Mid Coast report
Just returned from our annual 2 week holiday in Maine and thought I'd report since we tried some new places:
The Great Lobster Roll Tasting
My mother greeted these weary travellers with a treat: lobster rolls from the local favourites Graffam Bros. in Rockport, the Citgo Station in Thomaston and The Keag Store in South Thomaston. I should disclose that none of us are lobster roll people in the first place. We all prefer crab or shrimp rolls or whole steamed lobster but since lobster rolls seem to be the lightening rod in any discussion of Maine food, we wanted to stay informed. Prices ranged from $6 to $10. Graffam Bros. was a slight favourite but each was someone's favorite. In the end, it's spectacular fresh lobster on a white bun. You can't go wrong, so can we stop talking about it? :)
Dorman's Dairy Freeze
We always hit Dorman's as soon as politely possible upon arrival. Repeated applications of peppermint stick ice cream punctuate the rest of our vacation.
Always our first breakfast in Maine, the fish cakes did not disappoint.
The Keag Store
Our local for crab rolls, they are getting a little heavy on the mayo but if you've ever picked crab the amount of labour involved in a crab roll will make you forgive just about anything. Next time I'll risk the scorn of the Keag ladies and ask for less mayo. They also have good fish hash for breakfast.
Owl's Head General Store
What a great burger! I am not a burger afficionado so don't go crossing state lines but after a day at the beach it was fantastic. Large juicy all-meat burger with fresh lettuce (not ice berg) and ripe tomato slices, good bun. Eat inside the little store or outside on picnic tables in the garden. Great people watching. I don't know what is more entertaining the locals or the tourists.
Village Ice cream, Port Clyde
Added another favourite flavour to my list: chocolate walnut.
Wasses Hot Dog, Rockland
I don't know what it was on this trip but I had intermittant non-seafood cravings. One day I craved a Wasses hot dog and was satisfied.
Muscongus Bay Lobster, Round Pond
They've further expanded their menu beyond lobster. steamers and raw oysters so this is a good choice if you have lobster averse guests. They've got bacon wrapped scallops, chowders, pasta. I don't think there is any fried seafood though. This is our favorite lobster on the dock for the view, the touch tank, the big tables and the service.
Granite Hall Store, Round Pond
They sell Giffords ice cream and I had Moose Tracks (fudge ribbon and peanut butter mini-cups in vanilla ice cream). It's very good but makes me realise why Dorman's is so special. The flavours are very simple.
Had another non-seafood craving, pizza this time. I am not even a big pizza eater and usually lean towards thin crust with odd topping combinations but on this day Bricks cheesie spicey sausage pizza really hit the spot.
Other members of my family have been to Primo many times but we'd never made it (I do not make reservations). We arrived just shortly after 5 and got a table upstairs in the bar. Memorable dishes were: charcuterie plate (head cheese, mortadella), tuna tartar, stuffed squash blossom, stuffed prune. Our server was warm and attentive, the space is very comfortable and the overall vibe is very upbeat. We had a wonderful time and I'm so glad we won't ever have to make reservations!
Local draft beer
We were really disappointed that the only beers they had on tap were from California. There are great beers in Maine! And I'm sure a local brewery would even brew something especially for Primo.
We were a table of 5 so the table was very crowded, passing dishes was difficult and resulted in spilled wine, and divvying up some dishes was impossible. A tasting menu would make ordering easier for the customer and timing/delivery easier for the staff.
El Camino, Brunswick
What a funky place and such a nice change from the usual in the Mid-Coast. I wanted everything on the menu but was a little disappointed with my choices. We started with a cheese and Maine shrimp dip that was really good. The home made tortilla chips are excellent. Then I had a mango/avocado/watercress salad. I was expecting it to be sort of a slaw like a Thai mango salad but it was composed on the plate so the flavours didn't mix. Didn't work in my opinion. Then I had mussels which had so many capers in the broth it was unbearably salty. The mussels themselves were very good but I hated losing out on the broth. My husband had a pork belly taco that was really good, he was very happy. Good beer selection and I had a hard cider from Urban Farm that I hadn't seen anywhere else. Our waitress was great and the whole place was really fun. We've never spent any time in Brunswick but will definitely try this place again.
