Friday, September 13, 2013

Erica's Seafood: Straight to the Top

You cannot see the angels circling above.
Erica's Seafood
Basin Point
Harpswell, Maine 04079
(207) 833-7354

2013 Update:

I have since returned by watercraft. I did use the Dolphin's facilities to get to Erica's.  I literally ran up the gangway to get there. Lobster prices have been decimated this year by an abundant catch.  Read James Surowiecki's piece in the New Yorker about why-
The prices at Erica's mirrored the boat prices.  Andrea was offering 3 full lobster rolls for $27 bucks. More importantly Andrea is now offering the seafood roll equivalent of the Cronut- The Crabster, or the Crabby Lobster. This is lobster and crab salad combined.  I ate a life altering Crabster for $9.  Three days later I dragged my whole family there to celebrate my birthday with another Crabster and some seafood chowder.  I have become a little obsessive about Erica's and googled the establishment to find the minutes of her Planning Board hearings.  This was interesting reading and the process frustrates me about how much work is was for Andrea to make a nice place to eat where she employs people.  I am no Libertarian, but sometimes municipal zoning requirements are just crazy.
This is The Crabster- look how perfectly golden it is.

Original Review from 2012:

The original intent of my trip to Harpswell today was to validate my hunch that the Dolphin Marina had entered in to some Faustian arrangement for the new restaurant building. The Dolphin has always been dear to me, but I'll save that for another review.

The view to Bailey's Island
I really don't enjoy writing bad reviews and that was my intention at the Dolphin when I headed down Harpswell Neck.  The day was picture perfect, the kind that tends to happen only in September. The State of Maine Air Show was in full swing as I passed by the old Naval Air Station.  A Navy Corsair buzzed me as I passed Fat Boy. I built a couple Corsair models as a kid, so it was a thrill. A Corsair is one of the most beautiful planes ever made.

When  almost at the Dolphin I noticed some new signs. What were once Erica's Lobster signs now said Erica's Seafood and Takeout. There was hope that I might be writing a positive review today with a brand new place.  I assumed that the old Dolphin building may have been turned in to a seafood shack- as it was meant to be.  Erica's is the parking lot just before the dreaded Dolphin. I promise that is the last time I'll mention The Dolphin in this review.  Erica's is a tiny little white "shack" with tables and umbrellas out front- very unassuming and typical of Maine. The view to Bailey's, Flag, Haskell, and Eagle Islands is better than their neighbor's because there is no glass separating you from the view!

If you have followed my blog at all, then you know that I am on a holy quest to find honest and sincere Maine experiences and Erica's is exactly that. Harpswell has a lot to offer in the lobster roll arena: Estes, Allens, Nance's... This is my new #1 for Harpswell and also a top 5 pick for Mid-coast.  Erica's is on par with Waterman's Beach (James Beard Award winner), Five Islands, Muscongus Bay Lobster, and with much better prices. I was floored by the value offered at Erica's. A behemoth crab roll with the sweetest meat and nice claw pieces was a mere 8 bucks, how can this be? The lobster roll was $11 with a pickle.  Andrea Hunter (proprietor) uses unbelievable restraint with the mayo. She makes lobster salad like James Bond makes a martini- with perfect precision. The lobster pieces were perfectly sized, toothsome, and so sweet.
The float- tie up on the sides

I can't say enough about this place. I hung around taking lots of photos and the guys killing their Sunday with a six-pack at the lobster pound made mention of my loitering. I was loitering. My only concern about Erica's was how to get there in the boat? I don't think the neighbors, the ones I'm not talking about anymore, would be very pleased if I pulled up to their float and returned with a lobster roll from Erica's.  I noticed they had a dock and boathouse, so I asked if it was OK if I landed on their float to place an order? "No problem, just tie up to the sides of the float, not the end."  The skies parted and the angels did sing. I can come here on the boat, which is actually quicker than driving from West Bath.

I wish I would have found them earlier in the Summer.  Driving to Basin Point is a long haul, but now it is absolutely worth it. Get there before they close for the season! I'm not kidding- Bucket List this place.

Postscript:  I feel like a chump for not getting a scallop roll. I have since learned that Andrea's partner runs a scallop boat- you can see it to the left in the photo above. 

