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yk Jun 28th, 2010 01:17 PM

yk ate her way through Portland, Maine in one weekend! June 2010
Hi all,

DH & I - in our mid/late 30s

Last weekend in June 2010

Instead of sitting home every weekend wondering what we *should* do, I've decided that we will explore a new part of New England, or a new section of Boston (where we live) every weekend. Portland seems a good overnight destination from Boston (~ 2 hrs' drive).

<B>Research & Planning</b>
There are very few trip reports here on Portland, Maine. Thankfully, dfrostnh recently was there and posted a most helpful TR ( ).

Other resources included a Fodors guidebook (Maine, Vermont & NH), Visit Portland website ( ), Chowhound for restaurant ideas, and several magazine articles (which mostly focus on the food scene in Portland).

We ate A LOT on this trip (mostly excellent), but we also did quite a lot of sightseeing. Portland, while a city, is very compact. All tourist sights can be covered on foot. People are friendly and easy-going.

yk Jun 28th, 2010 01:45 PM

<B>Day 1</b>

We arrived in Portland around 11am Saturday morning. Since our hotel is in South Portland, we drove directly into Portland for our sightseeing. Having done some research on parking situation in Portland, we parked at one of the municipal garages on 45 Spring Street ( ). Most garages in Portland charge ~$1/hr. This one offers first hour free, then $1.25/hr.

We picked this garage because it's close to the <b>Portland Museum of Art</b> - our first stop on this trip. Admission is $10, but with a voucher from Tropicana Juicy Rewards ( ), we got a 2-for-1 admission.

<u>Food Stop #1</u>
We were both a bit hungry by now. Since we know we probably will spend ~ 2hrs to "tackle" the museum, we decided to refuel ourselves first at the Museum Cafe. I had an espresso chip shortbread cookie (addictive), DH had choc chip cookie, and an iced coffee.

<u>Sightseeing Stop #1</u>
The biggest draw of the museum (for me) is the current exhibition on Winslow Homer. However, I was rather disappointed. All the works (28 total) are drawn from the museum's own collection; and I think they tried (but failed) to propose a unifying theme among them. OTOH, the other current exhibition - <i>American Moderns: Masterworks on Paper from the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art</i> - is quite good. I especially enjoyed the works by Edward Hopper.

In the permanent collection galleries, much space is devoted to Maine artists, including N.C. Wyeth.

Another section of the museum is the <b>McLellan House</b> It is a very elegant Federal-style house with a flying staircase.

As expected, we spent about 2 hours at the museum. Then we're off to get lunch.

<u>Food Stop #2</u>
We made our way to the waterfront (Commercial Street). We debated between Portland Lobster Co (dfrostnh's rec) vs Gilbert's Chowder House (Fodor's guidebook rec). Gilbert's eventually won our vote because it is closer to our next destination.

Well, well, well. This was the most disappointing meal on our trip. Despite claiming it serves award-winning clam chowder, we thought it was mediocre to average. DH ordered a lobster roll. The meat seemed chopped up & picked over. It tasted okay but lacked the fresh taste. I had fried sea scallops (comes with fries & clam chowder). The scallops are good; but of course, it's hard to mess up fried food.

<u>Sightseeing Stop #2</u>
From Gilbert's, we walked East along the waterfront to <b>Maine Narrow Gauge Railroad Co & Museum</b>.

Maine was home to multiple rail lines using narrow gauge train tracks (Two-Foot railroads) from the late 1800s to early 1900s. The museum itself has 4 different rail cars, plus a "rail bus", and many other artifacts. Outside the museum is the rail track, and one can ride the trains. Although I had another 2-for-1 voucher from Tropicana, the agent wasn't familiar with it, and only offered us $2 off.

The train goes NE along the Eastern Promenade for about 2 miles. At the end of the line, we were allowed to get off and wander around a bit. Both train operators are old men who are volunteers, and they LOVE to share their stories of trains and Portland.


One of the train cars interior:

View from the train:

To be continued...

AKelly1 Jun 28th, 2010 01:49 PM

I am so sorry to hear you didn't like Gilbert's! My family always makes a beeline there before we head to the ferry. We love their chowder!

Where else did you eat? DH and I have reservations at Fore Street next week. Can't wait to try those mussels! Did you go to Duck Fat? Salt Exchange? Becky's?

yk Jun 28th, 2010 02:20 PM

<u>Sightseeing Stop #3</u> and <u>Food Stop #3</u>
After the lovely train ride, we wandered over to <b>Shipyard Brewery</b> for the 4pm tour and free beer tasting.

