Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Walking Easily Through Portland and Ogunquit, Maine

Maine is known for its rugged, rocky, hilly coasts and terrain, but don't let that deter you. You can get "the Maine experience" without risking limb or exhaustion.


Most appropriate that I barely caught my breath after arriving in Portland, ME, before embarking on a food tour. This city of only 66,000 people has 300-plus mostly independent restaurants. The combination of reasonable, one-year-long rental rates and immediate access to lobster and other seafood has created a Mecca for food lovers.

Tip: It was raining steadily so we drove between spots, not a bad idea although parking can be a challenge.

Cheese, cheese and more cheese.
We started with specialty cheeses at K. Horton in the Public Market House, a co-op of food venders worth exploring more if we had been staying longer.

Kristin Bingham, wife,of chocolatier Dean.
Next up we had dessert at Dean's Sweets with a tasting of their popular and delicious chocolates.

Tip: Try the Needham, a traditional Maine favorite.

An array of spices to accompany the oils and balsamics.
Vervacious, founded by a pair of high-techers who chucked it all to sail around the world and bring back their favorite flavors, packages its spices, oils and balsamics luxuriously.  With a serving of lobster mac and cheese they proved lobster makes anything better to this non-eater of mac and cheese.

Sip and pick a favorite.
Next came pretzels and a flight of beer and ale at Gritty McDuff's, the city's first brew pub. Also its most popular, judging from the lively crowd who had obviously taken advantage of Mug Day, Sundays when local members ($70 a year and your own mug) get $2 beers.

Tip: This would be a fun place to watch a sporting event.

Two of the 150 bitters brands.
Last but not least, my favorite stop, Vena's Fizz House, a mixology shop where owners Steve and Johanna Corman will make you a believer in the use of bitters and infused spirits to add depth to your adult beverages. It's worth a stop to see the vast number of different, exotically titled and labeled bitters they stock. Don't bother to count, it's 150!

Tip: None of these stops involve more than a few step ups to access.
Measuring the catch.

A Lobstering We Go 

My favorite excursion was on the Lucky Catch lobster boat, where passengers not only get a tour of the harbor, but can tog up and assist in reeling in lobster traps, measuring the catch to see if any are keepers, re-bait and lower the traps back down. Gives you an appreciation of what it takes to retrieve these crustaceans and why they are so expensive on menus.Youngsters will love it.

Fresh bait for the next catch.

Tip: Lucky Catch is a working lobster boat but this an easy on, easy off excursion. You will sit on benches along the boat's sides.

Tip: While you are at the waterfront, the food tour guide highly recommended the food at Di Millo's as well as its two-hour happy hour and $5 tapas.



It was lunchtime, though, and the spot for the best lobster roll in town is Fort Williams Park and the Bite into Maine lobster roll food truck that parks on a gentle hillside across from the Portland Head Light



Portland Head Light.


The lobster roll is worth the drive, the park is beautiful and if you get nowhere else in the state, this will give you a feel for what it would be like.

Tip: You eat on picnic tables so save this for a sunny day.



Tip: Technically, this is in Cape Elizabeth and you will need a car to get there.







Portland Art Museum.

For a relatively small city, the Portland Art Museum has a very nice survey collection, which makes it a good destination for a rainy day. 

Tip: Use the elevator.


An easy drive from Portland, Ogunquit is a hub for towns and villages that provide additional diversions, assuming you need any. Scenery is what you envision when you think of Maine, tall trees, promontories, big rocks and crashing surf. 

View from my Cliff House room.
I stayed at the lovely and venerable (since 1892) Cliff House Resort and Spa perched on a scenic curve of the coast at Cape Neddick which guarantees spectacular views. I would tell you more about it but as soon as the 2015 season ends, construction will begin on an almost totally new version with 135 rooms instead of the current 166. 

I can only hope the renovated spa is as good but better supported and more convenient for guests who, as I did, discover there are no bathrobe or slippers in the rooms. Now the resort is on three levels connected by long hallways, stairs and/or elevators and I suspect that won't change. Projected date of reopening is July 2016.

Another thing that probably won't change - and that is good - is the Jolly Trolley bus that connects the communities, accommodations, beach and attractions around you for $2 per person. 
Boats have right-of-way over pedestrians.
I took it to Perkins Cove, a quaint spot with lots of shops, restaurants and all sorts of sight-seeing and fishing excursions. Reminded me immediately of Cabot's Cove of "Murder She Wrote" fame. In this spot, the draw bridge stops strollers to let boats into the marina. 
Good lobster rolls in here.
That is where the lobster roll crawl, a tasting survey of versions of that noble sandwich, began at the Lobster Shack, the oldest restaurant in the Cove. You can expect the classic, one-fourth pound of lobster packed into a toasted roll - but can ask for butter in addition to or instead of mayonnaise. 

Lobster roll, fries and onion rings at Jake's.
Next up was a favorite, Jake's Seafood in Moody, where so many locals line up to order out or in that 60 to 100 pounds of fresh lobster comes in and out daily. The clams are especially good, too, as is the ice cream. 

Fresh potato chips and lobster roll artShore Road.
Then came Shore Road Market and Restaurant in York Beach. Lobster rolls are smaller here but also cheaper, $9.99, and come with lettuce, mayonnaise and butter plus potato chips made freshly every day. 

To work off this excess of goodness, the last stop was a visit to the Nubble Lighthouse at Cape Neddick. This Coast Guard light station was built in 1879 and its surroundings sum up preconceptions of coastal Maine. 

Both photos of Nubble Lighthouse were made from the parking lot!
Visitors can scramble around the surrounding rocks or just enjoy the scenery.

Tip: The parking lot is nice and level.

A must for visitors is to catch a performance at the Ogunquit Playhouse.  For 82 years it has been staging quality summer theater and the current facility is excellent and all on one level.

Tip: There is always a rush for restrooms during intermission. Best bet is to go to the one adjacent to the outdoor tent and bar. A few steps up but better and faster access.

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