Portland, Maine

September 2017

Portland, Maine

Well as much as I thought the last San Francisco trip was last minute, another situation forced our hand at the most last minute trip yet. We had some time off that due to the chaos of planning other trips, this vacation block came up fast and was neglected. Last year this time, we were exploring Piedmonte and discovering the little town of Asti with an incredible food and wine festival. As the dollar began to lose value to the euro and flight prices continued to climb over double what we paid last year, we knew we would have to skip the festival this year. In using the wonderful tool in Google Flights, we searched many cities to see what made sense. Orlando popped up as $80 round trip per ticket so I began to mount my case for a Disney trip for our long weekend. While we would be there, the Epcot’s Food and Wine Festival was already started and there was a Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party scheduled, which we have not attended. The Pandora area in Animal Kingdom was also recently opened so we had plenty of new things to do. Kevin was on board (seriously, Epcot’s Food and Wine Festival is enough to persuade even the grumpiest Disney fan!) so the Sunday before our scheduled Friday departure we booked our plane tickets, hotel room at one of the All-Start resorts and park passes. Sunday turned into Monday and the attitude changed completely- Hurricane Irma, the strongest hurricane in the Atlantic Ocean to date, was going to make Florida its bulls-eye. We did not worry early on since the models were sporadic and as a resident of the northeast who gets periodic hurricanes, we were willing to wait out the models. I researched what Disney World has done in the past with hurricanes, such as Matthew last year, and it appeared that the parks close for as little time as needed for the safety of guests but also offers full refunds when hurricane warnings are issued for Orlando. As Thursday night approached, the models were almost unanimous in a direct hit for Orlando. We figured worst case scenario- we arrive Friday and go to the parks until close then again max out park time Saturday, assuming the parks may close early, then Sunday and Monday the parks would be closed and we would be “stuck” in the hotel, and then Tuesday normal operations would resume and we would fly out. If Tuesday was also a park closure day and our flight was canceled- that would have been the ultimate worst case scenario. Having a majority of our trip wiped out like this made it difficult to justify, especially since worst case scenario was becoming more likely. Friday morning came and we made the calls to cancel the flight and the reservations at Disney. Then we looked at each other- what do we do now? Go to work and give back the time to use somewhere else? Or Plan B Vacation?

Luckily my co-workers were on team anti-Disney trip throughout the week and had already offered a few Plan B Vacation ideas. Portland, Maine had come up a few times and had been frequently mentioned by our friends in Boston. Friday morning came and after canceling the Disney trip, I booked a very last minute Airbnb in Cape Elizabeth, we threw some things in backpacks and off we went!

Friday

We left our house around 10AM for the long drive to Portland, Maine. With a few recommendations in hand from friends, we had really no plans for our Plan B Vacation (very unlike us!).

Pit Stop: Tree House Brewing Co.

Wanting to break up the long drive, we decided to pick a few pit stops to feed us, gas up, switch drivers, etc. Our first stop was Tree House Brewing Co. as we were hopeful that selection would be good in the middle of the day on a Friday. We arrived shortly after the 2PM advertised open but the line was already quite long although they were already distributing beer, perhaps for over an hour. We quickly parked and got our place in line for our ration of prized craft beer. Today the offerings were twelve cans of In Perpetuity, three cans of Julius, two cans of Alter Ego, and three cans of Bright with Citra per person. The newly constructed brewery and tasting room were very well done- the bar area is beautiful! There is even a picnic area outside to enjoy. For as long as the line was, we were in and out of the brewery in under a half hour. A successful first pit stop!

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On our ride up, we found out our original flight to Orlando was delayed leaving (which would have taken away from park time- arriving over two hours pass schedule) and Disney announced early closure on Saturday, cancellation of the Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party we had tickets for, and closure of the parks on Sunday and Monday. Evaluations would be done to determine the hopeful park reopening on Tuesday. Worst case scenario complete- Plan B Vacation was a good decision after all.

