Archive for the ‘Favorite places’ Category

A spring hike into Poplar Stream Falls

April 24, 2010

April’s a great month to hike in Maine: No bugs, cooler weather, raging waterfalls, and few other folks along the trail. Today we hiked into Poplar Stream Falls, a relatively easy, roughly 5 mile round trip, from the trailhead in  Carrabassett Valley.

We parked in the Maine Huts & Trails parking lot (signed off Route 27), then began on the Maine Huts trail, but opting for the side loops, first along the stream and then to the falls. Yes, the trail’s wet and muddy in places, but nothing that forced us to stop, no long stretches or deep, wide puddles.

The reward? Poplar Stream Falls, site of actually two lovely torrents, and rated a 4.5 out of 5 by Greg Parsons and Kate Watson in New England Waterfalls. South Brook fall drops 24 feet; Poplar Stream Falls plunges a far more impressive 51 feet. A fallen tree, just out of the reach of Poplar Stream Falls’ spray, provided a perfect perch for scarfing down our picnic lunch.

Maine Huts’ Poplar Stream Hut is closed for mud season, but will open again in a few weeks (check with the organization for the date), and after a few weeks of self-serve operation, it will be serving meals again, so that’s a fine alternative for lunch in season. But go now, and have the trail practically to yourselves. On a bluebird Saturday, we ran into only two other people, and both were on the Maine Huts trail, on which we closed the loop back to the parking lot.

Damariscotta River Grille’s Chef Rick Hisch named Chef of the Year

February 6, 2010

The Maine Restaurant Association has named Rick Hirsch, chef of the the Damariscotta River Grill, in Damariscotta, and The Anchor Inn, in Round Pond, as its 2010 Chef of the Year. Hirsch owns and operates both water-front or -view restaurants on mid-coast Maine’s Pemaquid peninsula with his wife, Jean Kerrigan. The duo opened the harborfront Anchor Inn in the mid 1980 sand opened the downtown Damariscotta River Grill in 2004.

Anchor Inn

We became fans of the Anchor Inn back in the early ’90s, while living in what passes as downtown Round Pond, an aptly named Bristol village on the east side of the Pemaquid Peninsula. Round Pond is one of those coastal gems you hope to stumble upon when noodling about Maine’s back roads, a postcard-perfect town with artisan’s studios, two lobster-in-the-rough shacks, and  a store selling ice cream, penny candy, doodads, and whatchamacallits.

Smack dab on the waterfront, overlooking the round-shaped, boat-filled harbor protected by Loud’s Island, is the seasonal Anchor Inn. Neither fussy, nor fancy, the inn serves damn good food, especially seafood, with a bit of creative flair and a sense of humor (especially when Bobby Whear is tending bar).

Damariscotta River Grill

When Hirsch and Kerrigan opened the Damariscotta River Grill, locals rejoiced; finally a place to get Rick’s fab food year round. I’ve made many a meal off the appetizers alone (the artichoke fondue is alone worth a visit). The Grill is less rustic in decor than the Anchor. The menu focuses on fresh and local (okay, really, this is Maine, what restaurant doesn’t these days?), and it’s wine list has won an award from Wine Spectator.

Bottom line

Many restaurants achieve longevity with mediocrity, not so for these two coastal Maine restaurant gems. Although The Anchor Inn is closed for the winter, this time of year at the Grill, you’ll find such enticing entrees as duck confit risotto, Thai fish stew, and lobster cakes on the menu. Don’t miss the Pemaquid oysters as a starter. And by the way, the Grill is also open for lunch and Sunday brunch.

VOTE now, vote often for Rockland! Named a “2010 Distinctive Destination,” make it THE destination

February 3, 2010

Planning a Maine vacation? Want to have an authentic experience? Want lobster, a seaport, great museums and shops? Craving a real town, not a tourist set?

Have I got the place for you.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation has named Rockland, Maine, to its 2010 List of America’s Dozen Distinctive Destinations. Rockland was selected for its authentic preservation of a rich history and its wide range of unique attractions, including a picturesque working waterfront that packs alluring cultural heritage with prized fresh seafood and world famous festivals.

