Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Learning to be Lobstermen in Portland

It had to happen. The day we arrived in Maine, the weather changed from gorgeous to gray skies and pounding rain. The kind of day you'd like to sneak back to bed with a book. And, we were staying at the Westin Harborview- known for their Heavenly Beds!
Gray skies in Portland

Alas, we only had only one afternoon in Portland and were signed up for a Old Port walking Foodie Tour.  Thank goodness, plans were changed; we'd  hop in a van between downtown stops.
Downtown Portland

Portland, Maine is a city of only 66,000 people but has 300-plus mostly independent restaurants. The combination of reasonable, one-year-long rental rates and immediate access to lobster and other seafood has created a foodie haven.
Cheese selection at the Public Market

The tour , led by knowledgeable guide Christopher Papagni, includes sampling Maine-inspired food. First we hit the Public Market House where a variety of vendors rent space. Artisanal cheese was featured along with a few other prepared foods. Seems there are some fabulous local cheesemakers around Portland.
Public Market Samples

Next we stopped at Dean's Sweets, a chocolatier who offered us a Needham.  A Needham is a traditional Maine confection made with mashed potatoes, coconut, and confectioner's sugar then dipped in chocolate.  We also tasted a truffle; I chose the Chocolate Stout Truffle made with beer.  Kristin and Dean Bingham, the charming owners, have been in business for ten years, but only six months in the Old Port location. 
Truffles from Dean's Sweets

Next we had a tasting at  Vervacious, founded by a pair of high-techers who chucked it all to sail around the world and bring back their favorite flavors. They offer luxuriously packaged spices, oils, and balsamics. We also enjoyed a serving of lobster mac and cheese they proved lobster makes anything better.
Vervacious Spices

One step into Gritty McDuff's and you know where the locals hang. The pub was hopping. If you belong to the Mug Cub, beer is just $2 a mug on Sundays. Ed Stebbins, the brewmaster, told us he opened it as the first brew pub in Maine since prohibition. We tasted a hot pretzel and a flight of beer. I liked the Black Fly Stout, which the Beer rates at 100.

Beer Flight at Gritty's
Lastly, we stopped in Vena's Fizz House which up until recently only sold non-alcoholic drinks but now runs a full bar. Bitters are the thing here, and owner Steve Corman can whip up some awesome concoctions. It's worth a stop to see the vast number of different, exotically titled and labeled bitters they stock. Don't bother to count, it's 150!
Steve Corman adds bitters at Vena's Fixx House

Like soggy rag dolls, we flopped back to our rooms in the Westin, and I drew myself a warm bath.  We were on our own for dinner in the hotel, and Judy and I limited ourselves to a bowl of seafood chowder. Perfectly delicious and perfect for a rainy night.

Next morning the group attempted to eat healthfully but as always, we failed.  We headed down to the marina for a hands-on lesson on lobstering. We boarded the Lucky Catch, a lobster boat, where a local photographer snapped our picture.  Sure, it's touristy, but the pic was good and makes a nice memory. 
The Good Girls on the Lucky Catch in Portland, Maine

Judy helps Debi with Lobsterman Outfit!
No sooner were the lines cast off, than we donned the appropriate attire: orange oil-cloth pants, aprons, and gloves. We love to dress up so thought it was fun to feel like a real lobsterman!

The boat moved out into Casco Bay where we saw historic Fort Gorges,  beautiful homes along the shore and six lighthouses. We helped reel-in the lobster traps and learned how to measure the crustaceans. Too little or too big, back they go.  We threw every one back on this outing as it was early in the season. Maine laws differ from Canada; they are stricter but trapping (with a license) is open year-round. The captain claimed the Maine lobster population was growing. 
Judy learns how to measure a lobster.

We also helped re-bait and lower the traps, experiencing the difficulties of the job. So glad the rain was gone!  Would not be enjoyable to be lobstering in cold, wet weather. All in all, we learned that the Good Girls are much happier eating the delicacy that catching it. 
Happy Lobster Eaters

Speaking of eating, it was lunchtime, and we'd received a tip that the best lobster roll in town was out in Fort Williams Park at Bite into Maine, a lobster roll food truck. We found it parked on a gentle hillside across from the Portland Head Light, the oldest lighthouse in Maine. FYI: This area is actually in Cape Elizabeth, Maine.
Lobster Roll Food Truck "Bite into Maine."

The line was long but worth the wait. Fabulous picnic fare on a picnic table in the park with a Maine Root Beer to wash it down. Afterward, I strolled over to the Lighthouse, one of the most quintessential photo ops in Maine.  This one is a beauty from land or from the water (as we had seen earlier).
A Lobster Roll Picnic

Lighthouses and lobster; Maine has a good thing going.   
The Beautiful Port Head Light, Oldest Lighthouse in Maine.

Gorgeous homes along the Bay
Fort Gorges in Casco Bay near Portland.

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