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Mid-Coast Maine

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Melissa Kelly is the Executive Chef and proprietor of Primo, a 7-year-old restaurant in Rockland, Maine--about 75 miles or two hours northeast of Portland. Kelly is the 1999 James Beard Foundation Awards winner of the American Express Best Chef, Northeast Award. Her husband, Price Kushner, serves as bakery/pastry chef. She is profiled in Michael Ruhlman's new book, The Reach of A Chef. She also owns Primo Restaurants in Orlando, Florida and Tucson, Arizona.

My wife and I had dinner at Primo last Tuesday night while on vacation in Maine. It was superb--one of the best meals we've had all year. The restaurant is located in an old farmhouse, on a small bluff overlooking the southern end of Rockland Harbor (about a mile south of downtown). There are number of small dining rooms, located on both and first and second floors. We sat at a two-top in the front room on the first floor. On the property are a number of gardens, providing a number of fresh ingredients used in Primo's cooking. While the restaurant was chock full of customers by Tuesday evening, it never became too noisy or uncomfortable.

For appetizers, I had the oysters two ways and Sara had the salad. The oysters reminded me of the oysters three ways at Restaurant August in New Orleans--I found them to be even better. Both served in their shells, the Pemaquids were roasted in the wood oven with red pepper basil butter; the Sudsbury oysters were fried with green coriander and corn relish. The corn in the latter preparation was by itself incredibly tender and flavorful. My wife had the salad of red lettuces with black mission figs, rosemary almonds, and a Gorgonzola dolce crostini with balsamic fig vinagrette.

Our amuse was a shot of gazpacho (which was also used in other dishes on the menu).

For entrees, I had the wood grilled Cayuga duck breast served with a hazelnut farrotto, lemon thyme and scallions, roast beets, and a wild blueberry gastrique. Sara had a special, blackfish (called toehog locally) with yellow tomato gazpacho, carolina rice with coriander oil, and peekytoe crab fritters. The duck, served medium rare, was among the moistest I've been served.

Desserts. Wow! I had the affogato with zeppole, my wife had an evening special, the profiteroles with peanut butter gelato, peanut brittle sauce and chocolate. The zeppoles rivaled beignets I've had in New Orleans. And the affogato was rich and giant, completely unfinishable after such a large meal.

Our server had worked at Primo for four years, certainly someone personally invested in the restaurant. She took care of us terrifically, ready with helpful recommendations about the menu to lead us inpleasing directions.

The restaurant also has a well-designed cocktail and wine list. I'd say that the wine list is about 75-80% Old World, with a nice choice by the glass as well as some half bottles. I had the Question Mark to begin the evening, made with Maker's Mark. I managed to find a small producer California pinot noir by the glass with dinner. And enjoyed a glass of house-made limoncello with dessert. They fixed up my pregnant wife with a lovely 'maternity cocktail' to start the evening and she had an enormous chai with dessert.

Overall, the food struck me as tremendously sophisticated. Not sophisticated in an arrogant sort of way or in the use of lots of foams and new-fangeled cooking methods and presentations, but in its emphasis on fresh ingredients that speak to the palate in harmony with one another.

One thing I did notice is that those with late reservations or late walk-ins were left waiting in the entry foyer for tables to clear. Pacing at Primo is rather relaxed, which is wonderful for those dining, but may potentially lead to waits later in the evening. Our reservation was at 6:30 pm and we were seated promptly.

A final observation: Both my wife and I were struck by the enormity of choices at a small restaurant. Inclusing specials, there were no less than 12 appetizers, 2 pastas, 9 entrees, and 15 dessert choices. Other appetizer choices included foie gras, soup, 2 additional salads, and wood fired pizza with duck confit. Other entree choices included lamb 2 ways, pork saltimbocca (the house specialty), wood roasted bronzino, and pan-seared scallops.

Primo is a restaurant around which we'd build another visit to the Maine coast!

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Michael Ruhlman's "The Reach of a Chef" has an interesting profile of the restaurant Primo in Rockland, ME. It sounds like an interesting place (it has its own garden for vegetables) that might be worth the drive.

Melissa Kelly's work is very ingredient driven. I have yet to visit Primo but did go to The Old Chatham Sheepherding Company while she was chef.

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6. Camden is the most beautiful city that we visited without question, when I buy a summer home, you will probably find me there. We went on a schooner trip, the Surprise, and we loved it.