For the first time in the program’s history, the public can vote online for its fan favorite throughout February. Any legal resident of the U.S., 18 years of age or older, can vote as often as they like for their favorite city or town on this year’s list. The winner of the popular vote will be announced on March 1, 2010. You’ll have to register, but it’s well worth the effort. Voters are automatically entered to win a complimentary two night stay at any Historic Hotel of America.

So why vote for Rockland? Well, besides it being home of Pies on Parade, the Lobster Festival, fun shops, and cool museums and galleries and, well, I could go on and on, but I’ll let the National Trust get a few words in:

“With great pride in its maritime past and present, Rockland blends tradition with an innovative spirit,” said Richard Moe, president of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. “Visitors will discover an authentic snapshot of coastal living.”

Lobster is king in Rockland – from the harbor where visitors can watch a lobsterman dock to the world-famous Maine Lobster Festival, which occurs in August every year. Locals and visitors can shop and enjoy a bounty of local cuisines in a setting one block from the harbor on Rockland’s historic Main Street. Home to art galleries and a number of major events, the town hosts visitors with the North American Blues Festival in July, which includes two days of Grammy Award-winning music on the harbor, and the Maine Boats Homes & Harbors Show in August.

Highlights from the Trust:

Maine Lighthouse Museum educates the public on the history of American lighthouses and the role of the United States Coast Guard in maritime safety

• The historic Owl’s Head, Rockland Breakwater, and Marshall Point lighthouses still stand in the Rockland area and are open for tours.

• For 63 years the Maine Lobster Festival has celebrated Maine’s maritime tradition with over 1,000 community volunteers and 20,000 pounds of lobster

Rockland Harbor provides great opportunities for sailing and kayaking just off the coast of Maine.

The Strand Theatre offers film, live music, and stage performances and has been entertaining Rockland residents and visitors since 1923.

Farnsworth Art Museum houses a nationally recognized collection of works from many of America’s greatest artists including the work of three generations of the Wyeth family as well as the Farnsworth Homestead and the Olson House (made famous by Andrew Wyeth’s iconic painting, Christina’s World), both listed in the National Register of Historic Places.

And they didn’t even mention the Puffin Center, the National Historic District, the easily walkable downtown, the great inns, the restaurants that are gaining national attention, and, well you know me, I could go on and on.

So, what are you waiting for? Vote now, vote often!

Soup for you! and meat for me

January 9, 2010

Whenever I’m cruising to Sugarloaf from the coast, I have two must stops: Whitewater Farm, in New Sharon, and Soup for you! in Farmington.

Whitewater Farm doesn’t look like much from the road, it’s a ranch-style building with a bunch of truck-trailer boxes facing the parking area; on Route 27/2, between the 27 split south and the blinker in “downtown” New Sharon. Those trucks are for local farmers, who stock up on animal feed here. Many of those same farmers sell their meat, poultry, eggs, cheeses, and produce to the shop, which retails them to the public.

Now don’t go expecting some fancy market. Inside, freezers line the walls, each filled with specific products, including pork, lamb and goat, beef, veal, chicken, turkey, cranberries, rabbit, blueberries, ice cream and butter. In the refrigerator are the eggs, cheeses, milk, etc. Also here are dog chows and treats. Here’s a hint: the local chicken pot pies are really delicious, ideal to keep in the freezer or those what am I going to whip up tonight nights; and the maple sausage is really yummy.

Now, on to Soup for you!, a few doors up from Reny’s (another must stop, I must confess). Em Reeve concocts six fresh soups daily, including (and clearly noted) vegetarian, vegan, and gluten-free ones. I rarely get past the soups, but there also are made-to-order sandwiches and wraps, smoothies, and coffee drinks–including a full page menu of them.

Back to those soups, buy hot and fresh and dine in (or take out, sizes range 8 to 32 ounces, prices $3.39-$9.39). You can always ask for a sample taste, too; a nice plus. If the Thai peanut chili or mushroom marsala are on the menu, both are divine; love the chicken barley, too. Soup comes with fresh bread. Just note: cash only.

Sea & ski & slide for the roses

January 1, 2010

If you’re one of the many skiers and snowboarders who really don’t need a humongous resort, miles of trails, high-speed lifts, and the prices that go with, then you might want to check out Camden Snow Bowl, in coastal Camden, a town better known among yachtsmen than skiers.