Funny Signs

Friday, May 24, 2013

2013 Season Opener! Bite Into Maine

Bite Into Maine
Fort Williams
1000 Shore Road
Cape Elizabeth, Maine 04107
(207) 420-0294

This was opening day for lobster roll hunting and also for Bite Into Maine for the 2013 season.  I have had them in my sights since early April and have been impatient for them to open. Bite Into Maine is an itinerant purveyor of Maine foods with pretty consistent residency in the parking lot at Fort Williams.  If you haven't been to Fort Williams, this is even more of a reason to come.  Fort Williams is a gorgeous setting with views of Portland harbor, Cushing & Peaks islands, lighthouses... it has all the picturesque Maine stuff and cool colonial forts for kids.

Get to the roll!  Solid roll and great value. Currently we are eating hard shell offshore bugs fetching about 8 bucks a pound.  This should warrant a $16 dollar lobster roll in this beautiful setting.  My textbook roll was $13.95. We also had their grilled tomato, basil and fresh mozzarella sandwich for just south of 5 bucks- this was delicious and a bargain.
Bite Into Maine has done a great job of educating and exporting Maine summer foods by competing at food festivals with the food truck (trailer) and winning!  They have the requisite whoopie pie, moxie, and I am sure when the season arrives a lot of blueberry things.

The proprietors work the truck and are extraordinarily kind folk that care about their work.

It was incredibly pleasurable this year to have my season opener be essentially perfect- weather included.  Keep it up Bite Into Maine! Word of caution: I had to resist this judgement myself, but Bite Into Maine is not a lobster shack from the '30s and should not be judged as such- still great!

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Amato's- Raised On "Real Italians"

You can tell there's alot of mayo.
Everywhere, Maine

I initially thought I would feel guilty about doing this review. I reviewed Amato's lobster roll in 2007, when they were advertising that they proudly served Duhaime's Lobster Salad. That lobster salad was inedible- way too salty and mushy.  It has been a few years since the review and 'tis the season for cheap lobsters. Amato's is now advertising a lobster roll for $8.99.  I could not resist buying one while picking up a veggie Italian for lunch.

If the roll was bad I might have had second thoughts about writing a review that denigrated Amato's at all. It would be like writing a review slamming your grandmother's cooking. You see, I was raised on Amato's and so were my siblings. Yes, we had normal food: corn, tomatoes, clams, and lobster, but we ate at Amato's a lot and it is one of the few food experiences I distinctly remember from childhood, along with sucking on lobster antennae stolen from the fridge. I would suck on them like licorice.

Amato's is a Maine institution and has come to define the Maine submarine sandwich style, with a super mushy roll, sparse meats and cheeses, wedged veggies with salt, peppah, oil... It has similarities to a Chicago style hot dog, sans the neon relish. Amato's is as much Maine as Mardens or Reny's. These establishments still primarily belong to Maine and have yet to take the international stage like Beans. Whenever my older sister returns home from Seattle she makes Amato's her first stop.  The unchanged style and taste of their subs brings us back to a simpler and happier time.

Brunswick Location
I took my first bite of the lobster roll with the expectation bar buried in a hole- nowhere to go, but up.  I was really shocked with the roll. It was heavy on the mayo and the lobster meat was obviously processed, but processed well. It had that sweetness missing from so many lobsters. There were whole claws and knuckle chunks interspersed with smaller pieces comprising the mayo matrix.  The roll was not grilled as a smaller version of the Amato's sub roll.  There was iceberg lettuce by default.  There was quite a bit of lobster salad, a good 6 ounces.

I am giving this a thumbs up and so did Serious Eats. I probably won't eat another one this summer because I need to spread my lobster money around, but this was more than a solid roll at 9 bucks. I will still eat lunch at Amato's twice a week for the entire summer.  I am partial to the Bath and Brunswick locations. A comment about their tag line: "Home of The Real Italian." Don't take this too seriously. The only other food I might be suited to blog about is the italian porchetta sandwich.  I have roamed Tuscany for 9 years in search of the best (Acquapendente Market on Saturdays- 2 Euro) and my Porchetta purveyors would become arabiata about the misappropriation of "Italian" used to describe Amato's- I still love 'em!

