eat. shop. love. nyc.

NYC to Maine gastro road trip (Part I)

[tweetmeme]I had what was easily the best in-country travel experience of my life this past weekend. I road tripped from New York City to the magical state of Maine, aka The Way Life Should Be, for the 63rd Annual Maine Lobster Festival with three food-loving friends, eating our faces off along the way.

Five Islands Lobster Co., Georgetown, ME

Word of advice to those considering a similar road trip: reserve your rental car way in advance. The price differential for week-of car rentals vs. month-before car rentals is substantial. We paid $380 for an economy car (3 weekend days) from the Avis at La Guardia airport after booking it two days before leaving, but checking rates a month out, it looks like 3 weekend days will run you about $150 or so. You can take the train to Brunswick and then Maine Eastern Railroad from Brunswick to Rockland for about $220 per person round trip, which is ridiculously expensive and doesn’t allow you the freedom to pull over whenever and wherever you want = sux.

Second word of advice: get a GPS. Borrow it from a friend or rent one from the car rental company. You might think your phone can handle it, but I’m not sure how dependable it will be when you don’t actually have any signal. You’ll be super glad you have GPS when you’ve had your third lobster roll of the day and you are ready for dessert and need to figure out how to get to that one diner you read about with the famous pie.

Final words of advice: don’t forget the bug spray, the sunscreen, the corkscrew/beer opener, a mini cooler, and cash. Many of these famous seafood shacks are outdoors, accept cash only, and some are BYOWhatever. If you are going for Lobsterfest in August, make sure you’ve booked a room several weeks in advance as the lodging in the area fills up quickly. If you are going any time other than summertime, make sure the places you want to go are open, as many shut down in cooler weather. Also, print out all of the addresses of the places you would like to go for easy input into the GPS, and be prepared to go with the flow.

FRIDAY: NYC > Boston (4-5 hours)

It’s roughly 7 hours from NYC to Rockland, ME, home of Lobsterfest. Rather than wake at the butt crack of dawn on Saturday morning, we thought it’d be smart to break up the trip a bit and stay in Boston overnight Friday as Boston is right around the halfway mark to Rockland. From NYC to Boston, it’s about 4 hours. On Friday nights around 8 pm, it’s more like 5 hours and that entire additional hour of traffic is located right outside the city. Once you clear out of the city traffic, it’s smooth sailing. We arrived in Boston around midnight, where we had arranged to stay with a friend who happens to be from Maine. As Adam tucked us into our respective couches, he told us bedtime stories about this glorious wonderland where lobsters were $3.99 a pound, where weekends were spent sailing or kayaking, and where it felt like the most magical summer camp experience you never had, all summer long. Maine… our senses tingled with anticipation. We drifted to sleep dreaming of barbecues, lighthouses, salty breezes, and lobsters growing on trees.

SATURDAY MORNING: Boston > Portland (2 hours)

We got up around 7:30 and started the day with a tasty grilled cheese sandwich on buttery multigrain bread with some kind of gooey white cheese – havarti or fontina, maybe? Thanks, Adam! Since Adam was heading to Portland for the weekend, he hopped into our car with us and we took off for Magical Maine. During the car ride, he kept telling us about how good the food is in Portland, pulling up this NYTimes article on the high level of cooking in this 65,000 person town’s compact urban center, where chefs regularly eat at and critique one another’s restaurants farms and make ample use of local ingredients from nearby fishing grounds, dairies, apiaries, mushroom beds and smokehouses.

And so we headed for brunch at Harding Lee Smith’s The Front Room in Portland.

While we waited for our table to open up, I took in the warm, wood paneled interior, the friendly hosts (is everyone from Maine this nice? – the answer is yes), and ordered myself a lime and raspberry rickey to start off my morning in style – housemade raspberry puree, fresh lime juice, seltzer, and vodka – while catching up with an old friend from LA (also a Maine native, now Portland resident). While all of the food was very good, the clear winner was my potato gnocchi with spinach, bacon, two poached eggs & hollandaise. The gnocchi was unthinkably pillowy and light, the thick chunks of bacon were savory and toothsome, and the hollandaise was rich and decadent. And for just $8!

