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NYC to Maine Gastro Roadtrip

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It is our first time in Maine. I am planning a roadtrip to Maine this weekend (from Saturday to Monday), hoping to leave NYC by 6am to maximize on all that Maine has to offer. Portland is our base and have made dinner reservations at Caiola's for Saturday and Fore Street for Sunday. Was debating about 555 and Hugo's as well, but hopefully made the right choice in selecting these two restaurants.

The plan is to drive through the coastal towns of Kittery, Ogunquit, and Kennebunks making our way up to the Portland area on Saturday and do the coastal drive to Acadia on Sunday. Any thoughts on what are must have roadside eats for lunch? Essentially looking for lobster shack roadside recommendations for Saturday, Sunday, and Monday for the trip back to NYC. The short list for now include Five Islands Lobster, Seaside, Clam Shack and Red's. Thanks!

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  1. hugo's >> fore st. but you'll be ok. i would NOT suggest stopping at duckfat, because there's comparable places in nyc (ie. frites). however, if you can, things i did or am doing: tony's donuts are supposed to be great (and just a couple blocks off the highway, right off congress st.) , 2 fat cats blueberry pies and ring dings are amazingly good, but two other portland-centric shacks are harraseeket (south freeport) or two lights @cape elizabeth, for the incredible view.

    there's supposed to be very long lines for red's.

    i hit bob's clam hut in kittery on the way back down for a lobster roll for the road.

    also, i would strongly suggest NOT hugging the coast (route 95), instead going through ct (84 -> mass pike) because of traffic and usual construction. if you do that, on the way up, hit kelly's roast beef outside the boston area (for beef, not lobster)

    EDIT: isn't five islands lobster several hours from portland?

    1 Reply
    1. re: bob gaj

      Was thinking that we could hit Five Islands along the drive up to Acadia. Is this not the case?

    2. As someone who has made the NYC to Portland trip dozens of times over the last three years here's my take:

      1. I hope you have ezpass traveling on Saturday.
      2. Do take the I-91/I-84/I-90/I-495 route. It bypasses Boston saving you at least an hour.
      3. Bob's clam shack in Kittery - exit 3 off I-95 on rte 1 - is excellent and will set a standard for other shacks further up to compare. My favorite is the haddock fish and chips. The various clam offerings are popular although I have not tried them. The lobster roll gets a B grade - not bad but not the best in Maine.
      4. Caiola's is my favorite restaurant in Portland. Don't miss the mixed appetizer plate.
      5. Check out Susan's Fish and Chips on outer Forest Ave. in Portland for an A- lobster roll.
      6. 5 Islands is worth the detour on Sunday but be prepared for a lot of traffic unless you go real early. Have their whole lobster and enjoy the epitome of ocean freshness
      7. Forget making Acadia along rte 1 on a Sunday in the summer. Impossible except at mid-night. If you make camden without pulling your hair out - consider yourself lucky.
      8. Forget Reds - over-hyped and only for tourists.
      9. If you want to make Acadia on Sunday - consider going on I-95 to Bangor and then taking the local road to Bar Harbor. If you make it to Acadia - don't miss the best lobster shack in Maine, Thurstons in Tremont. After eating there, you will be spoiled. Very few other places have the shack experience that Thurston's provides.

      Enjoy.

      19 Replies
      1. re: StevensAve

        You have dinner reservations in Portland both Saturday and Sunday and plan on driving to Acadia after that, and then go home on Monday??? I hope you don't like sleeping. Portland to Bar Harbor is a solid 2.5 to 3 hours, at the very least, if you take I-95 part of the way. No point in taking the coastal route at that time -- it'll have been dark for hours by the time you leave. Bar Harbor to NYC is at least 8 with no traffic.

        1. re: the_MU

          We were thinking of heading out by 7am but now worried about the comments regarding traffic and distance. Is there any way Acadia could be feasible as a day trip from Portland on a Sunday?

          1. re: chdelro

            With so much available closer to Portland, I don't think the trip to Acadia is necessary. We spent Wed afternoon to Sunday morning in the Wiscasset area and still didn't have enough time or stomach capacity to go to all the places we would have liked. Rt 1 Sea Basket in Wiscasset was one stop. We liked Five Islands but like Waterman's Beach even more except we missed it this trip. Ate at Dolphin Marina in S Harpswell. (we camped so we ate some meals at our campsite). Enjoyed a lobster benefit dinner in Tenant's Harbor. (I got the impression that some lobster benefits are so popular advance tickets are required).