Monday, August 13, 2012

Patty's Seafood and Takeout- The Trailer is A Rockin' with Flavor

Lobster Roll
 Patty’s Seafood and Takeout

Route 1 on the Newcastle-Edgecomb Line
Edgecomb, ME 04556
(207) 882-7292 (this link has never worked)

I’ve been a long time fan of Patty Grant’s seafood trailer in Edgecomb, Maine. I posted one of my first Yelp reviews about Patty’s in 2008. That review, along with some others (Beach Plum in Hampton, NH), have gone into the ether. I have no idea why Yelp just deletes reviews. They were not filtered, just eradicated. It is just as well because I may have just transposed the 2008 review without going back.

Crab Roll- The Best!
 It was a rainy Sunday on the way to Bath, Maine and lunch time was nearing. I had intended to hit the dreaded Taste of Maine and just get that over with. We stopped and looked at the menu posted outside and were just turned off. We were hungry and did not want to eat just for the sake of a review, particularly one we knew would be bad. I decided to push on to Patty’s. Once we hit Red’s in Wish-past-it (Wiscasset) we began to wonder if it was such a great idea. The bridge over the Sheepscot was backed up coming south and we would need to head back south after lunch. We pushed on and the traffic was a parking lot all the way to Mary’s Pop-In and further still. The southbound traffic did not subside until Patty’s.

We ordered quite a bit: lobster roll ($13.95), crab roll ($8.50), scallop roll ($9.00) and a bowl of haddock chowder ($3.50). All were terrific, but as I recalled from prior visits, Patty’s crab roll is a standout. You always taste the crab sweetness and the portion is substantial- at least 6 or 7 ounces of crab salad. The lobster roll was good, but did lack that elusive meat sweetness. I do know that Patty takes particular pride in her crab rolls. All the rolls came in buttered and grilled side-split hot dog buns- the “right propah” way to serve a roll. There was crisp iceberg and a slice of lemon atop. It pains me to say this, but Patty can be a wee bit heavy handed with mayonnaise, but I am being overcritical. I almost forgot the fish chowder: exceptionally flavorful and not mushy. I reminded me of the fish chowder at Cindy’s in Freeport.

Patty’s is an honest Maine experience and should not missed, especially if you were contemplating that place with the “Osprey Cam” (Taste o’ Maine) further to the south.

As for avoiding the southbound traffic heading back to Wishpastit, go left out of Patty’s and head north a little bit, past Sherman Lake on the right, and get on Sheepscot Road over to Route 218. You’ll take a traffic free and scenic trip back to Wiscasset. Route 218 dumps you out on the south side of the Sheepscot and beyond the nightmare created by Red’s and Treats- don’t ever get me started about Treats. If it happens to be morning stop at Ship’s Chow Hall for breakfast and avoid the Miss Wiscasset Diner further to the South. Don’t be put of by the exterior of the Chow Hall. If you stop in to Huber’s Market, please let me know your thoughts. As an aside, we’ve always noted the amount of For Sale signs along Route 1 as you are heading into Wiscasset from the south. We make this trip a lot since my parents live in Damariscotta. This time we noted the same amount of signs in Route 218. Is everyone in Wiscasset trying to unload their property? Is the traffic driving people out of Wiscasset?
Scallop Roll

Monday, August 6, 2012

Lobster Tastiness- This is not a Review

I've been coming back to Massachusetts every Sunday or Monday all summer, or every summer for that matter. Yes, I am a Masshole, but not really. I was born in Portland, Maine while my parents lived in South Freeport. I am a Mainer.  I can't make a living in the design profession in Maine, so I live outside Boston. I am not proud of it.

Anyhoozle, I have learned a lot from my study of lobsters over the last 30 years coming back and forth from Maine and hauling my own: lobsters have colons.  When lobsters defecate it is a signal for everyone.  If you own a New England seafood shack and have tank with slow turnover, it is bad.

Here's the deal: if a lobster relieves himself (herself, and they don't pee) in a tank that isn't on a pier exchanging water into a little Maine cove, then they are deucing in the tank. This is bad for for the tank and maybe your health. Solution: stop feeding them and let them starve.  Imagine being a cannibal and eating a starving human or buying the scrawny chicken to roast for a Sunday "suppah". This is not good for flavor. I am sure my torso is chock full of flavor after eating lobster risotto the night before, as opposed to eating me after I dropped 20 post-Andean plane crash. Fat Nat is better tasting and more nutritious.