The Front Room
73 Congress Street
Portland, ME 04101-3661
(207) 773-3366

After an hour of unsuccessfully trying to convince the Maine natives to join us on the second leg of our road trip (they already had plans to kayak all day, throw some steak and $3.99/lb lobsters on the grill in the evening, and go sailing on Sunday), we moved on.

SATURDAY AFTERNOON: Portland > Georgetown (1.5 hours)

After saying our goodbyes and begging the Maine boys to let us come back and visit them in Portland again in September, we went along our merry way to Reid State Park in Georgetown, Maine. Along the way, we saw a roadside stand advertising wild Maine blueberries, so we pulled over.

Another fantastic decision. The tiny blueberries packed a lot of flavor and sweetness into eensy weensy bits. They also made for a great snack at the park.

Ellie had chosen Reid State Park from a number of sightseeing options because the promise of dramatic seascapes with wide expanses of glittering rock, deep blue sea, large sandy dunes, miles of protected beach, and views of islands and lighthouses.

We spent far more time here than we had planned, laying out on the rocks, exploring the tidepools, and splashing about in the lagoon. We breathed deeply, napped soundly, and again, found ourselves wishing we lived in Maine.

Reid State Park – $6.50 admission fee per non-Maine resident adult
375 Seguinland Road
Georgetown, ME 04548-3625
(207) 371-2303

After our swim, we were ready to eat again and we were heading towards Brunswick to check out the Fat Boy Drive-In when I heard the GPS say something about making a left on Five Islands Road. Instantly, I remembered Five Islands Lobster Co. from a Travel + Leisure article I had read about the 10 best lobster shacks in Maine, and as it turns out, it’s right around the corner from the park! We made a right instead of a left, and voila — there we were!

A true lobster shack, Five Islands is only open in good weather as all seating is outdoors, right on the dock overlooking a harbor. Sun shining brightly, we busted out our travel Scrabble and took advantage of the stellar weather.

Since we had two more lobster shacks planned for the afternoon, we shared a lobster roll (the Big Boy ran $16) and steamers ($8). The cooked lobster prices were very reasonable starting at $10/lb.

Side note: I’ve seen reviewers on Yelp complaining that since lobster prices dropped to $5/lb., Five Islands should have lowered their prices. These Yelpers forget that restaurants have these things called overhead costs, and that they are not in the business of giving food away at cost. No lobster for you!

I desperately wanted to eat a whole lobster here, but given that we’d spent more time in Portland and at the park than we had planned, we needed to be efficient with our time and available belly space, so we went with a shared roll and steamers.

Our first lobster roll in Maine was a solid one, chock full of cool lobster meat, very light on the mayo, one small piece of iceberg lettuce – only the leafy part, on a lightly buttered and slightly toasted white bread bun, served with ruffled potato chips on the side. The bun, which we encountered many times thereafter, is essentially a hot dog bun sliced on top instead of on the side, like Wonder Bread mix got stuffed into a hot dog bun-shaped muffin tray for baking. I like my lobster rolls to allow the lobster to shine without the encumbrance of too much mayo or unnecessary greens, so this was a VERY good lobster roll, but I could have done without the lettuce, and the bread could have been toastier. I gave the Five Islands Big Boy four enthusiastic (out of five) lobster claws – the one star ding was for the bread and the lettuce, though in all honesty, if I weren’t saving the 5 lobster claw rating for someone else, I’d give this one 5 lobster claws. Let’s look at this beauty once again: looks to me like there’s at least one whole lobster in this roll, and given that what Five Islands calls a “Big Boy” is a 2-pounder, may explain the gigantic claw.

We were told that a half pint of steamers ($8) would yield about a dozen steamed clams, but I was pleasantly surprised to see that we got more than twelve clams.

The steamers were served with a side of hot clam brine for sipping (mmm, salty and refreshing) and drawn butter for dipping. The steamers were moist and meaty, but started to dry out if left out too long after cooking, so eat yours quickly (or get them fried).

Five Islands Lobster Co.
1447 Five Islands Road
Georgetown, ME 04548
(207) 371-2990

Our first taste of Maine lobster had our taste buds begging for more, so we savored what we could, then packed everything up and booked it to Brunswick.


By the way, the really nice looking photos that look like they were taken on a good camera? Those are from Sara’s camera. The sorta fuzzy ones, those are from mine.


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