            1. re: chdelro

              I concur with the others: you'd spend the whole day driving, and never really see much of MDI. If you're interested in a drive to see some typical coast, you might consider a day trip on Sunday up to the Pemaquid peninsula: that's about 3 hours round trip driving if you make it all the way to Pemaquid Point. You could stop in new Harbor at Shaw's for lobster or steamers for lunch, or in Round Pound: both very scenic harbors.

              1. re: mainemal

                I concur and I live near Bar Harbor. Take Rt. 1 to Rockland, Rt. 17 back to August and I 95.

                1. re: mainemal

                  Just returned from a midcoast trip from Portland. Started at the new Gardens in Boothbay, went to the Art Museam in Rockland to see the Weyeth's and on our wy back rounded the Pemaquid penninsula where we visited Fort Williams, the beach, the lighthouse and on our way back stopped a the Pemaquid Lobster Co-op. They had run out of lobster so they had to cook them to order for our rolls, the lobster was served warm with just a touch of mayonaise. $14 roll had a full 1-1/4 lobster in it....whole tail and claw meat. Surpassed Reds by far and what a view... we ate on the picnic tables outside and watched the lobster boat races across the river.......a wonderful Sunday trip

                2. re: chdelro

                  In a short trip like you're planning, you really have to pick either S. Maine or Downeast. Trying to do both in 4 days, including travel, won't give you enough time to enjoy either one.

              2. re: StevensAve

                Thanks much for these suggestions, StevensAve. Yes, EZPass is a blessing!

                1. re: chdelro

                  Take in Old Orchard instead of Acadia..... Its on the way to Portland. This will give u a great feel for Maine

                  1. re: irwin

                    Er, not really. Old Orchard is cool if you like slightly seedy oceanside amusement parks with lots of Quebecois visiting them. Feel for the rest of Maine, not so much. And really not any good food to be had unless you go into Scarborough or Cape.

                    Cape Elizabeth (where the Lobster Shack is) gives a much better sense of of what the coast is like. Or York, if you want to split the difference. For a nice nature walk with a view, Wolfe's Neck Park in Freeport is pretty good, and also not far from Harraseeket Lunch.

                    1. re: the_MU

                      I was going to refrain, but I don't think the quintessential Maine coast starts 'till after Brunswick. I grew up near the New Jersey shore and York, Wells, Ogunquit and especially Old Orchard remind more of the NJ beach scene than Maine. The further downeast one goes the more of the old Maine flavor. (Put dotted line on neck and chop.)

                      1. re: Passadumkeg

                        I second the motion to pass on OOB. Not "Maine" in the least. It's basically Massachusetts and Quebec territory. As for further north, what about splitting the difference and checking out Boothbay or Phippsburgh? If Phippsburgh, you're not all that far from Five Islands (my personal favorite lobster shack) and downtown Bath (Solo Bistro) or Brunswick (gelato fiasco!). If Boothbay, there are always lots of people selling whoopie pies and blueberries on the side of the road and some decent seafood downtown with some great "Maine" views. When friends/family come visit, I just can't bring myself to sell the Southern Maine coast as "Maine" to them. It just istn't. Agreed with Passadumkeg. How about a day-trip to Lubec for real Maine? Riiiiiight......

                        1. re: Passadumkeg

                          Yeah, I was thinking of the places with lighthouses, where there are cliffs and crashing waves and those little birds that ride on top of them, and not so much the Jersey shore amusement parks and boardwalks. It's actually possible to see the pretty coast thing without going north of Portland.

                          But certainly, point taken. (People who want to see the real Maine should go to Lewiston, Waterville, Augusta, Skowhegan, Millinocket...)

                          I would go to Gelato Fiasco more if it weren't so expensive. I know they use high-end ingredients and the ice cream is really really good, but I usually end up going to Cotes instead.

                          1. re: the_MU

                            Sorry, but when I was a kid, there were about 40 NJ light houses and the Barnegat Light is among my favorites, view from Island Beach State Park, which rivals any southern Maine State Park.
                            I love Maine, but send these guys to Popham Beach or Reed State State Parks and the plethora of good local chow ie Five Islands, The Sea Basket, Waterman's, Moore's, the new shack at the new museum of Sail, Steam and Power in S Rockland, even that trap in Wiscassett (Red's), but don't go to Old Orchard Beach, The Coney Island/Seaside Hights of Maine!
                            Dirigo!

                            1. re: Passadumkeg

                              Not quite the Asbury Park/Ocean Grove thank goodness.

