Midcoast Maine Meanderings
Spent a couple of days in Belfast, Maine last week, and here are some notes on the places I managed to get to while I was there. Most of these have been mentioned before on this board, but heck, it never hurts to have another opinion, especially if it's mine ;-) A warning, however - this is an absurdly long post considering the few places mentioned in it.
Darby's (Belfast) - Breakfast
I've eaten dinner at Darby's a number of times in the past, but this was my first time for breakfast. The home made corned beef hash was excellent, and the accompanying eggs over easy were exactly that, with nice runny yolks. And I like a chef who knows to serve hash crisp without even being asked. Orange juice, coffee, hash, 2 eggs, English muffin - about $10.
Bagaduce Lunch (Brooksville) - Late Lunch
Bagaduce has often been praised here by posters whose opinions I respect, so it pains me to report that my first time visit was a major disappointment. I wanted to sample a representative selection of their food, so I ordered a combo basket of fried clams and fried scallops, which came with french fries and a tiny paper cup of cole slaw. I had seen raves here about the onion rings, and I do love me some good onion rings, so I also ordered a small side of those. Sadly, the scallops were tough and had a strange bitter taste. I threw most of them away. The clams were OK, but nothing special. They were whole belly, but the bellies were so small that it almost didn't matter, and so the clams seemed more like strips. They were a little more chewy than I would have liked, but I ate most of them. The fries were above average, crispy on the outside and pre-seasoned with what appeared to be coarse sea salt. The slaw was, well, slaw. Clearly the star here was the onion rings. A thin crunchy shell covering very thinly sliced onions, they would be called onion strings in some other places. My "small" side of rings would easily serve as a side dish for two adults and a small child. I can't even imagine what a large size looks like. I would go out of my way, if I happened to be in the area anyway, to get some of those rings for a snack, but I wouldn't again bother driving the extra 40 minutes past Just Barb's for the fried seafood at Bagaduce. Maybe I should have stuck with the much lauded fish sandwich. Clams/scallops combo basket with small side of onion rings and a bottle of root beer - $29 and change.
Priscilla's Pies (Bucksport)
On the way back to Belfast, I somewhat assuaged my disappointment re: lunch by stopping at Priscilla's for a still warm blackberry pie. For those who are not familiar with Priscilla, she and her husband Stanley have been baking and selling pies for nigh on to 57 years, first at a restaurant they used to own in Bucksport, and now out of their home just north of town. Priscilla is a wizard with double crust fruit pies, and uses fresh fruit for the fillings. She also makes other kinds, such as pecan and pumpkin, but I can say nothing about those, since I can't seem to get past the blackberry, blueberry, apple, strawberry, etc. Not all varieties are available every day, but if you like pie I guarantee you wouldn't be unhappy with whatever she made the day you stopped by. I now have to get my pie the day I am leaving for home, or the afternoon before at the earliest, because my SO was becoming furious when I would show up at home with only half a pie. She got me back good this time though. We are having company this Sunday, so she made me put the entire pie in the freezer to save it for that occasion. Now, every time I get some ice cubes, that blackberry pie sits there and taunts me. How long is it until Sunday, anyway? Priscilla's is on Route 1 North just before the True Value Hardware store on the northern edge of Bucksport. If the 4 foot high A-frame sign proclaiming "PIES" is at the foot of the driveway, pull up to the house, go up to the door, and ring the bell. Stanley or someone else will let you in, and you will find Priscilla settin' at the kitchen table. It's like going to your grandmama's to pick up a pie, except it will cost you $17.00, and well worth every penny.
Chase's Daily (Belfast) - Lunch
I am in the Belfast area for a few days at least once, and usually twice, each year. There are two things I do religiously: get a pie from Priscilla, and eat at Chase's Daily. Chase's Daily is a combination Greengrocer/Bakery/Vegetarian Restaurant housed in a beautiful old gallery-like space on main Street in Belfast. The business is family owned and run, and features seasonal produce grown on the Chase farm. If all vegetarian restaurants served food this good, I would gladly abstain from meat more often. This time I had the Quattro Formaggio pizza, with a side of the daily greens. The pizza consisted of an impossibly thin crust, charred black in places on the bottom without tasting burned, and topped with red sauce, Parmigiano-Reggiano, Fresh Mozzarella, Gorgonzola, and Tallegio cheeses, along with fresh basil. Now I'm going to say something that will make you raise your eyebrows: this was some of the best pizza I have ever eaten. Note that I once lived in NYC for over a dozen years, and have had pizza in Boston's North End as well as at the famous New Haven pizzeria's. I can only say that if you consider yourself a pizza aficionado, and you find yourself within an hour's drive of Belfast when Chase's Daily is open, you owe it to yourself to check out their pizza. Go ahead, try it and then tell me I'm full of hot air, I dare you. As for the side dish, when I asked what the greens of the day were, the waitress replied, "Happy Rich". (You just said something like, "Huh?", didn't you? So did I.) Turns out Happy Rich is sort of like a cross between Broccoli Rabe and Broccolini, but with no bitterness. Here it was blanched, then sauteed with garlic in olive oil in a very hot pan until the leaves blackened. It was so good that I bought a bunch from the produce section to take home, along with some chewy dark chocolate cookies containing dried cherries. For dessert I had a sour cherry tart with oat flour crust, very tasty indeed. Chase's daily is open all year and serves lunch Mon-Sat, dinner on Friday evenings, and brunch on Sunday. 10" pizza, side of greens, cherry tart, and iced mocha - about $23.
