By Joe Ricchio, Food & Travel Writer
Even though it’s safe to say that we all miss the days of simply choosing a restaurant to dine out, without a host of other factors involved, it does serve to make one appreciate the dining experience that much more. If not with the creativity of the restaurants to both ensure public safety while staying in business, then definitely in the perseverance of the staff working in harsh conditions but somewhat staying positive while doing it.
Judy Gibson: the newest reason to cross the bridge to South Portland for dinner
Such was the case when I visited the newly re-opened Judy Gibson in South Portland. A four-person crew (including the kitchen) deftly handled the busy and amply spaced outdoor dining area. Service didn’t feel rushed, and all of the food and drinks arrived promptly. My friend and I opted to order all of the appetizers, a move that is easily do-able with two people, and a great way to experience the full range of what Chef/Owner Chris Wilcox can do. Fresh, chilled mussels in escabeche with smoky dried chilies as well as fried green tomatoes with “everything” spice and tomato mayo were standouts. However, the unlikely star was the tomato salad. It’s no secret that tomatoes are delicious enough by themselves this time of year, but the addition of a silky tahini sauce with sunflower seed miso put it way, way over the edge.
Judy Gibson, 171 Ocean St., South Portland I 207-808-8649 I judygibsonrestaurant.com
Fried Green Tomatoes
Aragosta: Make Reservations NOW and thank me later
If you’re looking for something more grandiose than the neighborhood scene, may I suggest making the trek to Aragosta at Goose Cove, in Deer Isle? I promise you that, in a maximum of two years – this will be the most sought-after reservation in the entire state. With Chef Devin Finnegan’s tasting menus sourced almost entirely from a 3-mile radius, every visit holds several new surprises and enthusiastic staff to present you with them. The panoramic views of the private beach, especially as the sun goes down, are mesmerizing – as is enjoying a cup of coffee (or a refreshing cocktail) on their extensive deck as the sun comes up. This is the first year that Chef Finnegan has done strictly tasting menus at dinner, which has allowed her creativity to flourish. However, you will always still be served her signature lobster casoncelli pasta with citrus and herb cream sauce. Lunch and breakfast are also superlative, with dishes ranging from Tuna Poke to a beyond perfect French omelet. Both suites and luxury cabins are available for rental on-site, so might as well make a weekend of it.
Aragosta at Goose Cove, 300 Goose Cove Rd I Deer Isle I 207-348-6900 I aragostamaine.com
View of the Deck and the Beach
18 Central: Worth the drive, just for dinner
Nestled between Portland and Deer Isle is 18 Central Oyster Bar & Grill in Rockport. This restaurant has always been one of my personal favorites in the state, and each visit re-affirms this sentiment. The preserved historic interior gives the impression of a classic steakhouse, with dark wood and high ceilings, while the patio provides a beautiful view of the marina. The raw bar is outstanding, but what is impressive is Chef Patrick Duffy’s understanding of flavor profiles – resulting in dishes like his version of surf n’ turf. Grilled scallops are paired up with crispy, perfectly cooked pork belly alongside a sweet corn puree, chimichurri sauce, and foraged Chanterelle mushrooms. Another specialty is the Finnan Haddie and fingerling salad, a veritable party in one’s mouth of garlicky croutons, crispy capers, and creamy smoked haddock dressing. Their adaptation of the Old Fashioned, the Kilnwooder, combines Bulleit Rye, muddled orange, fresh OJ, maple syrup, and Luxardo cherries and is available in both single and double size, depending on the kind of day you’ve had.
18 Central Oyster Bar & Grill, 18 Central St I Rockport I 207-466-9055 I 18central.com
Scallops and Pork Belly
Joe Ricchio, Food & Travel Writer
Joe Ricchio is a Portland, ME based author who specializes in food, drink, and travel. He is the host of the Food Coma Podcast, in addition to freelancing for such publications as Bon Appetit, Vice, Boston Magazine, TheFix.com, First We Feast, and The Guardian. His blog, Food Coma, spawned a string of successful web-series entitled Food Coma TV, The Food Coma Show, and Off The Wagon with Joe Ricchio. Previously he was the Food Editor of Maine Magazine, Down East Magazine, and Decor Maine. His clients for travel writing include The Ritz Carlton, Conde Nast Traveller, Lark Hotel Group, and Villa Europe Luxury Rentals.
“Live in the sunshine, swim the sea, drink the wild air”Ralph Waldo Emerson