The brewery only offers "video tours" on most days. We were ushered into a room and were shown a 10-min video. The video covers the history of Shipyard, and the basics of making beer. Afterwards, we were led to the bottling line by a guide, followed by free beer tasting. On that particular day, we were able to sample 5 different varieties (Export Ale, Old Thumper, IPA, Stout, and Wheat Ale).

<u>Food Stop #4</u>
As we made our way towards the main shopping area of Portland, we passed by <b>Two Fat Cats Bakery</b>.

Famous for their various pies and whoopie pies, of course we had to get some. But, we managed to control ourselves and saved the pies for dessert tonight.

<u>Food Stop #5</u>
We finally made our way to the shopping center of Portland (Exchange Street). We're really not into shopping, so we mostly did window-shopping. But when we saw <b>Stonewall Kitchen</b>, we couldn't help but go in and browse.

There's no Stonewall Kitchen store in Mass. My gosh, I was in heaven. There are lots of samples, and I must have tried everything twice. In the end, we got a Wild Maine blueberry jam, a cranberry-pomegranate chutney, and a bottle of maple syrup.

<u>Food Stop #6</u>
Around the corner from Stonewall Kitchen is <b>Mt Desert Island Ice Cream</b> at 51 Exchange Street. dfrostnh mentioned this on her TR. MDIIC makes some interesting flavors, such as Thai Chili, and Lemongrass. I wasn't feeling particularly adventurous, so I settled on a small cup of Chocolate Wasabi. I LOVE this combo and would recommend it - if you like the flavor of wasabi. DH had Mexican Chocolate.

Finally, with our full stomachs, we rolled uphill back to the 45 Spring Street garage, retrieved our car and drove to our hotel in South Portland.

<u>Hotel, and Food Stops #7 & 8</u>
We stayed at the <b>Marriott @ Sable Oaks</b> in South Portland, about a 15-min drive.

I'm ashamed to say that the reason I picked this, was because of a promo I saw - Room + Free Lobster Dinner for $169.

The hotel is fine. It was just renovated last year, so everything looks new. The hotel has a heated indoor pool as well as a gym; both of which I did not (but should have) used. Bed and pillows are comfortable, despite that my request for foam pillows was not honored (ran out by the time we checked in). Our room has a mini-fridge (it's empty), perfect for us to store our treasured whoopie pies.

We headed downstairs to the hotel restaurant around 8pm for dinner. I am NO FAN of hotel restaurants, but you know, can you really mess up cooking lobster? Of course, by eating here means giving up our opportunity to dine at any of the excellent restaurants IN Portland (eg, Hugo's, 555, Fore Street).

Fortunately, we were not disappointed. The dinner package includes boiled lobster, fries, and cole slaw for 2. We ordered a salad to share, which was nicely done (greens with blue cheese and dried blueberries). The lobsters were fresh and tasty.

Back in our hotel room, we got the whoopie pies out of the fridge and they were gone within a minute.

Would I stay here again? Probably not, unless it's a phenomenal deal. I think it's much better to stay IN downtown Portland, so one can walk from the hotel to the sights, as well as have the option to return to the hotel during the day if one wishes.

End of Day 1

dfrostnh Jun 29th, 2010 02:45 AM

YK, I always enjoy your trip reports. You are great at finding little known gems. Except for our recent visit, we've hardly ever been to Portland yet it's a great destination. Somehow we forgot to get whoopie pies on our recent visit to southern Maine. Did you notice the fine print that says one whoopie pie = TWO servings? I bet it was fun to meet those train operators. Last year we met a guy at the Owls Head Museum who had worked on a Lombard Log Hauler. Looking forward to the rest of your report.

Centralparkgirl Jun 29th, 2010 04:04 AM

yk - as always, your details are great!

yk Jun 29th, 2010 07:59 AM

Thanks for all your comments. AKelly, I bet you'd enjoy Fore Street, though we didn't eat there.

dfrostnh, I was going to just get ONE whoopie pie to share between the 2 of us, but DH said it will be difficult to split one. Well, it didn't take much to convince me that we'll each get our own. I'm not really crazy about whoopie pie honestly, and I don't get the hype. It's really just 2 chocolate "brownie cookie" with cream sandwiched in between, right?

I realized that I've counted the whoopie pie as a "Food Stop" twice, so I'll readjust the numbering system with my next post.

