Buy Fish Here
Eight standout seafood markets along the Maine coast (in no particular order).
- By: Kathleen Fleury
Photography by Jennifer Baum
It’s an easy assumption: Maine, a state revered worldwide for its seafood, has an abundance of fabulous and authentic seafood markets. The truth is that authentic fishmongers are a dying breed — even in this seafood-loving state. Nonetheless, plenty of authentic fish markets still exist — you just have to know where to look. So we did the legwork for you. We traveled more than five hundred miles on our quest to find markets that demonstrated three major qualities: selection, freshness, and the more subjective standard of trustworthiness. Everything in the shop had to look, smell, and feel fresh. That meant in-house fish processing, limited previously frozen items, and absolutely no chemicals. Most importantly, we had to trust the people selling the fish. “Trust is the key,” advises Nick Alfiero, of Harbor Fish. “I’m not about to put anything out that I wouldn’t take home myself.”
And so it is with this list of eight seafood markets — we’d buy from each and every one of them. No doubt there are others, and often your best bet is to go down to the dock and buy directly from the fishermen themselves, but at these eight spots (almost all of which are family run and open year-round) you are absolutely guaranteed to find the freshest and tastiest seafood Maine has to offer.
Port Lobster Company
122 Ocean Ave., Kennebunkport
Just minutes away from the Bush compound on Walker’s Point, Port Lobster presides over the selling of the freshest seafood in town. Founded in 1953 and run by the Hutchins family from Kennebunkport ever since, this small but packed shop is the place to go for seafood in southern Maine. Housed in a small brick house on Ocean Avenue, this father- and daughter-owned operation is primarily known for lobster. The father, Kenneth Hutchins, also known as Sonny, “is eighty-one and still delivers lobsters to all the Hannaford markets around here,” says store employee Barbara Colbert. Lobster comes live, cooked, and in the rather delectable form of a lobster roll. Aside from its signature crustacean, Port Lobster’s selection isn’t enormous — it fills just one glass case in the retail space. But as the local fish purveyors themselves will tell you, everything in the store is as fresh as can be. It stocks the usual local suspects and often has swordfish, tuna, salmon, monkfish, and trout on and off throughout the seasons.
Gilmore’s Sea Foods
129 Court St., Bath
At Gilmore’s, its signature crab cakes and fish cakes line the shelves. And which one you end up with most likely depends on which Gilmore brother waits on you. Benson makes the jumbo homemade fish cakes. The crab cakes are Kevin’s. It’s a friendly family competition, which their father, Richard “Lefty” Gilmore, might have dreamed of when he started the fish market back in 1958. The elder Gilmore established the Court Street outpost, visible and accessible from the southbound lane of Route 1, in 1977. Over the years, Gilmore’s Sea Foods has developed a loyal following of locals — and a slew of disciples. “Gilmore University,” as Kevin jokes, has also trained a lot of fishmongers who have gone on to start their own businesses (like Simpson’s up the road in Wiscasset — also on our list). “Reputation doesn’t happen in five years,” says Kevin. “It takes fifty. What my father started, Benny and I are carrying on. And hopefully the next generation will, too.” It’s on track so far, as Benson’s son Richard just started lobstering for the market this year. The family nature of the place leaves customers with a jovial vibe, seven days a week, all year long — not to mention plenty of fresh, local seafood, especially lobsters, crab, clams, and locally sourced groundfish. Plus, it’s a great stop for a ready-to-eat bite: it has a full take-out fish shack connected to the shop open year-round as well.
Browne Trading Company
262 Commercial St., Portland
Browne Trading Company is a high-end, gourmet enterprise revered worldwide for its fresh fish, its line of caviar, and its in-house smoked seafood. Started by Rod Mitchell in 1991, Browne quickly became known among restaurateurs as a top-notch purveyor of all things seafood. Catering to a high-end clientele, Browne’s selection of caviar remains one of the best in the country, and its in-house smoked products have an equally prestigious reputation. That said, for the average seafood consumer, a stop into the retail store isn’t out of reach. In fact, it’s a treat. The market sells Maine’s most exotic, upscale selection of seafood: more than twenty-five kinds of American and international fish fill the cases here. From New Zealand John Dory to Hawaiian opah to Irish trout, you’ll find the perfect fish for any occasion — plus resident culinary consultant Jennifer Flock will help you plan the perfect preparation. Browne Trading also offers one-stop shopping. You can pick up a perfectly paired bottle of wine from its enormous wine selection, and stock up on other fresh Maine produce, cheese, bread, and many hard-to-find gourmet packaged goods.
Stonington Sea Products
100 North Main St., Stonington
Known mostly for its world-class smoked seafood, Stonington Sea Products, perched on picturesque Deer Isle, possesses a summer secret. From May to September, in addition to its smoked seafood line, the company operates a fresh seafood market. At any given time, it’ll have seven to ten kinds of fresh fish (often the same kinds that it smokes). Plus it stocks plenty of live lobsters, mussels, clams, and local oysters. For the other nine months of the year, customers can go to the facility (through the office door on the left) and pick up an array of smoked products, from scallops and mussels, to salmon, bluefish, and trout. Its fresh fish business is actually what started its smokehouse. Owner Richard Penfold, who learned smoking in the Shetland Isles of Scotland, spent three years building contacts with restaurants and retail outlets by selling fresh fish he procured from top-quality suppliers. Then in 2004, he opened the smokehouse, making use of his experience and reputation from his fresh fish business. The smokehouse has become one of the most revered in the country — popular products include cold-smoked salmon, finnan haddie (chef Sam Hayward of Fore Street recommends this item personally), and kippers (plump, smoked herring from the Bay of Fundy). Everything is available online and through mail order, but you’ll do yourself a favor by heading down to this remote Deer Isle fish haven.
