Most years we take a “summer” vacation in late-June or early/mid-September. The shoulder seasons usually offers the best weather, the smallest crowds and some decent deals on hotels/vacation rentals. Our top destination is Nantucket, of course, followed closely by Bar Harbor, Maine. As 2015 has been a very different year in many ways (pastry school, baking internships, apartment in Somerville, Sam’s new job, etc.) it followed that our summer break would take a different direction. Time and money constraints dictated the length (4 days/3 nights) and the place (within 3 hour drive). I considered Providence & Newport, RI, the outer Cape and Western MA. In the end we decided to a) stay in our comfort zone and b) visit a bunch of places on our to-try list; a mini road trip north to visit bakeries, drink craft beer and visit a couple of art museums. We’d cram in a summer vacation’s worth of fun into a few days.
Day 1 – Slow start on a somewhat dreary Friday morning. Rte. 133 to Rte. 1A to Mad Martha’s on Plum Island. This tiny little breakfast & lunch place has been on the list for years. Always seemed just too far to drive for a quick meal, but a perfect first stop on our way to Portsmouth, NH. Experience was fabulous. Think cute little greasy spoon on the beach with the food two levels above what you’d expect including an interesting and fresh fruit side, turkey bacon, chicken sausage and delicious Portuguese rolls for the breakfast sandwiches. Service was quick and friendly. Definitely not too far and you can take a walk on the beach after breakfast, always a bonus. From Plum Island into downtown Newburyport for a stroll around town, some window shopping and to pick up a couple of Eat Cake! cupcakes to try later in the evening. A 45 minute drive found us in Portsmouth, arriving for an early check in at The Hotel Portsmouth.
This was our favorite hotel of the trip, bigger than a B&B, smaller than a traditional hotel. Modern nautical decor, walking distance to downtown and a quiet room on the 3rd floor = ideal accommodations. We had an excellent late lunch at Row 34, where Sam fell in love with Stumptown Coffee, and then indulged in the mandatory late day hotel room rest before heading out for the evening.
Earth Eagle Brewings was by far the most fun stop of the trip. A tiny little “brewery & gastropub” with what appears to be a very devoted and large local following. We got lucky and landed two seats at the bar. The beer was phenomenal and they offered snacks, including goldfish, for $2 per pint glass. This is an ingenious idea, an inexpensive little something to have with a drink without investing the money and calories in an appetizer. Bartenders were fast and friendly, even on a busy night.
Friday night = pizza night. Dinner was at Flatbread Co. It was quiet at 9:30 and the pizza was awesome. Can’t beat wood fired crust, ever. We ended the evening with the Eat Cake! cupcakes, a Butterfinger and a lemon raspberry. The cake was moist and the frosting was sweet and light. Enjoyed both.
Day 2 – As one might imagine, we weren’t super hungry in the morning and having many more culinary stops on the trip we sampled the light complimentary breakfast at the hotel before checking out and heading north to Portland, ME. Prior to getting to Portland proper we stopped in South Portland at Scratch Baking Co. If I were to open my dream business it would look a lot like Scratch, from the decor and product to the outgoing staff and quiet neighborhood location. A bagel, a scone and a cookie walked out with us, sadly leaving behind the homemade ring ding and almond croissant that wanted to come too. I completely understand why they sell out of bagels almost every weekend morning. That good. Scone and cookie were that good too. I would say that this is one of those places that would be worth the trip a of couple times per year from out of state.
It was time to get a little culture in our lives so we headed straight to the Portland Museum of Art. We love this museum, the building, the size, the layout, the special exhibits. A few very well spent hours admiring the art, seeing some new pieces and visiting our favorites. Lunch was at Dutch’s and the avocado toast and fried chicken biscuit sandwich were out of this world, so were the tater tots. Love me some tots. Unfortunately they were out of doughnuts, next time. Side note – we walked in and were put off by the no doughnuts, limited weekend sandwich selection and odd decor/atmosphere, walking right back out. Given few options in the area we went back in and were so glad we did. It was a beautiful day and there were two more bakeries I was determined to visit as they were closed on Sundays. Ten Ten Pie and Tandem Coffee. Ten Ten Pie was a bit of a walk and seemed to be on the outskirts of an “up and coming” neighborhood. It was a smallish, homey place and selection was limited but we did enjoy the praline macaron and kouign amann pastry. Tandem Coffee was on the way to the hotel, located in an old remodeled gas station. The inside was as cool as the outside and the pistachio cake and coconut tea cake were moist, full of flavor and had the perfect loaf cake crumb. Their house made rosemary limeade was sweet, tart perfection. Highly recommended and now on the to visit again list.
