Best of New England: Maine
The more devout members of your party may titter at the pulpit turned hostess stand. If they’re showing signs of discomfort, don’t let them see the enormous bar running down the apse. The owners of Grace spared no expense converting this pre–Civil War church into a spectacular restaurant space that plays up the soaring ceilings and sumptuous wood details. But then again, maybe sinning is okay when it involves a devilishly good selection of fresh ingredients and creative libations in a setting that is truly, well, divine. // 15 Chestnut St., Portland, 207-828-4422, restaurantgrace.com.
If Five Fifty-Five’s customers had a say, the eatery’s truffled lobster mac and cheese would become an edible landmark. In their brick-and-copper-accented restaurant, owners Steve and Michelle Corry offer compelling seasonal pairings like pan-seared diver scallops with vanilla emulsion, and mussels in a cherry-pepper sauce with chive butter and garlic. Move over, Portland Head Light. // 555 Congress St., Portland, 207-761-0555, fivefifty-five.com.
A lot of restaurants bill themselves as “elegant without being stuffy,” but too often that’s just jargon for expensive food and no dress code. At Red Sky, the changing New American menu consists of organic produce from local farms, and the bread is baked daily in-house. Don’t miss the lobster polenta (pictured above), featuring sauteéd tail meat, zucchini, and baby peas served over crispy polenta with tomato-basil concasse and a light lobster sauce. The Magical Lemon Cake lives up to its name. // 14 Clark Point Rd., Southwest Harbor, 207-244-0476, redskyrestaurant.com.
Just up the road from the cutesy village of Blue Hill, this 1823 house/fine-dining establishment has charming covered with all the essential elements: exposed wooden beams, antique linens, and stone fireplaces. But don’t get distracted. Offerings from chef-owner John Hikade (think succulent Moulard duck with mushroom risotto, or poached arctic char fillet) will compete with any modern bistro for flavor. Hikade’s superbly fresh concoctions rely on organic ingredients from the many small family farms in the area. What swims is caught wild; what walks does so freely. // Main Street/Tenney Hill, Blue Hill, 207-374-2119, arborvine.com.
When they say Maine is “the way life should be,” they mean denim, sailing, and low-maintenance décor. What they don’t mean is fancy, uptight dinners. Thankfully, this distilled version of a New York City bistro is doing its best to update the Pine Tree State’s motto. Located in the tiny seaside town of Rockport, Shepherd’s Pie serves up a menu tending toward homey with a twist (clam tacos, a pork-belly sandwich, and of course, that eponymous shepherd’s pie). It gets crowded fast here, so be sure to arrive early. // 18 Central St., Rockport, 207-236-8500.
Originally a deluxe takeout joint for cottage renters, Redbird Provisions has developed into a pretension-free destination for savvy gourmands. Now in his second year as executive chef, Samuel Herndon serves a seasonal menu drawing from local farms and fisheries. Enjoy laid-back meals in the dining room or on the porch overlooking the quieter side of Mount Desert Island: Northeast Harbor. // 11 Sea St., Northeast Harbor, 207-276-3006, redbirdprovisions.com.
How long does it take chefs Mark Gaier and Clark Frasier to prepare a meal at Arrows? Would you believe it if we said months? These two insist on growing their own, well, everything, as close to the French tradition as possible. Prosciuttos and charcuterie are created on the premises; fish of all types are prepared in the on-site smokehouse; breads and pastries are baked by a master pastry chef; cheeses are taken from curd to finished product in the kitchen; and mushrooms, cranberries, and fiddleheads are foraged from the surrounding forest. Oh, and they have their own vegetable garden, too. // Berwick Road, Ogunquit, 207-361-1100, arrowsrestaurant.com.
They don’t call Masa Miyake the Sushi Whisperer of Portland for nothing. Taking advantage of his bustling port city’s proximity to the ocean, Mikaye pulls butter-soft, gorgeous fish off the boats to offer diners the freshest raw food around. From September through April, he serves astoundingly fresh uni, while the rest of the year offerings might include wild salmon, geoduck, or diver scallops. And where does he get those exotic mushrooms and sea greens? Some of them may have been picked by a forager from the surrounding regions. // 129 Spring St., Portland, 207-871-9170.
Unexpected World-Class Meal
The parking lot packed full of late-model Volvos with out-of-state plates offers the first hint that there’s something special going on in this unassuming Victorian home in the middle of a bustling fishing village. Well-heeled retirees join culinary pilgrims from New York and beyond to sample James Beard Foundation Award winner Melissa Kelley’s subtle alchemy, which transforms New England cuisine with flavors of the Mediterranean. The menu changes nightly to take advantage of whatever is ready to be harvested from the massive garden out back. // 2 S. Main St., Rockland, 207-596-0770, primorestaurant.com.
Lobster in the Rough
CHAUNCEY CREEK LOBSTER PIER
A splintery dock, well-worn picnic tables, lobster rolls and fries on the menu…clearly, you’re in shack country. Originally a working lobster pound, this is local seafood lovers’ go-to for raw oysters, steamed mussels, and boiled red crustaceans. The menu’s stripped to nothing, so bring your own green salad and wine for fine dining without fuss. Trust us, there’s nothing like taking in a Maine sunset over home-baked blueberry pie. // 16 Chauncey Creek Rd., Kittery Point, 207-439-1030, chaunceycreek.com.