On our way back up the coast it was pouring rain so when we passed Red's there was no line up. Since we'd had the lobster roll tasting at the beginning of the trip my husband insisted we try one at Red's to see what all the hoopla was about. First of all, it was $17. That's almost 3 times the price at Graffam Bros. The main difference I feel is the presentation. Red's cuts the tail in half lengthwise, throws in some knuckles and then tucks the claws into each end so you can clearly see you are getting an entire lobster. The downside is that it is very awkward to eat. You have to gnaw through the tail so you don't pull the entire contents out and into your lap. So in the end I don't think it is worth the wait or the price. It may be more lobster than other rolls but it isn't 3x as much and I'd like my lobster in bite size pieces. OK, that's it. I will never respond to a lobster roll related thread ever again.
They seem to have fixed their staff problems. The service on the deck was warm and friendly just like the old Dip Net days. I wish we hadn't waited until the end of our trip to go because there are lots of things I wanted to try on the menu. My husband was happy as always with his oyster po boy and my steamers were great, I needed a last dose of clams before we went home. I decided on this trip that clams have surpassed lobster as my favourite thing that comes out of the sea.
Loved this report! I was interested to see you like the breakfast at Rockland Cafe. I looked at the menu but did not end up going in, however, I thought their fishcake benedict was the most inspired breakfast item I had seen on a menu in a very long time. (I have since made a poached egg on fishcake breakfast several times although I have yet to take it to the next level with hollandaise.)
Hey, great report...thanks!
FYI, Primo does occasionally have Maine beers on tap...last year the big one was the Big Twitch IPA from Marshall Wharf in Belfast. Apparently MW is having distribution issues (they are becoming "big")...so Primo couldn't carry it this season. As for the tasting menu, you'll have to make a point to come back in the fall when they do their "Nose to Tail" menu...all things pig!
Speaking of Bricks (and on a completely random note), I went there for lunch today...Chief Justice John Roberts was there with his family...
MCM, I was looking for you! Everywhere we went I was thinking: "Is that him?"
I love Marshal's Wharf but there are so many others. She wouldn't serve rock lobster, right?
When I say "tasting menu" I mean a pre-set offering from the regular menu that is served family style so that everyone can share. It's a set per person price for the whole meal. You've got 5 people? They send out 5 gorgonzola stuffed prunes. And they know their menu so they can pick items that balance each other off and serve them in the best order. With 5 people, I found it difficult trying to agree on dishes and figure out how much to order. And then many arrived at once so the table was too crowded to pass plates. I find a small plates menu works really well for 2-4 people but it's tougher with larger groups. And I've had really good experiences with tasting menus. I guess you have to trust the chef to make good choices and give you good value but I find the ease makes any risk worthwhile. And it makes large parties a hell of lot easier for the kitchen so it's a win-win!
I was sitting at the bar last Monday, but I didn't see any Crawfish in the crowd! Primo is the type of place where you could request almost anything and they'd oblige (ie tell the bar chef to put together a sampling of small plates for five, etc).
Maybe next time you're in town we can get together and reveal our alter egos! Over small plates at Primo of course =)
Too funny. We waited on the porch for about 20 minutes and then sat front and center at the antipasti bar (my wife, a friend, and I). Chatted with chef Matt quite a bit. Our friend struck up a conversation with a lady from St Stephen NB next to him. Pretty much closed the place down, ended up chatting with Price before we left. I keep trying to talk him into opening a sandwich bar downtown (ala the Rob Evans model) to no avail.
Even took a couple pics:
Great report. +1 for including the "Citgo Station in Thomaston" in your lobster roll tasting. That just screams New England to me. I recently told my brother Orson W that there surely are some lobster roll gems to be found in some of these humble places.
Also, I find it interesting that you prefer crab or shrimp rolls to lobster rolls.I am guessing you are a native Mainiac? I grew up in RI and have lived in the Baltimore/DC area now for over half my life. I have gotten spoiled by the taste of local blue crab. But your post helps explain why a place like Day's in Yarmouth made its bones on crabmeat, not lobster. We liked their crab rolls, but still preferred the lobster rolls.
But you have given me an idea -- perhaps there is a market down here for crab rolls. No one does them. Steamed crabs, crabcakes, crab soup, cream of crab soup (two different things), fried soft-shell crabs, even the old-time things like crab imperial and crab fluff...but no crab rolls! Since crab meat must be picked to make crabcakes, why not crab rolls??