Pit Stop: The Clam Shack

While we hit significant traffic moving up from Massachusetts to Maine, we set our eyes on our first taste of seafood at The Clam Shack. Not too far off the highway, we made our way to the town of Kennebunkport where this shack is located right on the river. After miles and miles of traffic, we were hoping this would be a worthy reward. I read reviews that the lines for The Clam Shack can get out of control, so I was thrilled when we pulled up got a parking spot right in front of the shack and ordered immediately. We got half a pint of clam strips, a cup of clam chowder, and their lobster roll. As it began to rain, we sat at bar seats overlooking the river tasting the best seafood we have had in a very long time. The lobster roll showcased the lobster- there was nothing on it expect a splash of butter and a pound of lobster meat on a basic roll- the meat was outstanding. The clam strips were surprisingly very tasty and addicting. We were told the clam chowder here was the best and we could definitely see why. I have not had clam chowder and I think this will ruin me! It was perfect as the rain fell and we sat on the river, enjoying our food-  our Plan B Vacation was off to a great start!

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After getting stuck on the bridge into Portland while the bridge was up as boats passed by (and a gorgeous rainbow presented itself as we waited) we finally arrived to our Airbnb around 7PM.

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We decided to get a lay of the land and drive into downtown. We struggled to find parking (our Airbnb host warned us against the overpriced garages and to stick it out in metered areas) since we did not know where everything was- didn’t want to park too far away from the downtown! So after a few laps of getting our bearings, we parked and began exploring. We jumped into the Craft Beer Cellar where we were educated on Maine’s beer scene and Kevin got a sampler pack of beers from staff recommendations.

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Our Airbnb host provided us with many recommendations, one of which was Gelato Fiasco– we recognized the name as we walked by and jumped in for generous portions of gelato. Wanting to get an early start, we headed back to the Airbnb and did some of our own research on the area before heading to sleep.

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Saturday

Breakfast: The Holy Donut

Feeling refreshed, we made our way into town for breakfast. Last night, Kevin had read about The Holy Donut and marked that as our breakfast destination. We were warned of crazy lines for these gourmet donuts and were relieved when there was no one in line on a Saturday morning. The smell of freshly baked donuts instantly overwhelms your senses and then you slightly lose your mind when we see all the selections of donuts! It was a tough call but with the help of the staff we decided on Dark Chocolate Sea Salt and Maine Apple. Each donut was insanely flavorful to their name and while expecting a dense texture, the donuts were surprising light due to the use of mashed Maine potatoes in the dough. Lives up the to hype!

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We walked down to the ferry dock and bought $7 round trip tickets to Peaks Island. Once off the boat, we headed left through the small town center and admiring the luxurious houses that sat on the water. You can rent bikes or even a golf cart to get around, but we preferred the cost saving use of our feet. After making it to one end of the island, we sat on the beach hunting for the tiniest seashells. We then turned back to walk through the preserved area of the island. It reflects how the entire island used to look only a few decades ago. The influx of building led to the development of this preservation and I can see why such a move was necessary. We walked to the other side of the island where we found stairs that led to a well maintained beach and we sat on the rocks until our ferry departure time neared. Going early was the right call as we watched a full boat of people disembark as we got on to return to Portland.

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Lunch: Duck Fat

The lovely people of Instagram answered my call for Portland recommendations with our lunch spot, Duck Fat. It was an easy decision to eat at a place with those words as the name since we adore both duck and fat. We had about a 45 minute wait (place is very small for the demand!) so we wandered in and out of the neighboring stores, including Two Fat Cats Bakery where I was immediately disappointed that we were eating soon because the smell in this bakery was unreal!  Everything looked amazing and I wanted it all but I resisted so I did not spoil my lunch. Before we knew it, we were called in and seated at the bar for our meal, getting a peak into the kitchen to witness the controlled chaos of the lunch rush. The fries were a tough call- choice between Belgium cut fries or Poutine- and then the choice of five different dipping sauces. We settled on Poutine with the Truffle Ketchup dipping sauce. Impressed with the gravy and cheese on top of well made fries was a huge hit and we were immediately happy with our decision- honestly every part of the dish was delicious. I also forgot to include how insane the Truffle Ketchup was- I can understand why people go nuts over these fries! For drinks, I got a chocolate milkshake (treat-yo-self!) which came diner styled with the extra that didn’t fit in the glass and Kevin got the Bunker Machine Czech Pilsner. For our sandwiches, Kevin ordered the House Smoked Brisket with vegetable chow chow, cheddar and BBQ sauce, top left and I ordered the Slow Roasted Pulled Pork Cubano with mustard pickles, Swiss cheese, and garlic mustard mayo top right. The bread with these sandwiches was perfect to hold all the goodness inside. Each was very flavorful and with this menu I do not think there is a wrong choice here. We honestly could have split the sandwich since we each only ate half of our sandwich portions (wish we did for our stomachs but we got to try two menu items that way!) and we saw other tables split their meals but it gave us leftovers. Two thumbs way up for this place – thank you to all the guided us here!