Home for the night was the Portland Harbor Hotel. A bigger hotel than last night and not as newly renovated. Couldn’t beat the location, but it was pricey and despite paying for an interior courtyard room we could still hear the neighborhood nightlife. Keeping with our craft beer quest we had a couple of beers and a pretzel at Liquid Riot Bottling Company, a brewery and distillery that had somehow escaped our attention for the last three years. Great space, good beer, horrid service. You win some, you lose some. Later that night we had a small, impromptu dinner at MAPS. A very lively, tiny beer/wine bar that has a great jukebox and serves two things – cake and grilled cheese. We had beer (Maine Lunch) and traditional grilled cheese with blueberry jam on Portuguese bread. Yum and yay! for vacation.
Day 3 – In light of the last night’s “light” dinner we wanted real breakfast. AFTER a stop for doughnuts. We’ve been to Portland many times but only recently learned where those in the know go to worship on Sunday mornings. The Holy Donut. Doughnuts made with Maine potatoes and, given their taste and texture, a whole lotta love. Small, fun, clean shop with a line 15 minutes prior to opening, despite the drizzle and early hour. We tried a blueberry, maple and dark chocolate sea salt. I almost ate them all by myself but decided I couldn’t deny Sam his share of this deep fried sugary goodness.
We then walked several blocks to Marcy’s Diner. Apparently it’s famous. I had heard the story but didn’t make the connection. The food was fantastic, especially the hash browns, and as an added bonus the waitress reprimanded Sam for looking at the menu for too long, telling him it was time to decide. This place is serious. Love it. After checking out of the hotel we decided to skip the last few places on our Portland list as we had hit our bakery testing max. North to Rockport with a short detour to LL Bean in Freeport was the agenda for the first part of the day. The drive up Route 1 was lovely, the lines for lobster rolls at Red’s Eats was long. Glad we had tried them on a previous trip on a weekday. Slightly peckish but not needing lunch we did something we never do,stopped at a Circle K for drinks and snacks. I got Frito’s and Sam got a Starbucks drink in a can. We regretted both later but hey, vacation is for making bad food choices, no? Our final night was going to be spent at Glen Cove Inn & Suites. Not our usual standard for accommodations, but again 2015 was an unusual year and funds are tight. It was recently updated, clean enough and quiet. The reason for this destination was it’s proximity to Rockland where we had dinner reservations at Primo, one of, if not the, best restaurants in Maine, a James Beard award winner and organic garden to table concept. Before another big meal we were in desperate need of some exercise. Sam spotted a walkable breakwater within a short drive on the map. We walked out to the Rockland Breakwater Light and back in the fog and drizzle, enjoying the sound of the water, fresh sea air and sharing our walk with very few other visitors.
It is a well known fact in my culinary circles that I’m a savage with a terribly unsophisticated palate. I like Doritos and Oreo’s, would eat pizza, sandwiches or cookies for every meal and won’t touch beets, mayo or brussell spouts. I’ll eat off of roadside food carts if the food is amazing and feel slightly to very uncomfortable in white tablecloth restaurants. So it wasn’t a complete surprise to me that I didn’t love Primo. Our waitress was a bit stiff and awkward, our fellow diners were horrible people with too much money and while the food was all uber fresh and on-premise local it didn’t make me want to run back, unlike Sarma, Picco and Myers & Chang, all places I could go again and again. I did enjoy my meal, especially the lobster and pea risotto and the bread was perfect, which as a baker makes my heart sing. Sam’s entree was better than mine and the only dish captured on film. Ambiance was lovely and the hostess was gracious, professional and friendly. Overall I’m glad we went but it was a very expensive one-time dining experience.
Day 4 – The realization that vacation was coming to an end was settling in. Before succumbing to the real life blahs we decided to make our final day a fun one. Breakfast at Home Kitchen Cafe, known for one of my all time favorites, the cinnamon bun. It’s a popular place with a wait for a table, on or off season. We split a cinnamon bun and tried a couple of the breakfast sandwiches. The brioche was great and the amount of icing was perfect but it was really lacking in cinnamon/sugar/butter filling resulting in a somewhat dry, not sweet enough bun. Not the end of the world, but disappointing.
We weren’t disappointed at all in the Farnsworth Museum in Rockland. Our first visit, but certainly not our last. In addition to the main building there’s an additional gallery in an old church across the street. Beautiful art in beautiful buildings. We learned quite a bit about the Wyeth’s, including that we enjoyed their work much more in person than in pictures. Small, well curated museums are such a treasure and a treat to visit. More than worth the price of admission.
We headed south around 1 pm with a planned stop in Ocean Park, Maine. The idea was to get lunch at the Soda Fountain or grocery store deli and see the memorial brick dedicated to my mom on the walkway to the Ocean Park library. We saw the brick, I love it and hope she would have liked it too, but the Soda Fountain and grocery store were closed. Such is one’s luck on the last day of vacation. A sunny afternoon perfect for driving the Jeep saw us home.
Three hotels, two museums, too many bakeries, just enough craft beers, one long lighthouse walk and about 500 miles of driving. Whirlwind trip leaving us needing…a vacation.