Google took me on a roundabout way from Saratoga Springs, New York where I was visiting a friend and her new baby and was introduced to the life-changing cider donut, to Portland, Maine. Through the mountains of Vermont and New Hampshire, the skies were clear and the coffee was good, even in gas stations.
I arrived near dark to my friends’ home off a back highway in New Gloucester (do NOT ask me to pronounce that). We set off first thing to the New Gloucester Village Store around the corner, a cozy little place with a large selection of freshly made sandwiches, pizzas, and salads. The wood fired pizza oven crackled in the background as we settled into a wooden table in the back, nestled next to the impressive selection of beer and wine, with bowls of fish chowder. The store also has gobs of homemade breads and pastries, the peanut butter cookie I had the next morning with coffee was probably the best I’d ever had, just gooey enough in the center and crisp enough on the outside.
We headed off to Portland the next day, into what was probably the most perfect fall day on record. Not a cloud in the sky, hardly a breeze, and warm enough for a t-shirt. We’d planned to lunch at DiMillo’s, a floating restaurant in Portland’s harbor front, and of course the place was booked out. We then made the brilliant decision to sit at the bar, a wooden number facing the ocean with fabulous views of the characters sitting down to chowder and lobster. I had a tall glass of Shipyard lager with a pretty decent Atlantic salmon sandwich. The atmosphere was just right and I’m so glad we didn’t stuff it up by sitting at a table with linens and the whole nine. We decided then and there, seduced by the perfect glowing day, to head north and east the following day to Machias, to visit friends of friends who’d recently converted from Hawaii to Mainers.
The drive up felt pretty short, even though it was a good four hours, due to the good coffee and the turning of the leaves on all sides. The coastline is covered in these impossibly tiny towns with maybe a mini mart and sometimes a dollar store. Blueberry fields lined the roadside along with the occasional cranberry bog.
My new friends, an Austrian and Philipina pair who talked about living in Hawaii and drove an old diesel Mercedes supplied us with more coffee before driving us further up the coast, passing waterways and wetlands and whitewashed houses trimmed out in ornate wooden overhangs. I pictured myself reading a book with a cup of tea in the glassed-in porches glowing with lamp light.
Every other house was for sale and lobster traps littered most driveways and front yards. We stopped to wave at Canada across the way. The one thing I didn’t have with me was my passport, stored in safe-keeping in New York, which is ironic because all the rest of my worldly possessions are in the back of the car, aka my home. We stopped at a greek place that was empty except for a a lady drinking a beer at the bar with pink polished nails and an iPhone to her face, clearly a sign of the looming off-season. Janis Joplin sang Summertime in the background and we ordered a round of hot tea. A perfect bowl of orzo, lemon, and egg soup topped with nutmeg warmed my belly and we talked at length about the fabulous weather. Before heading home, we stopped at the Thirsty Moose where the spunky bartender introduced us to a cinnamon sugar rimmed glass of pumpkin ale. The only other customer in what looks like a lively place at the right hour was drinking red bull and jager in between smoke breaks.
For dinner my new friend fried up a bass, caught the day prior in the river behind their house and served with perfectly crisp potatoes and a green salad. Quite possibly the perfect Maine meal. I set my alarm to wake up early the next morning and write, but it wasn’t long before the others woke and we were slurping eggs and coffee, watching the steam dry off the windows. The sun was out again so we drove around, gawking at more impossibly quaint houses for sale and lots of fishing boats in the water. There were plenty of shells and dried seaweed and crumbly old lines lying on the docks but not many people. We asked a lady with tall rubber boots where to get coffee and she directed us to a mini-mart with a small diner attached. We drank Green Mountain coffee in dark mugs at a table shellaced with nautical maps of Maine.
Heading back towards Portland we stopped in Camden for blueberry pie and a stroll along the harbor, dense with tour boats and gift shops. One last visit to the fabulous village store was in order that night in New Gloucester for an outstanding Greek pizza.
There was so much to see and explore, hopefully I’ll get the chance one day to return. Maine, I didn’t want to leave you.