Simpson’s Oceanfresh Seafood
690 Bath Rd. (Rte. 1), Wiscasset
Georgetown native Scott Simpson, who dragged for fish in the winter and lobstered in the summer, traded in the boat for the display case twenty-two years ago. He says changes in the industry “took the wind out of my sails, so to speak.” Undeterred, he opened Simpson’s Oceanfresh Seafood on Route 1 in Wiscasset with his dad, Ed Simpson. Scott had learned the ropes at Gilmore’s Sea Foods, down the road in Bath, during high school. Located directly next to the Shaw’s Supermarket plaza, Simpson’s Oceanfresh Seafood is small but always packed with local favorites — lobster, clams, scallops, haddock, mussels, and oysters — and often has a nice selection of imported fish such as rainbow trout from Idaho, artic char from Canada, and Alaskan salmon. Simpson says he’s “fussy about what we buy,” so that the customer doesn’t have to be. “Haddock is the most popular,” says Simpson. “But there’s always something coming in daily. When someone asks me ‘Next Tuesday I want . . . ,’ I say ‘call me next Tuesday, and we’ll see what we have.’ ” Walk into Simpson’s with an open mind, and you’ll walk out with fresh, delicious fish.
118 South Main St., Rockland
Sharon O’Brien and her three daughters, along with son-in-law Jamie Johnson, run this popular midcoast seafood market. The operation has been on South Main Street in Rockland since 1986. Pemaquid mussels, North Haven and Alluvian Farm oysters, shucked clams, and picked shrimp from Mill River Seafood in Warren — everything local stocks the shelves at Jess’s, even local produce and products such as Maine Sea Salt and the Maine Chef line of specialty fish and meat sauces. This market provides fresh seafood for many of the high-end restaurants north of Portland, including nearby Primo and Francine Bistro. Johnson, who used to be a fisherman, never thought he’d stop fishing. “But I really like working with the customers,” he says. “For the most part,” he adds jokingly. “There’s that age old saying, ‘Summer people, some are not.’ ” But Johnson admits that both tourists and locals sustain this shop year-round. At Jess’s, all the employees cut the fish, a skill Johnson refers to as “a lost art.” The proof is in the product: at Jess’s, where you can get anything from Hudson River shad roe and Maryland soft shell crabs to local scallops and shrimp, everything is top-notch.
367 Bar Harbor Rd., Trenton
Mount Desert Island lost one of its best seafood markets last year, when Pectic, formerly of Hall Quarry, packed up shop and moved to Trenton. Luckily the new store is close enough so that its fans can still pick up fresh fish and an array of seafood on their way to or from Mount Desert Island. Pectic offers much more than just fresh fish. Though it does sell high-quality fish, lobsters, and other ocean delicacies, the store also functions as a full-service take-out joint, complete with frozen, ready-to-eat seafood meals, delicious homemade doughnuts, fried clams, and even pizza. Pectic has been in the seafood business since 1985. Paul and Teresa Cecere founded Pectic, and the husband and wife team still runs the operation along with their sons, Matt and P.J. “My husband was a cook for years,” says Teresa. “Then he went into lobstering. I started picking crabmeat, and each year we kept adding more stuff and this is what evolved.” With all the prepared food, Pectic straddles the line between seafood market and take-out joint. “Somehow we got back into the cooking business,” jokes Teresa. That’s good news for Pectic customers, and anyone coming to the Acadia region looking for tasty, fresh, or prepared seafood.
Harbor Fish Market
9 Custom House Wharf, Portland
This quintessential seafood market, located on Custom House Wharf in the Old Port, is as much a destination as it is a place to actually buy fish. One step through the iconic red façade and you’ll know why. The place bustles with activity as workers and cashiers and customers converse across the wet, concrete floors. Immense quantities of fish, clams, oysters, and other sea critters sit on ice, resulting in an artistic display unmatched anywhere in the state. Purveyors literally pull up to the wharf in their boats and deliver local lobsters and other seafood from Casco Bay and beyond. The market boasts Maine’s largest retail selection of fresh seafood. It processes more than six thousand pounds of fish a day in the summer months (about 40 percent of that in on-site retail sales, with the other 60 percent going to wholesale, mail-order, and restaurant clients). You’ll find everything from haddock and halibut to branzini, perch, bass, flounder, and sushi-grade tuna. Owned by three brothers, Ben, Nick, and Mike Alfiero, Harbor Fish has been in the family for forty years since their father started it in 1969, and even some of the workers have been filleting for nearly as long. “My brothers and I were born in Portland,” says Nick. “And for us it’s important to do a good job in the neighborhood. It’s a pride thing.”
- By: Kathleen Fleury