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Bar: Novare Res Bier Cafe

Incredible stuffed, we walked around the downtown see what we could find. We walked past a converted church to restaurant, Grace, which we unfortunately did not have enough time to try but was recommended by friends and well reviewed- looks like an amazing dining experience. We also passed the Victoria Mansion with a dull exterior but touted glamorous preserved Victorian era interior. Our Boston friends (and confirmed by staff as the Craft Beer Cellar) said that the best bar for beer was Novare Res Bier Cafe and as we passed it- recognizing the name- we immediately grabbed a table outside in the Biergarden. With over 33 taps and over 400 bottles on the menu, decision making was a time consuming process. I ordered the local cider on tap, Whaleback Northen Native Cider, and Kevin ordered the Anchorage/Grassroots Arctic Saison as it is a collaborative beer with Hill Farmstead Brewery in Vermont. As I read the beer tap list, I noticed Lawson’s name appear and realized Kevin definitely missed seeing this! After Beer Christmas, Kevin decided his favorite IPA was Sip of Sunshine from Lawson’s so after pointing this out, he quickly ordered the Lawson’s Super Session #8 for his round two beverage, which he immensely enjoyed. I think when Lawson’s opens a tasting room, it will be weekend trip for sure.

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Dinner: Central Provisions

All the dinner places that were recommended to us by friends either did not take reservations or their allotment of tables for reserved seating were booked. Therefore, our plan was to get to desired dinner locations at open to ensure a place in line. We decided to try our Boston friends’ (who gave us all their recommendations from Hawaii- bless their souls for pulling through for us from across the globe!) recommendation of Central Provisions for a tapas styled meal. We got to the bar area in the lower level around 4:45PM where we grabbed a glass of wine and waited for the main dining room above us to open. As 5PM neared, we saw an older couple climb the stairs so we immediately followed them up to the dining room where we were seated. We noticed that there was already a line of people out the front door waiting to dine as well so we were happy to have gone through the bar area (was an honest mistake- didn’t know there was an entrance from the opposite street!). We were seated at the service bar where we had prime real estate in front of the head chef as he called out ordered and watched the five other chefs prepare their assigned dishes- best seat in the house!  We ordered the following items during our dining:

  • Bluefin Runa Crudo (with squid ink lavash, ‘nduja, egg yolk) middle left
  • Fresh Corn and Lobster Polenta (with Northspore mushrooms, saffron, fino sherry, guanciale) middle right
  • Bone Marrow Toast (with fontina, horseradish creme, red onion) middle center
  • Suckling Pig (with apple, brown butter, marcona almond) bottom left
  • Caramelized Sheep’s Cheese (with peaches, quince saba) bottom middle
  • Maine Blueberries (with sweet corn ice cream, crumbled short bread) bottom right

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Full review of Central Provisions!

Every dish was incredible. We obviously had no expectations for this trip and since we had hoped to be eating at EPCOT’s Food and Wine Festival, we definitely did not expect to be eating this good in Portland! Each dish was creative and absolutely delicious. Even dishes I did not think I would enjoy (Bluefin was described as a little spicy, Bone Marrow had horseradish which i typically despise) were exceptional in the use of the flavors to not overpower but were used to balance the dish. We cannot give Central Provision enough accolades for an amazing meal.