                              Just Googled Barnegat Light...very picturesque, but nothing like Nubble or Bug -- more like Popham, with an eroding beach and everything.

                              Wait, don't you have lessons to plan or something? ;)

                              1. re: the_MU

                                I just got back from an 8 hr kayak paddle w/ 6 clients around the Petit Manan and Moose Island lights. Google them; I'm wacked.

                                Susan's Fish and Chips in Portland is a BYOB hoot and an special little slice of great fried Maine seafood!

                                1. re: Passadumkeg

                                  Googled as assigned. Much pinker rocks. That's the most memorable thing about Acadia to me -- most of the rocks are pink. Pink Cadillac Mountain.

                                  Best thing about Susan's is the "you catch it we cook it" deal. Never taken them up on it but I'm glad its available.

                                  1. re: Passadumkeg

                                    I have a crusty old Washington County fisherman friend. He used to talk about "Tit Nan Point" and "Tit Nan Island". After a couple of years I finally figured out that he was talking about Petit Manan.

                                    1. re: hicow

                                      How about bubert? Bois Bubert?

                  2. Seriously, after driving to Maine from New York, I don't think you want to battle route 1 traffic up through Kittery, York and Ogunquit. Route 1 is not really a "coastal" drive at all through most of it, it is inland, and can be terribly jammed up.

                    2 Replies
                    1. re: jillso

                      As a native Mainer (now transplanted to CT for many years) who drives up often, I would not think of getting near Route 1 at any point this time of year. It is a parking lot most of the time. Too bad you can't wait until after Labor Day when things really quiet down--or go to Acadia in February when you can have the whole park to yourself, as I did a few years ago in a snowfall! Or October, when it is one of the most beautiful places on earth. Please post a report when you return.

                      1. re: philbkr

                        Shhhh, don't tell anyone.

                    2. Haven't read through the rest of the replies, but I'm betting they're saying the same thing I am: You're putting too much into three days. On Saturday, stop at the Fisherman's Catch in Wells. Low key, family owned, overlooks a tidal estuary, great seafood.

                      Sunday, stay put in Greater Portland. Portland is a cool city, and you can easily spend a week there, never mind just one day. Mosey around Portland's streets--you want to sample food, just walk and graze. Take the ferry to Peaks for lunch at the Cockeyed Gull. Or, grab picnic fixings or sandwiches from one of the gazillion of intown places (you want Maine, go to Amato's on India Street and ask for Italian sandwiches), then hop on the MailBoat, which makes the island circuit or head out to the Eastern Prom.

                      Or, drive out to Cape Elizabeth for lunch at Two Lights lobster shack and a walk on Crescent Beach and a visit to Portland Head. Or to Freeport for lunch at Harraseeket Lunch and Lobster and a visit to Bean's mothership. If the weather doesn't cooperate, go to the Portland Museum of Art--fab show on focusing on the art colonies of New England.

                      Yes, Acadia is lovely, but on an August weekend, it can be four hours each way. Your time is so limited, you can find what you want and plenty more in Greater Portland. Don't waste precious time in your car. Enjoy.

                      1. Great choice on dinner reservations, Fore Street has been a favorite for years and for good reason. If you feel like a pre-dinner cocktail and oysters I'd recommend heading to their sister restaurant on Wharf Street, it's called Street and Co. It's the freshest, best seafood, and the bar (and bar service) is terrific.
                        Can't speak for the roadside shacks but I'd definitely recommend hopping the ferry to the islands, they leave from downtown and you could head to Peaks or take a longer trip. Nothing else feels like Maine in the summer. In the morning head out for provisions -- One Fifty Ate and Scratch over the bridge in South Portland are super, as is Standard Baking (also owned by Street and right across from the ferry dock). And there's Browne Trading, also down Commercial Street a five-minute walk, where you can pick up a delicious picnic.
                        Do the islands -- either on the ferry or hop on hop off. You won't regret it. Have a great time!
                        I forgot: on your way up skip Route 1 and head to Portsmouth instead, if you're set on doing something south of Portland. It's a great town with plenty to see on foot and good eats (and brew pubs).

                        6 Replies
                        1. re: ebaba

                          Excellent rec.

                          1. re: ebaba

                            Taking the ferry somewhere was a consideration... Given the traffic situation and driving time involved, we may end up just doing that. Great suggestion. Thanks!

                            1. re: chdelro

                              Have a great time, but don't eat Italian in Maine; especially what we call "Italians", heros.

                              1. re: Passadumkeg

                                An eye-talian sandwich is a must whenever we're in Maine! Hold the black olives though.