The Snow Bowl exists in a time warp, with a vintage A-frame base lodge and retro food and ticket prices. The reward for riding the pokey chair or creaky T-bars is a cruise down nautically named trails that ebb and flow down the 950-foot vertical, delivering glimpses of island-salted Penobscot Bay. In addition to skiing and riding, the town-owned Snow Bowl has terrain and tubing parks,  a toboggan chute, and ice skating on Hosmer Pond.

After this weekend’s storm, it’s bound to have great conditions. As is its toboggan chute, home to the annual North American Tobogganing Championships (registration is still open for this year’s 20th annual slide for the roses). The championships, held the first weekend in February, is the winter wing-ding in Camden.

Image from Camden Snow Bowl.

Bacon truffles?

December 31, 2009

I took my friend Kayt Sukel, a Germany-based freelance writer covering travel and food (She travels with her son Chet and contributes to TravelSavvyMom, check it out, among other places) on a foodie tour of Portland’s East End, yesterday, stopping in at my favorite haunts.

We began with lunch at Duckfat: fries (of course!). Now Kayt’s a worldly traveler, and she thought these among the best she’s ever tasted. “It’s the seasoning,” she said. And I agree. It’s just perfect.In addition,  I had the tomato-fennel soup, Kayt the smoked squash soup special (which she proclaimed I must have the next time it’s on the menu–consider that an in-the- know recommendation).

Next stop, DeansSweets, across the street. We sampled an in-the-testing-stage bacon truffle. Dean thinks it needs more smokiness, perhaps more salt. We agreed on the smokiness, not sure about the salt. Most of Dean’s truffles are not only nut free (actually all are nut free), but also gluten free, which allowed Kayt to buy some for a gluten-sensitive relative who always seems to miss out on the goodies.

Then we perused Rabelais‘ books, where I requested For all the Tea in China, by friend Sarah Rose and due out in March. It’s an industrial espionage story about tea (I kid you not). Should be a good read; watch for it.

Off to Two Cats: Me, a chocolate-chip cookie (of course); Kayt, a whoppie pie.

From there, we waddled off to Micucci‘s, where the line for Stephen’s pizza rivaled that for Duckfat’s fries. I stocked up on some necessities (prosciutto—is this the only place in the state that knows how to slice it?) and purchased some right-of-the-oven luna bread for each of us to take home (love that stuff).

Final tour stop: Homegrown Herb and Tea. I love this li’l place that’s so clearly without either a caffeine or sugar buzz. It exudes good karma. R.E.L.A.X., sip, enjoy, chill. And do order the kava kava January special made with lavendar and coconut milk and cocoa and too many other good tastes. Mmmmm. And home we went, me armed with Bresca blend tea and lavender shortbread and Kayt with a sniffle remedy for a Saturday bride with a red nose. Sarah can whip up a tea for any malady; I swear by her migraine tea.

Missing Ocean Wood? Consider these

December 28, 2009

Now none of these can replace Ocean Wood, Mike Brunton’s campground on the the Schoodic Peninsula that closed after last summer. But, if you’re looking for a place to pitch your tent or park your pop-up, pick-up or small RV on the coast, a campground with few frills but big natural assets, consider these:

Recompence Shores Campsites, Freeport: An eco-sensitive campground that’s part of Wolfe’s Neck Farm (you know, kid-friendly farm animals for petting and educational programs). That aside, there are 175 wooded tent sites, a few with hook-ups, spread along three miles of tidal Casco Bay shoreline, far from the frenzy that’s downtown Freeport.

Hermit Island Campground, Phippsburg: Start planning now to snag one of these 275 tenting and pick-up sites.  Why? The location, on a causeway-linked, 2455-acre island at the tip of the Phippsburg peninsula, south of Bath. There are open and wooded sites, but no-hookups. Pluses include seven private beaches and hiking trails.

Old Quarry Ocean Adventures Campground, Stonington: A possibility, although it’s probably far busier than most Ocean Wood devotees would prefer, as it’s also the headquarters for Old Quarry’s kayak/boat/bike etc adventures. Still, the camping sites are away from the madness, and no vehicles are allowed near the wooded and/or oceanfront campsites, all with tenting platforms. Only three with RV hook-ups.

Mt Desert Campground, Somesville, Mount Desert: This one’s a gem, at the head of Somes Sound on Mount Desert Island. It has 152 tent sites in the woods and along the shoreline. Electrical hook-ups are available, but no trailers allowed that are longer than 20 feet.

