Cape Elizabeth in Twin Lights State Park.
Thrilling as it may be discover a new destination, to stumble across unexpected corners of a foreign city, there’s something equally rewarding about returning to the same spot year after year. You build up a relationship with the place, internally noting how it changes with the passing of time. Favorite finds become familiar haunts and neither map nor smartphone is required to navigate them. Eventually, you develop an irrational sense of ownership, as if this town or seashore or patch of woods somehow belongs more to you than to other travelers who know it less intimately.
I do not have many places like this. Part of me is anxious about all the things I haven’t seen and feels guilty about returning to one in particular. It’s the moral equivalent of rereading a beloved book when I could/should be tackling that new nonfiction paperback on my desk.
The exception to the rule is Maine. My family's annual road trip through the state has been repeated so often as to verge on ritual. And while I’m excited to try the new restaurant in town or to see how certain areas have blossomed, I’m also content to stop at the same stretches of coastline that haven’t changed in eons. It feels like a homecoming of sorts, even if it’s to a place I have never lived.
For this past Christmas, at a time when no one in their right mind goes to the beach, my family took a drive up to the shimmering sand flats and bramble-blanketed dunes. We stayed in Portland, which retains a small-town vibe, despite being the largest city in Maine. It’s one of the more delicious places on this planet, with a restaurant-to-population ratio that would shame Paris. And while bare Edison bulbs, exposed brick, ironic tattoos and beards may be in abundance, it’s hard to scream about Brooklynification when the results are this good. Unlike a many places with these trappings, Portland never feels self-conscious about its coolness. There’s a lingering warmth, a refreshing lack of pretension, and a sense of community that makes it all feel genuine rather than trendy.
Even in December, Maine's coast is shamelessly photogenic.
The fact that a great many Bostonians will drive to this restaurant for dinner tells you a lot. That virtually all of the staff have stuck around since the joint launched more than a decade ago says even more. Seasonal, local and mostly cooked in a roaring, open hearth, meals here are the kind that guests end up gushing over months or even years later. On this latest visit, duckling cooked two ways—rare seared breast and confit leg—and a deceptively simple-sounding bluefish with potato gratin were standouts. The roasted mussels swimming in lemon-almond butter never leave the menu and they never should.
Standard Baking Co.
Savory loaves like these at Standard Baking Co. also feature at Fore Street.
These people work miracles with butter, sugar and gluten. Artisanal breads with crackling crusts, ethereal morning glory buns, crumbly scones studded with tart blueberries—I dare anyone to walk in the door and not leave cradling bags of carb-laden goodness.
All interior shots were too much of a blurry, grainy, whiskey-soaked mess.
Though this list is mostly dedicated to old favorites, I liked this newcomer so much that I decided to add it. The inventive small plates earned it a recent James Beard nomination and the drinks are pretty perfect. What won me over though was the staff, who were as friendly as could be despite the line out the door.
I want everything.
I’m more likely to splurge on a Le Creuset or a Japanese rice cooker than shoes, and this store is my kryptonite. They have every kitchen gadget a cooking geek could ever want and I’ve never, ever managed to leave empty handed.
Sherman’s Books & Stationery
Creative genre titles include this and and "not nonfiction."
Independent, well-run English-language bookstores are one of the things I miss most about my country. Sherman’s, both here and in Bar Harbor up the coast, is the kind of place where the staff have extensive recommendations on just about any genre.
Absurd as its premise might sound, this shop dedicated exclusively to salt is fun to browse. Aside from every sort of flavored salt imaginable, there are salt-centric cookbooks, salt slabs for cooking, sculptures, knick-knacks and an entire room full of glowing salt lamps. Should you need a gift for the amateur chef, yoga teacher or weird aunt (or yourself. Some of this stuff is pretty cool) in your life, but aren't planning a trip to Portland, you can always check out their online store.
The Holy Donut
I should preface this by saying the last time I ate doughnuts for breakfast was over a decade ago. These tender potato fritters are a far cry from your standard Krispy Kremes though. We ordered sweet potato-ginger, toasted coconut, cranberry-glazed and maple-bacon (my personal favorite)... which lasted less than 15 minutes. The doughnuts themselves are barely sweet, which helps balance out the sugary glaze. Though the place was absolutely mobbed when we visited, the staff couldn't have been friendlier. I wrote more about this here.
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