Nowhere evokes the spirit of the open highway like the USA. From Jack Kerouac’s On The Road to Easy Rider, road trips weave deeply into American culture. An American road trip promises hypnotic landscapes, vibrant towns and cities, and fascinating people. But for those who love their food, there’s one trail that’s hard to beat, especially at this time of year.
Maine in fall is an explosion of red, orange and yellow foliage that makes any road trip here a sight to savour. The New England state is a land of lighthouses and tiny little towns, national parks and thriving cities along America’s rugged northeast coast. Head out onto the famous coastal Route 1, and in just a few hours you’ll find plenty of culinary diversions to keep you equally enthralled. It’s peak lobster season, so the famous Maine delicacy of lobster rolls full of sweet, pink flesh in toasty-warm New England hotdog buns will be in abundance. But Maine is about much more than lobsters, as you’ll discover when you start your tasting trail.
1 - Portland
It might be Maine’s largest city, but with a population of just under 70,000, Portland is small enough to feel intimate and even a little cosy. From the redbrick and cobbles of the historic Old Port, to the lighthouses and sailboat masts at shore side, it’s a pretty place to start a tasting tour. But it also has a food scene to match. The downtown area leads to a plethora of waterside restaurants, including DiMillo’s On The Water, a floating purveyor of steamed lobster, seafood, clams and chowder housed in an old car ferry. Back on dry land, James Beard Restaurant Award shortlisted Fore Street presents excellent locally fished, farmed and foraged food. Eventide Oyster Co. is a bustling joint dispensing locally caught oysters at its raw bar, but here’s where to try your first lobster roll, smothered in brown butter and served on a Chinese-style steamed bun.
DiMillo’s On The Water
25 Long Wharf, Portland, ME - Website
288 Fore Street, Portland, ME - Website
Eventide Oyster Co.
86 Middle Street, Portland ME - Website
For a second, more traditional lobster roll, head for a food truck called Bite Into Maine. Their Cape Elizabeth site has ocean views of the Portland Headlight lighthouse, but they also have a 1977 Airstream opposite the Allagash Brewing Co. (Portland is renowned for its craft beer). And you can’t leave Cape Elizabeth without trying another New England classic, a whoopie pie from Cape Whoopies.
Bite Into Maine
Fort Willliams Park, 1000 Shore Road, Cape Elizabeth ME - Website
6 Dyer Pond Road, Cape Elizabeth ME - Website
2 - From Freeport to Waldoboro
You could easily stick around Portland, but that wouldn’t be much of a road trip. So it’s time to head north on Route 1, through Freeport and Brunswick, taking a detour to Harpswell for another New England favourite. The creamy haddock chowder at Dolphin Marina & Restaurant is hailed as one of the best in Maine. Enjoy the views of Casco Bay before hitting the road north, through Bath onto Wiscasset, where more buttery lobster rolls await at Red’s Eats, one of Maine’s best-known lobster shacks. Or, if you’re all lobstered out, drive north to Waldboro, and the 90-year-old Moody’s Diner for a traditional New England ‘boiled dinner’ of corned beef brisket, beetroot, cabbage, turnip and potatoes.
Dolphin Marina & Restaurant
515 Basin Point Rd, Harpswell ME - Website
41 Water Street, Wiscasset, ME - Website
1885 Atlantic Hwy, Waldoboro, Maine - Website
3 - Rockland
Route 1 stretches coastward to Rockland, where James Beard award-winning chef Melissa Kelly’s fabulous Primo restaurant awaits. The on-site farm ensures the freshest organic ingredients in dishes like the smoked quail or the pork saltimbocca, made from a recipe Kelly’s grandmother used to make. After indulging at Primo, Rockland would be a great place to hunker down for the night. For an award-winning breakfast, Home Kitchen Cafe serves killer omelettes with toast or polenta, or seven different styles of eggs benedict.
2 South Main Street, Rockland, ME - Website
Home Kitchen Café
650 Main Street, Rockland ME - Website
4 - From Mount Desert Island to Columbia Falls
Back on the road, keep heading north to Mount Desert Island and the charming seaside town of Bar Harbour. Surrounded by woodland and mountains on one side, and the Atlantic Ocean on the other, this is a popular gateway to the Acadia National Park. The Reading Room restaurant at Bar Harbour Inn offers panoramic views of Frenchman Bay, as well as its famous Lobster Pie with rich sherry cream and butter crumb topping. But hold off on dessert. Just an hour or so north at Columbia Falls you’ll find another of Maine’s most famous products: blueberries. There are over 44,000 acres of blueberries in the state, but none quite as impressive as Wild Blueberry Land. It’s a giant blueberry – thought to be the largest in the world – and it sells jams, jellies, muffins, pies and cookies packed with (you guessed it) blueberries.
Reading Room at Bar Harbour Inn
1 Newport Drive, Bar Harbour, ME - Website
Wild Blueberry Land
1067 US HWY 1, Columbia Falls, ME - Website