For those who are interested, I have created a customized Google Map before our trip. It has all the places marked (sightseeing stops, restaurants, etc):

Day 2 to follow.

easytraveler Jun 29th, 2010 08:07 AM

Cookies, ice cream, and whoopie pies? You must weigh all of 100 pounds by now, yk! :)

Great report! Thanks for sharing!

yk Jun 29th, 2010 08:42 AM

CPG & easytraveler, we consumed an obscene amount of calories this weekend! CPG, you probably know that I've reached a "new low" on my weight last week... ha ha, that's the end of that! I'm adding an extra 15 mins to my morning exercise regime (started yesterday). By my calculations, I'll burn up all those extra calories in about 1 month's time! BUT - most of the food we ate in Portland was so good that I thought it was worth it.

yk Jun 29th, 2010 09:37 AM

<b>Day 2</b>

After an uneventful night at the Marriott, we checked out in the AM and drove into Portland. Since today is Sunday, street meter parking is free.

<u>Food Stop #8</u>
Despite still feeling full from all the food we ate the day before, that didn't stop us from heading to <b>Becky's Diner</b> for breakfast.

Becky's been in Portland forever, and has been serving local fishermen (it opens at 4am daily!).

We arrived just after 9am, and had a short wait before we were seated at the counter (you can request for booth seats but those take longer).

I ordered French Toast, which has 3 ginormous pieces. DH got their Hobson's Wharf Special - it comes with
- 2 eggs any style
- bacon
- home fries
- toasts
- 2 pancakes (DH asked for blueberry pancakes)

As you can imagine, there was enough food to feed a family of 4. Despite our best efforts, we couldn't finish it all.

<u>Sightseeing Stop #4</u>
Thanks again to dfrostnh's TR, I found out about cruises on the <b>Casco Bay Lines</b>.

Since Casco Bay's main goal is to provide ferry service for locals, their prices are cheaper than cruises aimed at tourists; but it was just as enjoyable.

We were interested in taking the Mail Boat Cruise (3 hrs), but decided it was a tad too early for us to make it (10am), so we took the <u>Diamond Pass Cruise</u> (1h45min) which departs at 11am.

The Diamond Pass stops at Little Diamond, Great Diamond, Diamond Cove, and Long Island. On our way out, our captain gave an almost nonstop live commentary describing various sights and history of the Casco Bay.

Here is a souvenir map (free with ticket purchase) showing the various cruises:

Fort Gorges:

Little Diamond:

Several of these islands (esp little Diamond) are so lovely that DH & I would LOVE to rent a house there for a week in the summer!

Anyway, this was a lovely way to spend the morning. DH LOVES the ocean (he vacationed on MDI every summer as a kid), so he especially enjoyed the cruise!

<u>Food Stop #9</u>
It was lunch time when we got back on land, so we proceeded to <b>Duck Fat</b>.

It was raining a bit when we arrived (~1:15pm), and we waited for no more than 10 mins for a table. The line got longer later when the rain stopped.

I have read so many rave reviews about this place that I had high expectations. And it DID NOT disappoint!

I had their daily salad special: House cured duck prosciutto with arugula, shaved fennel, asiago cheese, and green onion vinaigrette. Absolutely delicious.

DH had a cup of watermelon-cucumber gazpacho. It was so good that I actually looked online for a recipe and I made a big batch yesterday (not as good as Duck Fat's version). He also had their vegetarian panini which was fantastic.

BUT - the <i>frites</i>!!! OMG. They're better than the <i>frites</i> I've had in Belgium. Their "secret" is that they cook their fries in duck fat. It has a really, really nice flavor when eaten plain. But with each order, you can choose one house-made dipping sauce. We picked the truffle ketchup. It was so good that I almost licked the container.

As a matter of fact, I'm drooling now when I'm thinking about the fries. =P~

More to come...

yk Jun 29th, 2010 10:17 AM

<u>Food Stop #10</u>
After our delicious lunch, of course we had to get dessert! We decided to go back to <b>Mount Desert Island Ice Cream</b>. This time, DH & I <i>shared</i> a small cup of Dulce de Leche ice cream. The thing is, when we each got a small cup yesterday, it was quite big. The staff today though, gave us about 1/2 the amount of what we got yesterday. That's okay; we really don't need more calories.

<u>Sightseeing Stop #5</u>
We walked all the way to <b>Victoria Mansion</b>. We happened to arrive when no one else was there, so we got a private tour! [I was able to use a Tropicana Juicy Rewards voucher for a 2-for-1 admission.]

