Where to eat in Wells and Kennebunkport 4th of July
Will be spending a week there and see older reports that some of the favored places may have changed owners and have varied quality. I welcome more up to date recommendations from those who have been there recently. Thanks in advance.
Windward is right that every place on Rt. 1 will be jam-packed. I would suggest arriving at a restaurant for dinner right when they open, especially The Steak House on Rt. 1 in Wells, which is always crowded. Fisherman's Catch in Wells is decent, but again, arrive early or be prepared for a long wait. The Cape Pier Chowder House in Cape Porpoise (Kennebunkport) is very good. Arundel Wharf in Kennebunkport is good, too. Lobster Cove on York Beach is very good, and they were just running a very reasonable lobster special, which they said they planned to continue most of the summer.
I would also recommend Mabel's in Kennebunkport. Never had a bad meal there, and I believe they accept reservations.
I have to say that my trip to Maine was disappointing on numerous levels. I found myself in tourist-trap land, and that showed in the food. With only one exception, the “fresh” lobster I had was all clearly cold stored. A fresh lobster, pulled from a trap, will have a succulence, come off the shell, and certainly taste of the sea. Worse, when I asked for female lobsters, I was invariably given males, and in one egregious case, the upper segment had been pierced, and the roe removed. I watched numerous fellow guests at establishment after establishment, not notice, and also not know how to eat lobster, and wasting half of each, so not surprising. There is a lack of discernment by all to many diners, I fear. I will, therefore, with one exception. Focus on the positives for visitors to seek.
Nunan’s, where I had two lobsters, is an old fashioned, simple, covered pier. There the lobsters were truly fresh, boiled properly, served simply, with a home made slaw. Those who have never tasted a truly fresh lobster will have a hard time understanding the fuss. There is no point trying to characterize it other than, ah, real lobster. Also, the only place I ate where the baked potato had a c risp, slightly charred skin. To be sought out. No credit cards.
Lord’s in Wells serves a lobster stew that is orgiastic and, to quote Fitzgerald, orgastic.. A cup clearly has a good 7 oz of fresh lobster swimming in butter and cream. You will probably need a year of statin drugs after this, but you only live once. Staff is friendly and attentive. The place is crowded and bustling, but it is not too noisy. The whole lobster is well cooked and flavorful, but I was suspicious that it had been cold stored. The pineapple slaw was a surprising play on this old war horse.
Boon Island Ale House has truly well cooked, memorable vegetables that are local, and they produce 4 micro brews in house, their lager, a dark, smooth, rich brew with only a hint of hops while having a true body and aroma. My lobster was a female as ordered, but not even warm when it arrived at the table, and poorly seasoned, so bland. BIA is named for the island with the largest light house and a confirmed act of cannibalism. I am not sure if they are seeking irony. The décor is pleasant, with table cloths, the wait staff is friendly and attentive. Much more reasonably priced than other places where the food was much worse.
Gran’s comes so highly rated, I eagerly awaited going there. I tried the haddock chowder, the clam chowder, and the lobster bisque. All three can be described as anemic, thin, generic, and luke warm.. That they are touted as gluten free (people without celiac sprue need not worry about gluten) but in what must be a joke, the soups are served with commercial oyster crackers! What is going on with those who rave about this place? I will take their word that the fish was haddock, but I could not tell. A bisque should be robust, whether by pulverized shell, or use of extra lobster, this was watery and somewhat tasteless. The clam chowder did not seem to me to be made with fresh, but frozen clams.
I also ate at Earth at Hidden Pond, but that is a separate class of restaurant, and will review it separately.
Earth is a very enjoyable spot in Kennebunkport. In the Hidden Pond resort, it follows some of the traditions of the three stars in Paris with shadow restaurants for the great chefs. In this case, Ken Oringer. I need not describe the wooded setting as it is well displayed on the website. A very nice feature, not touted, is outdoor dining and a separate small cabin in which one can eat. The atmospherics are quite romantic and serve to meld the idea of local grown and nature well.
The menu changes and there are “specials.”
I started with a melon-cucumber gazpacho that was a total hit. It was well presented, with a nice froth, edible hibiscus and laced with figs. I spent a few moments just taking in the wonderful bouquet. Having had a wonderful gazpacho 2 years to the day in a shadow restaurant in Paris, it was a nice experience to compare two very different approaches to the same idea. This was sweet, but with thin slices of cucumber balancing the sugar with a refreshing crispness. I paired it with a Perrier Jouet to round out the fruit.
I followed this with a half portion of Tortelli, fava beans, spring onion fondue, stinging nettles, and black trumpets. The presentation was more of a splat than planned, but this was deceptive. The fava beans were crisp and crunchy, with a verdant taste that balanced well a sweet quality to the pasta that was, in turn balanced by the bite of the nettles. The black trumpets added a woody wildness making the whole thing total gustatory fun. A Venedos Verdajo added a nice complement of astringency and depth.
I could not have a meal in Maine that left out lobster, so I followed with a half portion of maltagliati, fennel, and lobster. Here the presentation evoked the rocky cost of Maine well. The pasta, as good as that of the previous course, of course, al dente, the fennel and lobster a perfect marriage. Paired with a Peyrassol Rose that provided some mild, refreshing bite.
I also had the swordfish. This was different than what was posted on the menu. It was billed with wild asparagus and fiddle heads. I had green beans, corn, garlic. The presentation was whimsical, looking like a fish. The vegetables memorably flavorful, crisp, fresh, a proper balance. The swordfish had been seared, then poached. I think it is a failed experiment that left the fish dry and seeming leached of its robustness. I paired with a sustainable Deusa Nai Albarino that paired melded well with the mixed vegetable flavors and the fish. In retrospect, I would rather have tried two additional appetizers instead, especially reading the glowing reviews of the duck egg cesar.
It was the 4th of July, and the sommelier was off with no back up! None the less, as with all good restaurants, there are things in the cellar that are not on the wine list. Here I was able to finish with coffee, and than a nice glass of Mad Cuvee. No listing on the label of which level, I guessed it to be 2 puttonyos.
Service is friendly, attentive, with a large staff that is neither intrusive nor neglectful. There is no need to worry about fresh utensils with each course, and the price for a meal like above about $170 with tax. It is hard to imagine where else one can dine on this level of quality for so low a sum.
I have no trouble recommending this restaurant and will follow the career of its chef. It is too bad I shan’t be back in that area for a while.