Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Part One: The Maine Chronicles, or, Does Coleslaw Count as a Vegetable?

Spent much of the last month travelling, most recently in Bruce's ancestral homeland, Maine, which, over the last decade, has burst forth in the most dangerous traffic circles I've ever seen. Mercifully, we survived--and ate.

Day One: Seven hours on the bus, get through Portland as quickly as possible, and head to Bayley's Lobster Pound

on Pine Point, our traditional first stop. We ordered two shrimp rolls, two lobster, and two crab. The rolls themselves are much sturdier than the standard Maine roll; they would probably hold up well to meatball parm. That said, the meat in each roll is fresh and sparkles with salinity. These are not overstuffed, ridiculous NY-style lobster rolls. (Never thought I'd see the day I typed NY-style lobster roll. I was once amused at Bruce's father's gobsmackedness when we told him that, no, you couldn't get a lobster roll in New York. That's all changed, of course; you can get them everywhere, if you're willing to pay thirty dollars or so for a ton of lobster salad that dwarves the butter-grilled bun to the point where it looks like a damned crouton. Further aside: I don't like the idea of being able to get all foods all the time everywhere. I want to eat poutine on Old Orchard Beach, not Orchard Street.*) You can walk with a Maine lobster roll, and don't need a fork to eat it. All the rolls were under eight bucks. The shrimp roll was three.

Day Two: Wake up starving. By the time we get out the door, however, all the local joints have stopped serving breakfast and haven't starting serving lunch. Drive to the roadside stand at Higgins Beach for sustenance and, due to a breakdown in domestic communications (I wanted a doughnut), we wind up with a bag of white chocolate-macadamia cookies, which hold us until My Favorite Restaurant in the World opens at eleven. Ken's makes the best fried clams ever, which will become a bit of a sore point as the trip rolls on. This time, at least, I agree with Bruce that perhaps it's a bit early to hit the Frialator, and order a breakfast of clam chowder, clam cakes, and Maine's own Shipyard Brewing Company's Pumpkinhead Ale, which almost made feel me as though I were drinking something healthy.

The ordering system is typical of Maine seafood houses. Place your order at one window, take a receipt with your order number and pickup window on it, and wait to be called. The time never passes slowly; there's always a little sideshow to watch. For example, there were a disconcerting number of senior couples drinking chocolate milk with their fried clams. Most peculiar.

Breakfast is deeply satisfying. The clam cakes are plain and dowdy in a thoroughly Maine way, chewy with clams in a dense almost-pancakish batter. Ken's chowder threw me for a loop, something I've come to expect at Ken's. The chowder was among the best I've ever had: no flour, no filler, no garlic, mercifully, but lots of floury potatoes, clams, pork, and dairy goodness. I'll have to add it to list of must-haves at Ken's, which is growing problematically long. Bruce and I have finally figured why this place never makes it into food magazines. No dock. Scenic view of the parking lot. Needless to say, I am fine with this.

P.S. We returned for dinner, for lobster rolls, Bruce nixing a shared order of fried clams. I am growing restive.
*According to today's NY Times loony L.L. Bean descendant Linda Bean is buying up lobster wharfs in the hope of establishing lobster-roll franchises across the nation. She wants to change the name of lobster claws to lobster cuddlers, as the word claws sounds "scary." Great. First the lobster roll was tarted up beyond recognition by New York chefs; now it's going to be dumbed down into a McBean Cuddler. Head north and get the real thing while you still can. Or make your own; more on that later.


lovesbrian12 said...

Great article! Loved the travel commentary mixed in with the food review. Oh, and coleslaw definitely counts as a vegetable.

Anonymous said...

This made my mouth water - now I want to jump in the car and head straight up to Maine. And there is NO doubt that coleslaw is a vegetable - if it's raw and it crunches, it qualifies, regardless of the amount of mayo involved.

Mags said...

Yum!! Makes me want to jump in the car and head straight to Maine. And of course coleslaw is a vegetable - if it's raw and it crunches, it qualifies.

Anonymous said...

May I add that the pictures were mouth-watering in themselves. A tribute!

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I'm a ninth-generation Brooklyn native living in Manhattan.