DH & I enjoy visiting historic homes. This place is IMPRESSIVE! Very, very elegant and almost over-the-top in the inside. A sweeping flying staircase, restored stained glass, marble fire places, carved wood panels, painted walls etc. Considering this was built in 1850s, it preceeded those guilded-age mansions by 4 decades; yet it is almost as grand as those. The man who built this made his money in hotel business. The mansion has only been in 4 different owners' hands, and >90% of the furniture inside is ORIGINAL, which makes this very rare. I highly, highly recommend visiting Victoria Mansion!

<u>Sightseeing Stop #6</u>
Our final stop in Portland was the <b>Wadsworth-Longfellow House</b>. We arrived just in time for their final tour of the day (@4pm). Again, we were the only people on the tour. Its website offers a downloadable coupon for 2-for-1 admission.

It is a Georgian-style house in brick, built by Longfellow's maternal grandfather, General Peleq Wadsworth. This house was Longfellow's childhood home, until he moved to Cambridge to take up his position at Harvard. It is much more modest than Victoria House, but no less charming. It is another house which managed to retain most of its furniture and artifact, as the last person who lived there was Longfellow's sister Anne, who donated the house to the Maine Historical Society at her death in 1901.

<u>Food Stop #11</u>
Our final, final stop for food was not in Portland, but in Kennebunk on the way home - the Clam Shack.

It's located on the bridge that connects Kennebunk with Kennebunkport. Oh, and Kennebunkport - what a cute and charming town! We'll have to return some other time for a proper visit.

Anyway, I've read that the Kennebunk Clam Shack has great lobster rolls. So that's what we got - 2 lobster rolls. The reality is, they aren't rolls, but hamburger buns! If you click on its website, you can see a picture of the lobster bun on the left. Each lobster "roll" has the meat from a 1 lb lobster.

When we got ours, it was exactly as it advertised. Big chunks of meat from the whole lobster, very lightly coated with mayo, it tasted very fresh. It is 100x better than the lobster roll DH got at Gilbert's the day before. What a great way to end our trip.

That's all, folks! Thanks for reading. I'd be happy to answer any questions you might have.

AnnMarie_C Jun 29th, 2010 10:52 AM

Enjoyed your report, yk! Thank you for educating me on an area I know very little about. I get the Stonewall Kitchen catalogue, always wondered if the store actually existed. The whoopie pies look yummy. In the fall I like to make pumpkin whoopie pies--it's a challenge to eat just one. :-)

easytraveler Jun 29th, 2010 11:27 AM

Potatoes fried in duck fat?

I've gained five pounds just reading this TR!

Sounds like you had a great weekend! And a terrific introduction to what to do and where to eat in Portland, Maine!

china_cat Jun 29th, 2010 12:05 PM

What a great trip Yk. Portland is one of those places I keep meaning to get to, and never manage to find the time. Of course, I would have done many of the same things you did, but I would have also fit in a Seadogs game :) That was definitely missing from your itinerary!

dfrostnh Jun 30th, 2010 02:37 AM

yk, actually you may have made a better choice with the Diamond Pass cruise. The mailboat run didn't have much narration but OTH DH enjoyed watching them unload cargo. If you want a new washing machine on an island, it arrives by mailboat. Obviously we have to return to Portland because we did not go to Duckfat and I've read so much about the fresh fries. Unfortunately, I don't do extra exercise when I over indulge but it sounds like a good idea. Good thing we skipped the whoopie pies.

emalloy Jun 30th, 2010 03:47 AM

yk, Thanks for the report. This is a fantastic place for a visit, I've always wanted to do the boat trip, but somehow playing at the beach won out. Maybe next time.

Liz5959 Jun 30th, 2010 06:49 AM

yk, thanks for writing such a great trip report full of information and fantastic detail. I went to camp in Maine for years (on Sebago Lake) but have never really visited ME as an adult. Looks like it's going on the list.

Although I do have to say that the absolute best lobster rolls I've had recently are in New London, CT at Captain Scott's Lobster Dock.
They do a hot lobster roll in butter!

We should have a lobster roll thread :)

yk Jun 30th, 2010 09:59 AM

Thanks again for all your comments. While Portland isn't as "quaint" or scenic as I had imagined, it's still a nice town/city to visit for a day or a weekend, esp if you love good food.

Liz5959, I don't need anymore temptation for lobster rolls! :) Next time when lobsters are on sale at my supermarket, I'm going to get some (they will cook them for me for free), then turn them into lobster rolls myself at home.

Froderick Jun 30th, 2010 03:24 PM

I love Portland and love Duckfat frittes dipped in duck gravy!

skibumette Jul 3rd, 2010 09:56 AM

Thanks so much yk; we're headed to Portland for a short stay in early August and this was a great help!

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