Mainayr Campground, Steuben: In the Ayr family since 1958, this well-off-the-beaten-path campground has 35 tenting and RV sites on tidal Joy Cove. Nothing fancy or fussy. Just good ole campin’, with Ayr family stories perhaps shared around the campfire.

Cobscook Bay State Park, Edmunds Township: One of the crown camping jewels in Maine’s state park system. There are 106 sites in the woods, in the fields, and along the shore line of this spectacular 888-acre chunk of real estate. Raw. Remote. Gorgeous.

New Year’s Eve in Belfast

December 26, 2009

Maine, that is.

The Belfast Bay Inn and Suites has a sweet New Year’s eve package that includes a champagne toast and hors d’oeuvres, breakfast delivered to your room or suite (no need to get out of your jammies if nursing a holiday hangover), a $20 gift certificate to the inn’s lovely Molly Amber gift shop, and a gift from the innkeepers, all for $110 per person, per night (two-night minimum). See my review of this inn in the current issue of maine. magazine (short version: it’s a gem, elegant and comfortable, with five-star service).

Staying here puts you smack dab in the middle of downtown Belfast (a town that gives definition to the term cool) and at the heart of its New Year’s by the Bay festivities: music, theater, artists, waterfront bonfire, fireworks and more.

207 winter escapes

December 16, 2009

Looking to escape the holiday craziness? Want to chill and enjoy winter’s chill? Steal away to one of these inns I recommended on the WCSH-TV show 207. Quite a few have special packages, so be sure to check the web sites.

The Crocker Pond House, Bethel: Perfect for those who might want to do some early-season skiing at Sunday River. Lovely, owner/architect designed Shingle-style home in rural woods. Skate on the pond, cross-country ski on the trail by the river, snowshoe the trails from the backyard. Family friendly. $125 two nights, $150 one night, includes full breakfast.

Belfast Bay Inn & Suites, Belfast: Smack downtown, so it’s well situated for browsing Belfast’s boutiques and galleries and for strolling around to admire holiday decorations. Suites are elegantly furnished, and most have near-full kitchens that are well equipped. The owners have thought of everything; they even deliver a full, hot breakfast to your suite in the morning. $158-228

Inn on the Harbor, Stonington: Talk about away from it all! The inn is built over the island-dotted harbor, providing a front-row seat on any boating activity. Wonderful preserves for winter walking, artisans’s studios to visit. In winter, meals are available. $65-$110, $135 for a two-bedroom apartment with full kitchen; includes light breakfast.

West Quoddy Station, Lubec: It might not be the end of the world, but you can see it from here. A once-abandoned Coast Guard Lifesaving Station on West Quoddy Head that’s been renovated into efficiencies and a rental house. Walk the trails, stock up on Monica’s chocolates and Quoddy Mist sea salt. Studios and one-bedroom units: $80-95; four-bedroom house with full kitchen, $200.

Camden Harbour Inn, Camden: A hip, contemporary, luxurious oasis in Camden. Victorian on the outside, chic inside, without a hint of Victorian frou frou. Short stroll to downtown shops and restaurants. $175–$375, including a full champagne breakfast and all-day snacks.

Midweek steal at the Camden Harbour Inn

November 24, 2009

The way-cool Camden Harbour Inn, home to Natalie’s, one of Maine’s best tables, has a midweek, nonholiday off-season promo that’s a steal.

The Midweek Promo, available through May 2010, includes a room, a three-course dinner at Natalie’s, and a full champagne breakfast. Price is best available, with rates beginning at $109 pp.

Also included are the inn’s (not-so-) standard amenities:

• Welcome Prosecco upon arrival

• Complimentary wireless internet

• Complimentary in-room coffee, tea, and Poland spring water

• Turndown service including handmade premium Belgium chocolates

• Complimentary Portland Press Herald newspaper every morning

• Complimentary coffee, tea, pastries and snacks in the lounge (Baked treats from the chef, yum)

• Complimentary selection of magazines, books and newspapers in the lounge (I found quite a few good reads).

• Complimentary DVD library including the latest movies (again, good titles)

The fine print: Promotion is based on availability and excludes taxes, gratuity (20% for dinner will be added), & alcoholic drinks.