

                              My fish cakes were excellent. Hardly any breading, very fresh tasting fish.

                              I think my side actually stole the show, however. I guess they're somewhat known for their local farm grown beets and I had a side of beet greens-- it seemed like an interesting choice. Wow- butttery, with sauteed mushrooms. Pure vegetable bliss.

                              We were too full for dessert. Overall, the atmosphere was casual, the service was friendly and the value was good. The produce was excellent. I'd definitely go back.

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: Parsnipity

                                Settle back and imagine the perfect blueberry pancake.

                                Hordes of those BB-sized tiny, but flavor-galore wild Maine blueberries.

                                An honest pancake batter, not crepe light or egg-white flufy, that holds the blueberries from rolling around your plate and keeps you going until a late lunch.

                                The Mariner in downtown Camden looks like a faux-local tourist trap - uncomfortable booths, crowded tables, zippy service. Just the best blueberry pancakes in the whole world.

                                For the gluttinous, like me, share a cinnamon roll if you have a party of four, or if only two, order one anyway and either gorge or walk away with it.