Ah, Rockland — gritty tidal treasure on Penobscot Bay with the soul of a working waterfront and salty hipster vibe. This small seafaring gem proves that art has the power to inspire and restore, with a vibrant museum and gallery scene, award-winning restaurants, upscale shops — and enough lobster and lighthouse kitch for the tourist crowd.
Hospitality with a Heart
We’re here for the 2017 Pies on Parade tour, and we’re hungry. Each year local inns, businesses, and cafes mobilize for a tasting and strolling tour to raise funds for the local food pantry. This year’s sale of 650 tickets will ensure funding goals are met — and beyond.
The diversity of pies is impressive, with sweet and savory bites including Montreal-style pork Tourtiere; wood-fired pizza rustica; seafood-chowder pie; classic Maine whoopies; espresso chocolate mousse pie; and a drunken pumpkin bourbon tart. Of course there are traditional berry and fruit pies, and savory lobster and/or crab quiche. Delicious.
Part of the magic is Rockland’s art scene, abundant and accessible on the three-hour stroll. The Center for Maine Contemporary Art features artists like Loretta Park, above, a graduate of our own Bowdoin College. CMCA’s soaring new space makes me so proud.
At 250 Main Hotel, referred to by locals as “the new hotel,” there are drawings, paintings and prints on every floor, plus sweeping sea views and a roof deck— wow.
Dowling Walsh Gallery is always a gas, with Maine favorites Bo Bartlett, Greta Van Campen, and my old friend, Neil Welliver. Check out Eric Hopkins‘ iconic works at his downtown studio and gallery on Tillson Avenue (Note: by appointment these days).
The Farnsworth Art Museum has enough groove and gravitas to please any proud Mainer or fan “from away.” The Farnsworth complex includes the Wyeth Center, dedicated to three generations of Maine Wyeths — N.C., Andrew and Jamie — housed in an appropriately austere 19th-century church, filled with light.
Out and About
Rockland’s brick downtown has an endearing assortment of shops. Stalwarts include the upscale Black Parrot, and Archipelago, the store of the Island Institute. I pop into Fiore for my fix of cranberry-pear white balsamic vinegar, and then on to The Wine Seller whose clever sign reads, “If it tastes good, it is.” I agree. Newbies include Main Street Market with locally sourced foods (and waffle pie bites!), and Periscope, a high-end modern furniture emporium. It just keeps getting better.
Where to Stay
We love the Old Granite Inn, a perfect location for exploring downtown and the working waterfront. The inn blends family antiques, mid-century modern furnishings and lots of contemporary style. Granite’s upscale, uncluttered guest rooms have great views of Rockland Harbor and refreshingly small flat-screen TVs. “The only thing better would be no TV!” said one smiling guest. So there.
The aroma of fresh brewed coffee summons guests for a fresh and locally sourced breakfast. We savor puffy lobster quiche and homemade waffles with berries and real maple syrup. The environmentally certified inn grows greener with every visit. I think owners Ed & Joan Hantz are remarkably savvy preservationists and conservationists.
The fact that we’ve been tasting all day does not deter us from our mission to sip, savor and explore this little tidal treasure. After our three-hour tasting and walking tour, we compare notes under a pink sunset. We agree that our favorite bite of the day was the duck confit, sour cherry and goat cheese “pie” at Fog Café. We return to Fog in the evening, settling into a comfy banquette in the glow of a quirky glass cephalopod.
We continue our duck-theme with French fries generously dusted in duck cracklin’, served with bold, smoky tomato aoli. We go local with crispy midcoast haddock bites—a wan pairing with the duck fries, oh well. The Fog’s “real” Caesar salad with wild-caught anchovies was robust and fresh, a lusty palate cleanser. My husband tips his hat to Rockland’s gritty history with a Narragansett or two — no artisanal brew, thanks! — which magically take on a romantic glow.
Rockland maintains a gritty authenticity despite its effortless hipster vibe, wealth of contemporary and iconic American art, and an ever-changing music and restaurant scene. The richness of its craggy coastal ambiance draws us back to Maine’s midcoast often, in all seasons. I can’t wait to return to the North Atlantic Blues Fest this summer.
IF YOU GO: Rockland Events
Elizabeth Margolis-Pineo is a freelance writer and creator of EpicuriousTravelers.com.