Camden is a jewel without a doubt. I worked there 2 summers ago and think of the town often. If you're going back this summer, check out my 2 haunts. One's Boynton-McKay, which is a coffee shop that does breakfast and lunch, which are really quite good. The coffee at the place is amazing, and I usually managed to come out with one of their baked goodies. They had a strawberry coffee cake which I still remember, yum. The other is Francine (forgo Natalie's, just go straight to Francine). I preferred the atmosphere of Francine to Primo's and the service, but from what I recall, I think Primo's food was a little above Francine. I only ate here a few times since my miserable paycheck didn't really allow for more, but when I head back there, I make a point to put it in my schedule (not Primo's, heh). Their cocktails are quite good, their steak frites are to do die for, but the place is SMALL. I think maybe 35 people can fit in there at a time, including the bar and the outside tables. It's worth the wait however :blink:

Francine Bistro

55 Chestnut St

Camden, ME 04843

phone: 207-230-0083

Boyton-McKay

30 Main St

Camden, ME

207-236-2465

(closed on Mondays)

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This was the second time we've been to Red's Eats in Wiscasset. They still have great lobster rolls, but we were surprised by how good their fried clams were. The batter was unlike anything else we had in Maine and the Maritime provinces. A savory beignet batter, like I had growing up in Cajun land. Kind of hard to describe. Melt in the mouth!

After recent, extensive taste testing, I thought Red's Eats had the best lobster roll in New England. Only minor flaw was that it was served a little too chilled. Should have tried those clams!

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The Newcastle Publick House in Newcastle, Maine, was the find of our recent trip. My brother was unhappy with his burger, but when you're in a place that smokes its own turkey, ham, and pork, what the heck are you doing ordering a burger?? The pulled pork was AWESOME--I'm still dreaming about it. The haddock chowder is redolent with bacon and butter and fish, and so tasty that I ordered it on both our visits. The local oysters were sublime; they're served with a yummy lemon-leek relish, but resist using as an oyster topping because it really overwhelms their delicate flavor. Among the dessert offerings were cherry, apple, and blueberry pies. When we asked if they were made in house, the server said no :P , they're made at an organic farm down the road :( . The crusts were a little underdone for my taste, but they were all wonderful, especially the blueberry. Go here. Your tummy will thank you.

I also had a delicious brunch at Cafe This Way in Bar Harbor. House-made corned beef hash. Smoked haddock eggs benedict. Ham-stuffed french toast. Fabulous.

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We will be spending the first two weeks of July in Camden, ME and venturing up and down mid-coast Maine. Any recommendations?

Thanks

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We will be spending the first two weeks of July in Camden, ME and venturing up and down mid-coast Maine. Any recommendations?

Thanks

The Southern Maine thread has a few ideas -- because I've been delinquent in splitting things out correctly into Southern, Mid-Coast, and Down East; my former neighbors would have my head -- so that might give you a start if you read through it.

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The Southern Maine thread has a few ideas -- because I've been delinquent in splitting things out correctly into Southern, Mid-Coast, and Down East; my former neighbors would have my head -- so that might give you a start if you read through it.

Thanks very much. We will be a bit north of the southern coast. Basically, Brunswick to Castine but staying in Camden.

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Thanks very much. We will be a bit north of the southern coast. Basically, Brunswick to Castine but staying in Camden.

Yep -- check it out; the thread is not actually limited to southern Maine. You're motivating me to remedy this. :lol:

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Yep -- check it out; the thread is not actually limited to southern Maine. You're motivating me to remedy this. :lol:

Francine Bistro in Camden looks promising, but a guide to the mid-coast would be great. I would hate to just rely on Fodor's.

Thanks.

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Francine Bistro in Camden looks promising, but a guide to the mid-coast would be great. I would hate to just rely on Fodor's.

Thanks.

Yep -- it involves me going through that thread and figuring out what goes where. I promise it'll happen!

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Primo in Rockland is very good - dinner only, must reserve in advance, expensive. Damariscotta has a couple of pleasant places to eat - Newcastle Publick House and the Damariscotta River Grill. Both have good food and pleasant atmosphere and are not expensive. Francine Bistro gets good press but I've never been there. The Hannaford supermarket on business US 1 just north of Damariscotta is a great grocery if you'll have cooking facilities. The best ice cream in midcoast Maine is just up the road from them - Round Top. Be sure to stop there for a memorable treat!

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On the morning of September 11, 2001, I set off with my Irish terrier from the seaside cottage where we were staying in Rockport, to drive to Rockland to take the ferry to Vinalhaven, an island (and town) out in Penobscot Bay. After I started the car, of course, the radio came on and I became aware of some very unpleasant things that had happened earlier in the morning and were still happening. When I got to the ferry port, I used a pay-phone to call my mother to ask if she had heard from my sister, who worked in the World Trade Center, and was relieved to learn that my sister was vacationing in Italy. (It turned out everyone in her firm got out okay.) So thinking there was nothing I could contribute to the situation, I decided to proceed to Vinalhaven as planned. Anyone who was anywhere in the northeast United States that day will remember what an astonishingly beautiful day it was, and being on the ferry was wonderful, and Cassie, my dog, made all kinds of friends. After we landed, we walked along the main street (called Main Street) and came upon a little restaurant, nothing much to look at, that had a carryout window and advertised a fish chowder, among other things. Good fish chowder is among my favorite things to eat, and theirs, it turned out, was the best I ever had, even though eaten with a plastic spoon. Google tells me that the place was probably what is now and may have been then called Harbor Gawker, on Main Street in Vinalhaven.

