My friend and I will be driving from Portland to Bar Harbor....taking five days. We have reservations for dinner at Fore Street in Portland and the Blue Hill Inn in Blue Hill. We cancelled our Primo reservation in Rockland because, well, we aren't wealthy and can't afford fine dining every day. We are looking for suggestions of other places we could stop at for lunches and dinners. Good flavor and freshness is top priority of course, but atmosphere/location is a close 2nd. 1) We would like a recommendation for dinner in Rockland/Camden. 2) Lunch between Camden and Blue Hill (we're partial to lobster rolls and fried seafood for lunch). 3) And then recs for lunch and dinner in the Bar Harbor/Southwest Harbor area where we will be staying for 2 days. I know that's asking a lot, but if you are familiar with any one of those areas, we would appreciate hearing your thoughts Thank you.
For the Camden-Blue Hill leg, I'm partial to Just Barb's in Stockton Springs. There's always speculation about it being for sale/closed, but their Facebook page is current and active. But never mind that - the fried seafood is great, at least I've never had a less than excellent experience there. (But I only get there about 2X-3X a year, as I don't live in Maine.) Fried scallops, clams, fish and chips -- all good. (As my husband the ex fry-cook noted, they must clean their oil a lot.) And their pie is also very good. Right off Route 1, about halfway between Camden and Blue Hill.
I'm sure others will point out that you can eat at Primo without breaking the bank - but there are definitely other options in Rockland. Rockland dining has been discussed on a number of threads here, but In Good Company comes up a lot (been there and endorse it), and Pearl has come up recently (haven't been there, can't speak personally about it). People run hot and cold on Cafe Miranda, but I like it - you can spend as little as you want by grazing the small plates, or have a regular three or four courses; and the food is either inventive (my take) or crazy-ass (some others' takes).
There are many other options, but I'll stop there and let the experts take over.
Personally, if it were me, I'd cancel the Fore Street res and go with Primo instead. But, of course, I've been to both...and for all I know you've been to neither...so you would definitely have a great meal at either one. For me though, Primo is the top of the heap. And as Harrie pointed out, you can definitely do it without breaking the bank...sit upstairs at the Antipasti Bar and order small plates...it's the only way to fly! In Good Company is also a great choice, as is Miranda. In Camden (staying in the "moderate" range), Long Grain is fantastic. It's also possible to dine cheaply at the new place in Camden - Fromviandoux, and Shepherds Pie in Rockport.
It pains me to say this after having had a first time really exciting meal at Fore Street just a couple of weeks ago ---
But passing up Primo is really missing something extra special. This is a kind of Michelin three-star restaurant, lots of stuff homegrown or home-raised. As Harrie said, you can be careful there to hold down the price. Or you can scale back at some other places on your trip. Primo is chef Melissa Kelly's first place, the one where she made her mark, and our meal there last summer was an outstanding experience. (We've eaten at a three-star restaurant in France, so I'm comparing it advisedly.)
I don't know anything about Blue Hill, so can't give an opinion about that. But Bar Harbor offered nothing remotely comparable to Primo in quality. In Southwest Harbor we went to a cute lunch shack and had terrific lobster at a reasonable price, so maybe it would work out to cut corners elsewhere and make Rockland your gourmet central.
Hi Tsarina: Nice to know we still haunt the same restaurants. But as you likely know, Melissa Kelly"s first restaurant was in Old Chatham, NY (in my neck of the woods), as exec chef of the Old Chatham Sheepherding Inn. Price did all the baking and sweets. That's where I fell in love with their restaurant, and it was fortuitous that they moved to Rockland for Primo, as I get up to Camden a few times a year.
You fell in love with Old Chatham Sheepherding (as did we); Kelly and Price fell in love with each other.
Exit Old Chatham from the world, enter Primo! She has a place in Tucson now also, but we didn't go when we were there, looked like strong Southwest menu which I wouldn't pay up for (like it, but only at a price).
Still hoping to encounter you some day!
1. Go to Primo, head upstairs, and dine light. I had a great meal at Fromviandoux, in Camden. Also love In Good Company, in Rockland.
2. Lunch: Bagaduce Lunch in Brooksville, if you can hold out that long (only about 15-29 minutes from Blue Hill). Another possibility, Weathervane--just keep it simple--hugging the waterfront in Belfast or Young's Lobster Pound, across the bridge in Belfast. Just Barb's is still going strong in Searsport and has been spruced up quite a bit.
3. Dinner: Bar Harbor—Fathom, Mache Bistro, Havana; Southwest Harbor—Red Sky or Fiddler's Green. Or consider taking an evening ferry out to the Islesford Dock on Islesford. Lunch: Jordan Pond House for popovers with soup/chowder or salad.
Seconding Primo upstairs (I spend time every summer in Blue Hill and would NEVER in a million years eat at the Blue Hill Inn instead of Primo).
I like Darby's in Belfast, which would be more or less halfway between Camden and Blue Hill. Nothing fancy, but good sandwiches and salads.
Also seconding Bagaduce Lunch, which is great for a fried seafood lunch. The setting (Brooksville) is gorgeous. Close enough to Blue Hill that it might be better just to zip over once you're there, rather than stopping en route.
Fore Street is wonderful. You can't go wrong eating there but I also agree that Primo is special and you should not pass up an opportunity to go there either. I also consider Primo more of an event than just a dining destination. I don't get to the area all that often but I look forward to getting there early just to walk the grounds checking out the green houses, gardens, chickens, etc. As others have said, you can get off fairly easy monitarily speaking if you head upstairs.