On June 5, our editors undertook the arduous task of eating twenty-three different lobster rolls at the annual Tasting Table Lobster Rumble. After sampling rolls from every corner of the country, one emerged victorious as Editor's Choice: Robert's Maine Grill in Kittery, Maine, who piled their buttery hot dog rolls high with fresh tail, knuckle and claw meat from local lobsters.
Given our enthusiasm for the state's best-known edible mascot, we asked Robert's owner Michael Landgarten to take us on a culinary tour of his home state.
Robert's Maine Grill, Kittery, ME
No surprise here—make your first stop Landgarten's own Robert's Maine Grill. Settle in on the patio overlooking Wilson Creek, pick one of the twelve beers brewed in state, and slurp down some fresh local oysters. Of course you'll order the award-winning lobster roll, but save room for the beer-battered fish and chips, too, or go all out and get the jumbo fried seafood platter, piled high with clams, haddock, scallops, shrimp and onion rings.
The Black Birch, Kittery, ME
Landlubbers, don't despair. Plenty of meaty options abound at this gastropub tucked into a quieter part of town. Choose from one of twenty-four beers on tap, then start the feast with one of Landgarten's must-have appetizers—a trio of deviled eggs topped with everything bagel spices, curry and Graham crackers, and asparagus and lemon. For the, ahem, main event, get the lamb Bolognese special whenever it's available, or fill up on duck confit poutine topped with fresh cheese curds and duck gravy.
Bob's Clam Hut, Kittery, ME
Before leaving Kittery and continuing your way up the coast, stop in at Bob's Clam Hut. Full disclosure: It's another one of Landgarten's spots, but can you blame us for including two when the fried clams are this juicy and sweet? It fills up fast in the summer, but the cheery staff churns out perfectly crisped bivalves in no time. Don't skip dessert—it stocks Mount Desert Island Ice Cream, a locally made treat that's only available at ten restaurants in the state. Order a scoop of whatever's on deck that day.
Treats, Wiscasset, ME
North we go to Wicasset. Bypass the interstate that takes you inland and hug the coast all the way to cute little bakery and specialty shop, Treats. "It's the primary reason we don't take the highway," says Landgarten. Stick around for a slice of the fruit tart, or opt for any of the other baked goods—you can't go wrong here. Before you hit the road again, grab a slice of the lemon buttermilk pound cake to go.
Primo, Rockland, ME
Maine isn't necessarily known for its stellar Italian, but chef Melissa Kelly may just change that at her midcoast farm-to-table charmer. At what Landgarten declares the "best Italian restaurant north of Babbo," Kelly grows her own produce in lush gardens just outside the door, keeps chickens for eggs, and cures charcuterie in-house. Score a seat in the upstairs lounge, where the prosciutto hangs from the ceiling and you can watch the chefs at work. The menu changes daily, but keep an eye out for pancetta-wrapped dates. Otherwise, you can't go wrong with any of the pizzas or pastas.
The Slipway, Thomaston, ME
For a quintessential Maine feast, head up the road to The Slipway. Park yourself on the dock at Thomaston Harbor, and work your way through a surprisingly light fish chowder before moving on to the monkfish nuggets, served with beet and ginger dipping sauce. Then follow Landgarten's order to the letter: "Have a lobster, or better yet, the bouillabaisse, but save room for pie—have at least two to three pieces of whatever they've got."
Waterman's Beach Lobster, South Thomaston, ME
It wouldn't be a trip to Maine without a stop dedicated solely to lobster. Don't be fooled by this beachfront spot's picnic tables, paper plates and plastic utensils. Waterman's has a way with lobster—just ask the James Beard Foundation, which honored the restaurant with an America's Regional Classics Award. Crack your way through a whole beast, go for the requisite lobster roll (they pick the meat as you order), and throw back some steamers while you're at it.
Chase's Daily, Belfast, ME
Now that you've had your fill of lobster, baked goods, poutine, and the rest of Landgarten's coastal favorites, round out it out with a meal at a vegetarian café run by one of the original Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association (MOFGA) farms. "It's one of the most important places you'll visit," says Landgarten. The menu is stocked with family recipes, including a cherry tart with buckwheat crust and buttermilk white bread. "Not a day goes by when I don't wish I was there," he says.
And that's the Maine thing.
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