See my review of Belle Isle Seafood

What I have found over the years is when the tail end of a lobster's alimentary canal is packed and green it means they were just yanked from a place where they were feeding and happy. This means tasty lobster. If you peel back that tail skin and find black intermittent waste solids, the lobster won't be that sweet.  If it is clean like a jumbo prawn in a Thai restaurant then the meat will have no flavor at all.

I don't eat the tube full of green stuff, but my ancestors from the Maritimes do.  They're weird and have one vowel sound, so I don't give them much cred as gourmands anyway. They regulary eat dinner at Tim Horton's. Find places that consistently sell lobsters with their colons packed with green mud and you will have a very tasty lobster.  I recommend Day's in Freeport, The Bedrock Lobster Pound in York - a new fave.  These are places that turnaround lobsters quickly and don't "tank" them where they starve. Muscongus Lobster Co-op is another place.

This is the scientific truth about lobster storage: Lobsters in Tanks- University of Maine Report.  Make sure to read the disease part, they clearly recommend unloading diseased lobsters to humans for immediate consumption- I'm not kidding.

The Clam Shack

2 Western Avenue
Kennebunkport, ME 04043
(207) 967-2560

I really did not want to do this on a weekend during the high summer season.  I stopped at the Landing Store first to have a roll for baseline comparative reasons.  The Clam Shack has a lot of buzz and a lot of posters of awards from lobster roll competitions held where lobsters are flown in.... They have signed things from people like Rachel Ray, Bobby Fay, Guy Fieri... I'm making up some of the last part, but humilty is not in the Shack's DNA.  I really don't care if Barbara Bush gave them a blurb about liking their clams. We are talking about their lobster rolls.

They have a roll very similar to Red's, you get the meat from a chicken (1 pounder) on a roll with either mayo or Connecticut style with butter. The buttered lobster roll is not a Maine thing and I don't understand why we don't have the same reaction toward it that we do about Manhattan Clam Chowder?  Again, like Red's they place a bifurcated tail on the roll just to say, "We use lobster tails!" Whatevs, it just tears out in one bite and gets stuck in your incisors. Besides, I truly believe knuckle meat is the best part of lobster salad.

The Shack uses the hamburger bun delivery method akin to purveyors in the Thomaston area. I am finding this more and more to the south, like here and Bedrock in York. As opposed to  Bedrock, they do grill the roll with butter. 

Please, Dear Lord, Who Art in Heaven, please make him get to the point: what did the roll taste like?   Well, it was pretty good, but at $17 dollars and change (tax) for a standard 4 oz. roll on a hamburger bun, and a royal ass-ache drive with insane parking, just go to the Landing Store. You avoid the tourist nightmare and the motif short wearing tourists. The Kennebunkport tourist set is a special breed that I can only begin to describe. The word entitled comes to mind, and maybe d*&%$@ (starts with d, rhymes with swoosh), also madras, or loafer (with bits), or the thought,"Why is she with him?"

I remember when my uncle used to keep his Hans Christian at the Nonantum during the vice-presidential reign of Bush I. I used to come up as a teen and use the boat for parental getaways. When my uncle would be with us he would proclaim, "I wonder what the poor people do?" I love my uncle dearly, but those kinds of statements suit him perfectly for the Kennebunkport set. .  He spends his time now dominating the septagenarian golf scene with his 80's era 500 SL- also a match for the KBPT attitude. I should have a blog just about my uncle and cousins.  When on his boat I would drink gin made in Lewiston, Maine and fish for crabs over the side. Kennebunkport was pretty cool back then, but now it is a disaster, just a few outlet stores short of hell.

View of Bridge from Shack
Bulletin Board of Self Promotion
That dude in the khakis has whales on his belt and bits in his loafers.

York Lobster & Seafood - I Am Not Sure I Actually Ate Here

I could swear this marginal roll was from Linda Bean's

York Lobster and Seafood
855 US Route 1
York, ME 03909
(207) 363-5000

My recollection of this place is that I came in on two separate occasions, got bummed out about what I saw and left. How do I have these photos on my camera?  I am not a big drinker...? I will post a real review some day, but if I walked out twice, what does that say? I think their website was put to gether by the template provided by the Maine Lobster Council- they do not serve their members well.

Chauncy Creek Lobster Pier- Represents!