Since we started our meal at 5PM, we were out on the downtown streets at 7PM- too early to turn in for the night so we wandering into at the Old Port Tavern Billiards as the sign on the door drew Kevin immediately in- reads “Proper Dress Required” with a photo of cartoon people dressed in Victorian clothes. We played for an hour (yes, I lost every game by one ball) and walked into Beals Famous Old Fashioned Ice Cream for our late night snack. Once again, the ice cream portions are huge (guess we are used to stingy ice cream scoopers at home!) and could barely finish our portions as we were still full from dinner. Happy with all we found to fill our day on Plan B Vacation, we returned home for the night.

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Sunday

Breakfast: Dutch’s

Another day of exploration on Plan B Vacation! Another Instagram recommendation was Dutch’s for breakfast sandwiches and pastries. Staring right in your face as you order are freshly made pastries so it was impossible to say not to a chocolate spice filled donut pastry along with our breakfast. I ordered the Traditional Sandwich (egg and cheddar cheese with bacon on a croissant) and Kevin ordered the PTLD Breakfast platter (2 eggs, maple sausage, has browns, and an english muffin). Side note- the blueberry jam served with Kevin’s english muffin was so delicious! Perfect diner styled breakfast to fuel our morning of exploring Southern Portland.

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Our first stop was Fort Williams Park, home to the famously photographed Portland Headlight lighthouse. There is a walkway along the cliff from the entrance of the park up to the lighthouse but we decided to park near the lighthouse and explore from there. It was definitely an impressive sight- the massive lighthouse snuggled along the coast above huge rocks as the ocean waves smack into them continuously. I think we both could have fallen asleep to the relaxing sound to ocean waves. The landscape really was beautiful. After walked around the lighthouse and grabbing a bunch of photos, we ventured down the cliff walkway to get a panoramic view of the lighthouse, rocky cliffs, and ocean.

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Since we didn’t have a whole lot planned other than a lunch spot (we were nowhere near hungry yet!) and more beaches, Kevin found that Maine Beer Company was only a half hour drive and could fill the time between now and lunch. Like Tree House Brewing, Maine Beer Company also recently renovated their space for a spacious and comfortable tasting room. Kevin got a sampler of four beers to try: Lunch, Another One, Mean Old Tom, Post Ride Snack. With enjoy beer in the fridge at the house, we enjoyed the sampler and drove back south to our lunch destination.

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Lunch: The Lobster Shack

Making a few people’s recommendation lists, we knew we had to work in The Lobster Shack into our plans. We arrived shortly after 1PM to a very crowded and limited parking lot that we were fortunate after a lap to solidify a spot. Up the stairs we met quite a long line but it did not bother us- the scenery was epic- right on the coast overlooking rocky shores and the Atlantic Ocean- and its own lighthouse at the end. Once we got to the front of the line, we ordered a lobster roll, two clam cakes, a cup of clam chowder, and a slice of homemade blueberry pie. I had no idea Maine was known for their blueberries and I was loving it! The lobster roll was very different from the one we had at The Clam Shack earlier in the trip. This lobster roll was covered in sauce and spices on a thick slice of white bread. We enjoyed this variation of the lobster roll very much! I can understand people’s preference for lobster rolls may be different given every place’s interpretation of the dish but we enjoy the variation. I think we both preferred the clam chowder at The Clam Shack as The Lobster Shack one had more potatoes and less seafood but it was still flavorful. We honestly ordered the clam cakes to avoid spending over $40 on lunch but it was a great move as they were delicious and full of clam strips. And what can I say about the blueberry pie- a huge homemade piece pilled high with whipped cream- it was perfection. Happy as clams, we traveled down into the rocks and sat there for awhile watching the waves crash into shore, relaxed by the noise of the ocean.

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While it began to rain, we got back into the car and drove around to the other beach destinations we had marked. Due to the weather and the fees to get onto the state beaches, we turned around and headed for downtown. We walked into and out of more stores, grabbing Nitro cold brew coffee from Bard Coffee, stopping into the Thirsty Pig for a beverage and some games, before making our way to for dinner.

