Lobster rolls, saltwater, and best friends. That’s all you needed to convince me to spend a week in Portland, Maine.
I’ve never been to New England and have always been intrigued with it ever since Gilmore Girls and dreams of towns like Stars Hollow (I fancied myself Rory even though I realize now, I’m more like Lorelai). Side note: if you’re not at excited as I am for the Gilmore Girls revival, think long and hard about your life, consider binge watching before November, and then get back to me. You won’t be disappointed, trust.
Straight off the plane, I went to Tandem Coffee + Bakery, in the West End of Portland. Tandem Coffee Roasters started in 2012, by husband and wife team, Will and Kathleen Pratt. In 2014, they opened Tandem Coffee + Bakery, off Congress Avenue. The space offers spots with beautiful, natural light and the scent of fresh baked goods and coffee every morning. Hence, why I started the next three mornings off here.
The countdown to lobster rolls in New England started as soon as I booked tickets for Portland. After Tandem, a trip to Eventide Oyster Co. was in order. Sitting at the bar, the charming bartender offered up fresh oysters, and all kinds of rolls. But, that lobster roll, y’all. For a Texan, obsessed with food, especially seafood, this was the holy mecca. Every piece was smothered with clarified butter on top of a perfectly toasted bun, I devoured that lobster roll in maybe three bites.
After walking through the Eastern Promenade at sunset, dinner at Drifters Wife was a perfect way to end the night. Several husband and wife teams, like Peter and Orenda Hale, have moved from the hustle and bustle of Brooklyn up to Portland, to open such businesses as their adorable wine shop/wine bar. Bon Appétit just named Drifters Wife as one of the Best New Restaurants in 2016, fittingly. Dinner was delightful, to say the least, with daily dinner selections of pickled vegetables (pickled anything wins my heart!) and homemade hummus plus an adventurous wine selection. After buying a lovely Austrian rosé, it was time to call it a night.
The next morning was spent at Tandem again, with a slice of their wonderful pistachio cake to start the day. Lunch was spent in downtown Portland, at the revered Duckfat, known for their fries and delicious sandwiches. I had some of the best tour guides for Portland, Sarah Rahl and Jay Gosh. I’ve known both for quite some time since we used to work at Four Seasons together. Ever since I met Sarah, I told her of my dreams to visit Maine, especially her hometown of Kennebunk. Last summer, her parents visited Austin and I promised them that I’d visit the following summer. The girls and I went to Maine Craft Distilling and adjacent Rising Tide Brewing Company for some local libations. Maine’s craft brewing and spirits distilleries are quite impressive, with a variety all over the coast.
Dinner at Fore Street was delightful, back in downtown Portland (dinner reservations fill up quickly and we were lucky enough to find a spot in their bar area). Their dinner selection changes daily but some of my favorites were the pork belly and local heirloom tart with goat cheese. Drinks at Portland Hunt & Alpine Club (best known for their craft cocktails) as well as Maps (decent beer & wine list, very kitschy indeed) ended the night with plans for a lobster boil the next day.
The next day was spent in Kennebunk, about a half hour from Portland. The Rahl’s were kind enough to extend an invitation to their lovely home for a lobster boil. Learning of where your friends come from is always insightful. Sarah’s been a fixture at Four Seasons for quite a few years, working her way up to head bartender in the Lobby Lounge. During her summers, she worked in fine dining and tourist packed joints learning the tricks of the trade of the service industry. She spent her undergrad at Lynchburg College followed by a stint at Ithaca, then serendipitously moved to Austin and found herself back in food & beverage. After waiting tables at Barton Creek Resort, a bartender spot opened at Four Seasons in April 2013, where she worked her way up to the position of creating the majority of the cocktails, which helped her get back into the creative world in an unexpected way. “My favorite part of bartending is the chance to be creative again and the fact that I’m not sitting behind a desk all day”, Rahl muses as we drank wine on the sprawling green acres of her parent’s land. Along with her time at Four Seasons, Rahl has invested in local craft brewery, Lazarus Brewing. She hopes to spend more time in the craft brewing and cocktail world that Austin has to offer.
Lunch was spent over a table full of family, love, lobsters, and all the clarified butter I could handle. Afterwards, we spent time outside with Zuzu (her parents’ goofy standard poodle) and made our way to Kennebunkport (yes, there’s a difference between Kennebunk and Kennebunkport, any native will let you know, and yes it sounds like we were traveling through towns in Harry Potter) to spend the sunset on a boat off the coast.
Maine was full of delicious food, refreshing drinks, amazing friends, and unforgettable memories. Portland is a true gem and I cannot wait to go back. After all, I didn’t get to Holy Donut, I’ll be back for it soon enough.