Chauncy Creek Lobster Pier
16 Chauncey Creek Road
Kittery Point, ME 03905
(207) 439-1030

I had really low expectations based on their website.  It is a very cool little place and literally on the Maine border with New Hampshire. It is tucked in to a little inlet off of Chauncy Creek. The place is meticulously maintained with ample parking. You descend down toward a terraced pier with a gift shiop, lobster pound and take-out window. 

I ordered the clam chowder and a damn respectable lobster roll at a fair price. I don't remember the pricing, but it was more than reasonable.

The paint scheme had this Bahamian thing going on. There were multiple coats of perfectly applied gloss paint on the well maintained picnic tables.  All were kept very clean.  Tip:  go lay claim to your table before you order and remember your table number.  They will ask for your table number when you order and deliver your food to you.

What is exceptionally cool is not only do they allow you to bring in your own beverages and side, they essentially condone it- see sign photo.

Chauncy Creek is not too far off the beaten path and you will get to see the real Kittery, not the Kittery of conspicuous consumption.  Kittery is a very nice place and Chauncy Creek represents it well.

I would put this on some sort of 3rd date list for an afternoon that kills a really cold Vernacchia over some lobster rolls.

Spinney's Go for the Seals, not the Food

Spinney's Restaurant
987 Popham Road
Phippsburg, ME 04562
(207) 389-1122

I am just not happy with experiences near Popham Beach.  Spinney's was really marginal, except for the seals.  Just look at that big leaf of lettuce.  The meat was not sweet and mostly flavorless.  The waitstaff was overwhelmed. The staffing problem seemed clear to me: there were 3 people working as hostesses and 2 people waiting tables. The actual waitstaff was trying to keep up, but it was clear there were others not pulling their weight.

The kitchen staff yelled a lot, especially when orders were up.  This wasn't like a funny, "Cheeburgah, cheeburgah, petsi, petsi, no coke," yelling thing. This was a the cook has issues kind of thing.  I really just wanted to get the hell out of there and watch the seals.

The view from anywhere down there is spectacular.  Right off the mouth olf the Kennebec is Sequin Island with its picturesque lighthouse. I had the good fortune to sail out to Seguin last summer and hike around the island. This should be on your bucket list-I digress. There are a lot of playful seals at the mouth of the Kennebec and worth the trip to watch.  Fort Popham is adjacent to Spinney's parking lot and also worth the trip.  The Fort is a great place that's free and fun for kids to climb around on and imagine days gone by.

Come to Popham Beach and come to Fort Popham- bring a picnic.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Bedrock Lobster Pound- It Only Took a Decade.

Bedrock Lobster Pound
510 Rt 1
Kittery, ME 03904
(207) 439-9423

July 2012 Update:
 I was stuck in traffic returning from July 4th weekend, so I pulled off in York and they were open.  I had to get a roll! Still in hamburger buns and still awesome.  While waiting I decided to let no roll related things register in my brain.  They sell bugs (lobsters) for less than Day's and furthermore they'll sell you a little expanded polystyrene cooler and some ice for $4.50. I am not saying Day's is the cheapest, but they are a good benchmark since they have their chicken (1 pound lobsters) prices posted like unleaded at a gas station. During the summer Bedrock is open every day 'til 7 pm. They have clams and mussels too.  The price for chickens was $3.89 per pound and is tied for the lowest price I know at this little place in Phippsburg.

Original May, 2012 Review:

I could swear I wrote this review, but alas no.  I've been trying to get here for well over a decade. They are not open in the winter and they keep pretty limited retail hours.  I always thought that I would go in and find some crotchety old man whose uniform  style shirt and pants matched his cap. I was sure he would try to make me feel like I don't understand lobsters or anything for that matter. Maine has a lot of these types. This place just has that kind of vibe.  I was very wrong. Bedrock was staffed by a very nice young woman that can rock a roll.  She did rock it in a hamburger bun.  I thought that was a Thomaston thing?  The roll was not grilled, but the lobster salad made up for it.
This place is as pure as you get.  They have lobster and Pepsi products. The only other edible item in the place would be the mayonaise. The prices are great: 9 bucks for a roll and 75 cents for a soda.  How is it possible they still have soda for under a buck?
I love this place!

Note that they are out of lobster meat.