                                1. re: Passadumkeg

                                  I grew up on the Italians (then 99 cents) from DiPietro's Market in South Portland. Oh God, where they good. Closest I've found are those from Amato's on India Street (and Amato's in Brunswick). Italians aren't heroes or hogies or subs, they're Italians, unique to Maine. Only a few places do them right, but when you get a good one— doughy roll + ham + white American cheese + green pepper + onion + tomato + Greek olives, seasoned liberally with salt and pepper and drizzled with oil—mmmmm, heaven!.

                                  1. re: Mainegal

                                    Youse guys, must, I repeat, must get a hold of a copy of The Wicked Good Band's song "Italian"; its lyrics havean Italian made w/ 30 weight motor oil, wrapped in a tar paper and left on the windshield to cure to make a REAL eye-talian. It's a Maine childhood thing. I grew up away w/ a lot of real Eye-talians and can't stand the Maine sandwich. I laughed when, newly arrived, off Rt 3 N outside Disgusta, in the 80's, I saw a road sign that said, "Eat a fresh Italian" (Sexy!) or "We serve Italians" (the civil rights era made it north.). Sorry, gimme a lobber roll or salt fish and potatoes w/ pork scraps, or even pickled winkles!
                                    Wiiicked goood!
                                    If you cana't get a hold of the Wicked Good Band cd, email me.

                            2. Hey Guys,
                              I was about to post a new question to this board but I thought it might be better to piggyback on this one.

                              We're flying into Portland from NYC and driving to Ogunquit. We'll be coming in at around lunch time and I wondered if there were any great seafood places en route. I generally avoid fine dining places when I'm up there because I can't get enough of the New England seafood joints so a place with fried clams and steamers would be great. Lobster rolls are good too.

                              To the OP, I really love Barnacle Billy's in Ogunquit. I think they fry VERY well and everything is delicious.

                              Thanks in advance for your help.

                              JeremyEG

                              2 Replies
                              1. re: JeremyEG

                                Look up young man, look up. Susan's Fish & Chips is low down dirty and goood. A Bon Appitite article is hung on the wall along w/ other article awards and articles. It's the real deal. Cheaper than most too.

                                1. re: Passadumkeg

                                  Passadumkeag--YOU SAID IT.....
                                  LOW DOWN DIRTY AND GOOOD...................AND CHEAP AND PARKING FREE

                              2. Hello Hounds,
                                Am piggybacking on this post to see if anyone has anything to add for the fall season. We are going to be in Maine this coming weekend (my first time visiting), staying not far from Boothbay Harbor. We live in NYC, and will be driving from Buzzards Bay, MA. My thinking was that we probably won't venture more than a couple of hours from Boothbay Harbor, so that we don't spend all our time in the car. I have pored over the Maine posts and feel educated on the subjects of lobster rolls and high-end restaurants in Portland.

                                As far as non-restaurant destinations, I am possibly interested in the following wineries/distilleries:

                                www.bartlettwinery.com
                                www.sweetgrasswinery.com

                                ...and possibly in the Common Ground Country Fair. We would love to hear recs for places (restaurants or other food-related spots) that are especially distinctive to Maine. And anything that would be particularly good in September. Thanks.

                                4 Replies
                                1. re: tarnation

                                  Common Ground has awesome food, all from Maine, and all organic. The craft tents are great, and the demos are very informative.

                                  1. re: tarnation

                                    Sweet Grass also now has the distillery and is more accessible as a day trip from BBH.

                                    Common Ground www.mofga.com does have some nice high quality crafts, particularly the textiles. I love the herding demonstrations. (But the food is not the reason to go).

                                    You don't need to venture to Portland for fine dining. Try Robinhood Free Meetinghouse in Georgetown.www.robinhood-meetinghouse.com

                                    If you want to venture inland, drive up along the Kennebec River to Hallowell (about 45 min from BBH) a charming small town to walk/shop/eat. Try Slates for weekend brunch, lunch or dinner; Liberal Cup excellent brewpub.

                                    www.slatesrestaurant.com

                                    1. re: HDinCentralME

                                      Agree with the meetinghouse. Just up the road from 5 islands and good for dinner. Several outstanding places in Rockland. For a special treat try a daytrip to Monhegan Island with dinner at the round top lobster pound. Great fresh fish on the island and round pond at night is a lot of fun.

                                      1. re: mtil

                                        Thanks for the advice all! I am compiling quite a list with the help of the chowhounds, keep it comin'.