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Primo in Rockland is very good - dinner only, must reserve in advance, expensive. Damariscotta has a couple of pleasant places to eat - Newcastle Publick House and the Damariscotta River Grill. Both have good food and pleasant atmosphere and are not expensive. Francine Bistro gets good press but I've never been there. The Hannaford supermarket on business US 1 just north of Damariscotta is a great grocery if you'll have cooking facilities. The best ice cream in midcoast Maine is just up the road from them - Round Top. Be sure to stop there for a memorable treat!

Thanks for the recs. Any ideas for Belfast and Castine?

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I mentioned this in the Portland Maine thread, because most of my trip was in Portland, but I felt that Primo was a bit overrated. If you are in that area for two weeks, you have to check it out, but if you only had one night for dinner up there, I would pass on it. It was good, and I have heard from others that they thought it was great, I just wouldn't have too high of expectations when going there, I think that is why we were disappointed.

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Thanks for the recs. Any ideas for Belfast and Castine?

Sorry, no. We spend the summer in South Bristol and never seem to make it that far north. :lol:

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We will be spending the first two weeks of July in Camden, ME and venturing up and down mid-coast Maine. Any recommendations?

Thanks

Having worked up in Camden a few summers ago, I give Francine a big thumbs up. I think there was another restaurant (something like Natalie's) which got more buzz, but the locals didn't like it, and since I hung out with the locals, ended up at Francine a number of times. Fantastic steak frites and great cocktails. If Boynton-McKay is still open, that place had great coffee and morning pastries (I really want their strawberry coffee cake recipe), and they did a mean breakfast too. I don't really remember any standouts from Belfast or other places, but since where I worked prepared 3 meals a day, I usually ate there (sadly :lol:)

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Having worked up in Camden a few summers ago, I give Francine a big thumbs up. I think there was another restaurant (something like Natalie's) which got more buzz, but the locals didn't like it, and since I hung out with the locals, ended up at Francine a number of times. Fantastic steak frites and great cocktails. If Boynton-McKay is still open, that place had great coffee and morning pastries (I really want their strawberry coffee cake recipe), and they did a mean breakfast too. I don't really remember any standouts from Belfast or other places, but since where I worked prepared 3 meals a day, I usually ate there (sadly :lol:)

Boynton-McKay has a pretty elaborate website, so it appears to be open and thriving. I will check out both of your recs.

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Boynton-McKay has a pretty elaborate website, so it appears to be open and thriving. I will check out both of your recs.

Moving up the coast a bit, has anyone eaten at Fiddler's Green, Red Sky, or Cafe 2 in Southwest Harbor?

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Moving up the coast a bit, has anyone eaten at Fiddler's Green, Red Sky, or Cafe 2 in Southwest Harbor?

Are any other Rockers going to Mid-Coast Maine this summer?

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Are any other Rockers going to Mid-Coast Maine this summer?

I'm there every summer - unfortunately not for the entire summer anymore, like when I was little, but for at least a month. My place up there looks out at SW Harbor, actually. I've been to Red Sky in SW Harbor and enjoyed it. If you venture in to SW, check out Sawyer's Market. Also Red Bird Provisions in NE Harbor, if they open this summer - I had heard that they might not. If travelling by boat, you could always try the Islesford Dock restaurant on Little Cranberry Island. Great view, and Cynthia and Dan gave me my first summer job back in the day!

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I'm there every summer - unfortunately not for the entire summer anymore, like when I was little, but for at least a month. My place up there looks out at SW Harbor, actually. I've been to Red Sky in SW Harbor and enjoyed it. If you venture in to SW, check out Sawyer's Market. Also Red Bird Provisions in NE Harbor, if they open this summer - I had heard that they might not. If travelling by boat, you could always try the Islesford Dock restaurant on Little Cranberry Island. Great view, and Cynthia and Dan gave me my first summer job back in the day!

Thanks for the tips. We plan to take the ferry from SW Harbor to both the Big and Little Cranberry Islands. We'll only be there for the first two weeks in July.

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Just returned from 17 days in Maine. Here are a few quick takes. Brunswick--Henry and Marty's. Much, much better than Back Street Bistro. Camden--Francine was a big disappointment--noisy, oversalted food, greens from a bag, all of our dining mates were also dismayed. Belfast--try the Belfast co-op. Wonderful organic grocery and restaurant. Southwest Harbor--three very good places from top to bottom: Fiddlers' Green, Red Sky, Cafe 2. We canceled our reservations at Primo in Rockland and Natalie's in Camden on the advice of locals who advised that they are expensive and overrated.

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Thanks for the tips. We plan to take the ferry from SW Harbor to both the Big and Little Cranberry Islands. We'll only be there for the first two weeks in July.

Keith,

We were unable to get to the CBIs because of fog. But we had three wonderful dinners in SW Harbor, and a great time in Acadia. We stayed at the Kingsley Inn. I f we go next year, we would stay at the Claremont.

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