Dinner: Street and Co

Another recommendation by multiple people was Street and Co and we expected a long wait since only a third of the tables are set aside for walk-ins and there were no reservations available the entire time we were in Portland. We walked into a small line but were seated immediately at the bar with all the oysters (would have had to wait if we wanted a table but we have found sitting at the service areas enhances the experience). We sat and admired the oysters in their bath of ice in front of us- the board to our right listed the three varieties featured today: New Haven from Salt Pond, None Such from Scarborough, and Basket Island from Casco Bay (all local east coast oysters). We are typically a dollar oyster kind of crew but tonight we splurged on getting two of each of the three varieties (a dozen) for $15. We favored the None Such as it felt like a balance between the west coast buttery oysters and the east coast salty oysters. There were two women next to us that knocked back three dozen oysters each…each! We struggled to wrap our heads around that bill. We ordered Chablis (2014 Domaine Gueguen) to pair with our seafood meal- definitely has consistently been our favorite go to white wine. For our entrees, I got the shrimp with butter and garlic sauce over linguini and Kevin ordered the blackened halibut with accompanying potatoes and vegetables (no choice in the accompaniments). My dish was very flavorful (garlic!) but I think the portion of pasta was a bit much for the six to eight shrimp in the dish- it felt like I had a pound of pasta in front of me! It felt like an unnecessary amount of pasta- but it was very tasty. Kevin really enjoyed his meal as well. I was not interested in dessert (stuffed!) but Kevin perked up at the sound of pecan pie, opted for the a la mode option, while I sipped on their homemade limoncello beverage- both were delicious! We knew going in that this meal was going to be expensive (and it was) and it was a nice treat. I would have expected larger portions of the seafood for the price of the dishes as opposed to overwhelming guests with an enormous amount of pasta.

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Once again, we find ourselves post meal, enormously full, walking around the downtown to make our stomachs feel a tad better. Knowing there was nothing more we could fit into our stomachs, we drove back to our home for an early bedtime.

Monday

Breakfast: Becky’s Diner

We slept in since we were in no rush to go anywhere. Once we got up and packed everything back into the car, we made our way to Becky’s Diner for breakfast. Traditional diner set up and style brought us right back to the diners of NJ! While finding parking was a struggle, we only had a minimal wait to be seated. This old school diner took us back with classic breakfast diner food and ambiance. Since Maine got me on a blueberry kick, I ordered the blueberry pancakes. Kevin ordered the Hobson’s Wharf Special with sausage, two pancakes, two scrambled eggs, homefries and toast- entirely too much food but was a great breakfast sampler! I noticed the staff cutting up muffins, slabbing butter on either side and passing it through to the chefs to throw onto the grill. While I was nowhere near able to eat this after my pancakes- I did want one badly- grilled muffins are delightful!

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After breakfast, we grabbed donuts from The Holy Donut  as a snack for later as we journeyed south.

Pit Stop: Trillium Brewing Company

We decided to split the ride home in a similar way to our drive up. Our first stop was Trillium Brewing Company for another beer run. We drove through a neighborhood of industrial buildings until we got to Trillium and we anticipated a long line like we met at Tree House Brewing a few days earlier, but were surprised to walk into an empty tasting room. Kevin grabbed a few tastes (disappointed there was no flight option for their beers- there are so many options to try and to only have full or half glass pours seem to be silly if someone just wants a taste of everything) before we headed to the other side of the building to another vacant line to buy cans. Since Trillium is a larger producer, the limits on almost every beer was a case per person so there was certainly no need to max out on any option. After buying a small supply of beer to add to the trip’s collection, we hopped back in the car and continued south.

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Before the conclusion of our trip, we fortunately got in touch with Kevin’s cousins that live on the coast of Connecticut so we stopped by for dinner and met the newest member of their family as we let rush hour traffic pass us before we completed the final leg of the journey home.

What a great trip Plan B Vacation turned into! We cannot thank our friends enough for helping us cultivate this last minute adventure. I think I can safely say this trip takes the winner for last minute, unplanned trips! Thankfully, Hurricane Irma chilled out a bit for the central eastern part of the Florida and only minor damage was observed. The Disney World Parks seemed to sustain mild tree damage but otherwise seemed ok! The parks reopened on Tuesday and we also checked that our flight did depart on Tuesday- so wouldn’t have made the ultimate worst case scenario. So while we could have went and spend two of the days in a hotel room- as we were prepared to do- we got the chance to explore a new city and indulge in all the amazing scenery and food Portland, Maine has to offer!

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