After lunch at Chase's Daily, I walked around the corner to the Belfast Co-op and bought a quart of locally grown organic strawberries. The co-op is typical of it's kind in that it carries a good selection of natural and organic products, including produce, cheeses, meats, health and beauty aids, coffee beans, etc. They also make fresh soups, sandwiches, and salads, and have a wide variety of breads and other baked goods. The co-op is a great place to pick up fixin's for a picnic. They even carry a nice selection of beer and wine!
Speaking of strawberries and other produce, it's strawberry season right now in Maine, and along many roads there are hand printed signs for local growers. The growers are trying to get the berries to market as fast as possible before they rot due to the wet weather. The constant rain and lack of sunshine have apparently caused many Spring fruits and vegetables to be in short supply this year. I read that there is virtually no fresh hay available in Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, and upstate New York because there haven't been enough consecutive sunny days to dry it.
For any of you foolish enough to have a hankerin' to get into the restaurant business, there was a sign in the window of a real estate office in Belfast indicating that Just Barb's is for sale.
To those heading up to Maine - the rain doesn't seem to have cut down on tourist season much. As I was driving south through Wiscasset last Friday around 2 in the afternoon, there was already a line of 15 to 20 people at Red's, and the northbound cars were bumper to bumper from Wiscasset center to the Sea Basket. And folks ask me why I usually prefer to go in late May and early November.
Chase's Daily is definitely the real deal! They also do good, if not exactly traditionally Asian, fried rice and their soups are almost always worth considering. Now that we're in season, it's very difficult to get a table for their Friday night dinners. You'll want to get your reservations in early if you want a table for Friday night. Lunch is just your usual mob scene. Early or late arrival is a good strategy if you don't care to wait for a table.
We also love their produce. They are progressive about what they choose to grow, as you can see from their happy rich. Later in the season, they have an amazing assortment of melons, plus heirloom tomatoes, chili peppers, corn, herbs, all sorts of stuff. We often use their cinnamon raisin bread as a basis for French toast. On top of it all, they're nice people too!
Just Barb's doesn't seem to be going anywhere and they seem to be staying pretty busy. Don't know what the future holds, but it's darned difficult to get a loan for restaurant or hospitality businesses around here these days. If they plan to stay open until they find a buyer, they might be around for a while!
I wouldn't judge Bagaduce's fried seafood on the basis of an order of fried clams. Whole clam quality can vary wildly, and people have to serve what's available. Those clams probably didn't come from Maine. All the clam flats in Maine have been closed because of the weather for a couple of weeks now.
ETA: Can somebody from away please bring the sun?
Oh, your report on Chase's Daily makes me so happy we're going back to Belfast this summer. And I knew nothing about that pie place! I may have to kill you later.
I noticed the sign about Just Barb's LAST summer, so I guess no one's really going for this. Is it still open, does anyone know?
I'm so sorry Just Barb's is for sale. That's a special place but I imagine the owners might want to retire or simply have a normal life. My parents used to own a small grocery store - 7 days a week is a killer.
We have a camping trip to Wiscasset planned in a few weeks. Maybe we should make the drive north to Just Barb's for one more time. We still haven't eaten at Red's. I have about two weeks to convince my husband that maybe we should try something other than lobster and clams/scallops while we are there.
To reply to myself, we stopped at the pie place in Bucksport. On our way into the house, we crossed paths with a man in a much-decorated Navy uniform and a big grin as he made off with what turned out to be the last strawberry-rhubarb pie, waaah. So we bought a raspberry pie. I don't get it. Maybe I'm not really a pie person at heart, but it seemed just OK, and certainly not worth $17. Crisco crust totally devoid of flavor. Filling was tasty enough. Oh, well, live and learn.
While we're in the neighborhood being negative, probably everyone knew this already, but do NOT go to Dos Amigos. What a depressing experience.
Farther afield and more positive, we went to Francine in Camden and Cafe Miranda (? Matilda?) in Rockland and had really great meals.