More sunny tales of summer originally published in the Maine Sunday Telegram/Portland Press Herald in June, July and August of 2014.
There are many ways to enjoy culinary travel here in Maine. Take a cooking class with an expert. Take a “foodie tour” of a city, marketplace or specialty food producer. Or do your own thing — do-it-yourself touring. This summer, I’ve had fun with all three.
I’m on a high stool in a shiny teaching kitchen. There’s just enough here, hi-tech and low, to get the job done. There are 38 enthusiastic cooking-class participants, mostly women, and a sprinkling of men. Participants come from all over New England, although today, most are from Maine.
Today’s chef is Scott Jones and this is his “Love of Lemons” class. The fragrance of today’s lesson is definitely in the air, along with artichokes, berry cakes and several whole cooked chickens sending wonderful aromas into the large sunny room.
Jones, a Mainer, studied at the venerable Johnson and Wales where he was awarded the prestigious Cordon Bleu Medal — classy guy. He tells me that this is the 6th anniversary of Stonewall cooking school. “This is an exciting time,” he says, “we will have taught as many as 50,000 people by now.”
Today’s lesson begins with artichoke and lemon fritto misto. The fried lemons are a crisp surprise. A pistachio and lemon pesto follows along with a peppering of foodie questions, like, “Does anybody know what ‘fritto misto’ means?’” I keep my mouth shut, but honestly, the questions are light and friendly as an airy tempura.
There will be spatchcocked chicken with garlic, thyme and, you guessed it, more lemon. It smells amazing in here. Nice touch: The handsome sous chef, Mike, is shredding the chicken — a thoughtful touch, since 88% of the assembled are women, coo coo ca-choo. I wonder where Mike got that tan.
Wine by the glass is also a convivial touch, and the wine selections are respectable — three whites, three reds, four beers and one sparkling Chandon. Saratoga sparkling water seems an odd choice, hm. I would politely suggest that Stonewall consider stocking some Maine wines and Maine sparkling water. Why not?
Stonewall is a teaching-and-eating kitchen, set with attractive flatware, dishes and serveware. Nice. You do not forget for a minute that this is part of a vast commercial enterprise, but you don’t care—there is no pressure to purchase anything.
Stonewall cooking school is a watch-and-learn experience, not a participatory one. But it is friendly, instructive and I learned a lot. I proudly confess that Stonewall’s spatchcocked lemon chicken is now my go-to, show-off dish.
“Succulent!” says my brother-in-law, Willie. And he’s right. •
Maine Foodie Tours: Bar Harbor
The Wabanakis, original foodies, discovered that this beautiful place was perfect for clam harvesting and clambakes. They left enormous shell piles or “middens” as evidence. And the rest, as they say, is history.
A foodie tour is a great way to get to know a place. If you’re lucky, you’ll get a great guide like Della Sainty, who manages to infuse local history and food lore with modern trends and local products. We begin at the central coffee shop where we sample an Acadia smoothie made with Coffee By Design coffee, Ghirardelli chocolate and ice cream, buzzed up with a handful of ice. “Buzz” is the right word — Acadia packs a double wallop of caffeine and chocolate. Good morning, Bar Harbor.
Della guides us to one of my favorite chef-owned inns, Ivy Manor, in the heart of downtown. Their intimate farm-to-fork restaurant, Michelle, stresses the upcycled old-fashioned concept of local sourcing, with Sunset Meadow meats, farmer’s market produce and plenty of Maine berries.
At the Side Street Café we “taste” (read: wolf) an outstanding lobster roll and sample three of their signature margaritas: strawberry with local rhubarb; blueberry-basil; and apple-cinnamon infused tequila—really.
We pop into venerable Galyn’s for a luscious bite of crabcake and a peek at their quirky art collection. We wander across the street to Bar Harbor Inn’s relaxed waterfront café for a tasting portion of lobster bisque, a very pleasant last bite with an incredible view.
After our fascinating and filling three-hour tour, I leave with tips for tasty things to sip, savor and explore on my own once I recover my appetite. I continue my own mini-Della Tour with a stop at Mount Desert Ice Cream to sample Maine flavors like sea salt caramel and blueberry basil. Their fresh strawberry captures the essence of summer in Maine.
Della rocks the tour with a winning combination of street savvy and local history. Highly recommended for culinary travelers “from away.” •
Best Bite: Ellsworth
Okay, food trucks are not allowed in Bar Harbor, but I stop en route in Ellsworth at food truck extraordinaire, Rocky Point Clamcakes. Rocky Point’s surprising clam cakes resemble airy fritters. URGENT: Do not pass this food truck!
Bountiful Belfast: DIY by the Bay
Wander along Main Street and nip into the Chocolate Drop for handmade ice cream flavors like Moxie and Maine Blueberry. Sail into the smooth organic serenity of Chase’s Daily — part farm-stand, part café, and part art gallery — for great vegetarian fare made with their own heirloom tomatoes, fingerling potatoes and a bouquet of herbs. In back, the colorful produce and plants are for sale along walls hung with local art.
Main Street producers and purveyors include “Eat More Cheese,” a cheese & specialty food shop where tasting is encouraged. Vinolio is a wine and vinegar boutique whose philosophy is the same. Ask to taste their oldest, sweetest balsamic vinegar — dense and delicious. Vinolio’s weekly summer wine tastings include Chilean, South African and U.S. wines through August. Main Street’s rambling kitchen emporium, The Good Table, stocks everything from cookie cutters to cocktail shakers. If they don’t have it, you probably don’t need it.
The Gothic restaurant in Belfast’s historic flatiron building is legendary for chef Matthew Kenney’s creative take on raw (and very lightly cooked) cuisine. Imagine a colorful dish of local asparagus, nasturtium pesto and a beautiful egg yolk — simplicity itself. The inspired Mr. Kenney conducts classes year-round … if you can catch up with him.
Or source a picnic lunch from the iconic Belfast Coop with its abundant reasons to eat local and organic. Or share a recession-buster plate of pulled pork, beans, turnip greens and corn bread for $11 at Pig Out BBQ. Enjoy Delvino’s “Good Things Come in Threes” Happy Hour, with $3 appetizers and drinks from 2:30-5:30. Their sangria is refreshing ruby red with a hit of St. Germain. Another 3-for-$3 participant is the Front Street Pub where we enjoy fried fiddleheads and infused spirits. Don’t miss the chili-pepper vodka—my lips are still happily numb.
We stay oceanside at Colonial Gables cottages, and discover we’re next door to funky former biker bar, Papa J’s. We share his littleneck clams casino with chorizo, gaze at the ocean and dawdle through the surprising wine list. We learn that “Papa” gets his lamb and beef from the 4-H Club — talk about local sourcing. Don’t miss the quirky restroom décor.