Saturday, May 19, 2012

Sweet Lobster on the Maine Coast

From dawn to dusk, wooden boats motor across the tiny harbors of Maine’s central coast. Men in rubber bib overalls toss lobster crates onto floating wooden docks, then abruptly cast off to haul more traps. Cooks hustle the crustaceans from dock to steamer to plate. The feast begins as diners crack shells, dig out the meat, and revel in the deep-sea flavor of the sweet-salty flesh.

Early European settlers of what would become the State of Maine wasted little time harvesting the virgin forests to build ships and turning to the sea to build a rich fishery. Maine’s maritime heritage remains a way of life on the long, rocky peninsulas that trail off the coast between Casco and Penobscot bays, where briny villages are famous for the quantity and quality of their lobster catch. Drivers who detour down these peninsulas can spend days exploring a coast ruled by summer’s long sunlight and the epic rise and fall of the tides. Twisting roads through spruce forest suddenly emerge into open vistas of the swelling green sea. Hidden coves are dotted with lobster boats, and craggy headlands are capped with stocky lighthouses that guide the boats to safe refuge through swirling currents and rocky straits.

A glittering sunrise at Pemaquid Point lighthouse
 Down every peninsula lies a harbor, and in every harbor is a “lobster pound” – originally a saltwater impound where lobsters were held for market. Most are still no-frills wooden facilities built right at the shore – some even hanging over the water.
Today most “pounds” also serve as casual seafood eateries. Few even have a dining room, serving meals through a carry-out window, but such shortcomings are of no consequence to connoisseurs of Maine’s signature crustacean. A burly chaos rules the kitchens of these pounds, where cooks walk a narrow path next to monstrous steam vessels to load bags of lobsters, soft-shell clams, and potatoes tumbled with cobs of corn. Twelve to fifteen minutes later, the brownishgreen lobsters have become bright red; the order is plated up and at the pickup window, the order number is yelled out loud enough for everyone on the wharf to hear.
The ensuing lobster feast is a messy experience, which is why most aficionados like to eat at picnic tables at the water’s edge. Breaking the tail and claws sprays juices all around, and fingers quickly grow sticky picking the meat from the shell and dipping it into melted butter. Bibs, of course, are for sissies.
But the sweet, succulent, and salty flesh makes all the mess and effort worthwhile.

The Best Places to Eat Lobster

Five Islands Lobster Co.

This quintessential lobster pound offers the perfect synthesis of place and taste, serving classic lobster dinners and other seafood on one of Maine’s prettiest harbors, ringed with five spruce-tufted islands. Dining is strictly alfresco, and diners must watch out for brazenly thieving gulls. Lobster is the mainstay. In addition to simply steamed crustaceans, the pound also prepares one of the tastiest lobster rolls on the coast. The kitchen picks the meat daily from steamed lobsters, blends it with just enough mayonnaise to hang together, and serves the lobster salad on a grilled soft bun. Since local lobstermen also haul up many Jonah crabs in their traps, the pound steams and picks their unusually sweet flesh to make crab rolls and crab cakes, which are usually served with a homemade tartar sauce full of chopped dill pickles and capers. Diners who prefer their seafood fried generally rate the restaurant’s fried clams as among the best in Maine.
1447 Five Islands Rd., Georgetown, Maine; open 11:30 AM–8 PM daily, mid-May–mid-Oct (may close at 7 PM late in the season);

The sweetest lobster is pulled from icy-cold Maine waters, steamed almost as soon as it is brought ashore, and simply served

Also in Maine
Coastal Maine is rife with excellent lobster pounds. Shaw’s Fish & Lobster Wharf in New Harbor (207 677 2200; moderate) has the distinction of serving several local draft beers. In Rockland, chef Melissa Kelly often uses lobster in elegant preparations at Primo on Main Street (; expensive).
Also in New England
Boston chef Jasper White literally wrote the book on ways to cook lobster. His pan-roasted lobster with bourbon and herbs is served at Jasper White’s Summer Shack on Dalton Street (; moderate). The hot lobster roll – lobster meat reheated in butter and served on a grilled bun – is a specialty of coastal Connecticut.
Some of the best are found at Lobster Landing in Clinton (860 669 2005; moderate) and in Noank, at Abbott’s Lobster in the Rough (860 536 7719; moderate).
In Quebec
Maine lobsters also frequent the waters of Quebec’s Magdalen Islands, where the short season, from May to July, yields superb lobster, much of it shipped to Montreal and Quebec City. To enjoy it at the source, visit Restaurant La Marée Haute in Havre-Albert (418 937 2492; moderate), which serves a distinctively local cuisine that features marvelous lobster in season.
The Maine Lobster Festival
More lobster comes ashore at the venerable fishing port of Rockland than anywhere else on the Maine coast, and for more than six decades the haul has been celebrated here with the annual Maine Lobster Festival. It takes place from Wednesday to Sunday on the first full weekend of August and draws thousands of visitors. A colorful parade, led by King Neptune and the newly crowned Sea Goddess, is among the highlights.
One of the most popular events is the “Great International William Atwood Lobster Crate Race.” Contestants vie to avoid falling into the sea as they run across 50 partially submerged lobster crates. Whoever touches the most crates before taking the plunge wins. Lobster, of course, is served daily.

Three Days along the Maine Coast

Picturesque fishing villages, lighthouses, and yachting harbors dot this meandering coastline, made famous by American painters from Winslow Homer (1836–1910) to Marsden Hartley (1877–1943).
DAY ONE : Swim in the surf at Reid State Park, the longest sandy beach on this rocky coast, before peninsula-hopping to the yachting center of Boothbay Harbor. Fish for striped bass or tuna, or take a wildlife cruise to search for whales and puffins.
DAY TWO : Clamber over the massive boulders of Pemaquid Point for a dramatic view of the lighthouse on the headland. Then drive to the fishing hamlet of Port Clyde and take a ferry to Monhegan Island, a summer art colony where painters open their studios to visitors.
DAY THREE : After stopping at Tenants Harbor to visit the lobsterfishing museum, spend the day in the port of Rockland, with its world-class Farnsworth Art Museum and Wyeth Center, its child-friendly Maine Lighthouse Museum, and its excellent restaurants and cafés.
Getting to Maine Coast
Several domestic US carriers and Air Canada serve Portland International Jetport. Rent a car to drive north on Route 1.
Where to stay in Maine Coast
Prices vary little across the region.
East Wind Inn (moderate) has lobster boats moored outside its windows in the picturesque fishing village of Tenants Harbor.
Grey Havens Inn (moderate) is a classic shinglestyle 1904 hotel on a craggy bluff in Georgetown near Reid State Park.
Limerock Inn (moderate) occupies a turreted Rockland manse in a Rockland neighborhood within walking distance of the Farnsworth Art Museum.

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