Down East 2013 ©
Bristling with simplicity, Maine lobster pounds, clam shacks, and other restaurants where the fish practically swim onto your plate are very nearly faultless.
In some ways, these beloved strongholds contend with Maine’s growing reputation as a serious food region, but the inexorable allure of fried clams, lobster, baked beans, whoopee pies, and Moxie are local necessities.
Yet, it’s nice to have both—both the serious food and the seriously simple food—at our disposal.
For some reason we feel the need to rank restaurants like these, and I wonder, is there really one lobster pound or clam shack in Maine that is the best? Why Red’s Eats lobster roll, for example, still rates as Maine’s number one confounds me. The lines are ridiculously long for an event that’s ultimately anti-climactic. [Editor's Note: Down East is the publisher of Red's Eats: World's Best Lobster Shack .]
I’ve never understood the appeal of a lobster roll anyway. I’d rather have lobster fresh out of the shell rather than stuffed into a doughy roll. I suppose it’s like saying baked ham is better than a ham sandwich.
But the best lobster pounds have an ineluctable appeal. When it’s found on a wharf that stretches out to the cold, gleaming sea, the scenery can be as magnificent as the crustacean.
Probably the best lobster I’ve ever had was in the small fishing village of Friendship, where I was renting a house for the summer. I went down to the village dock and asked the dock master for some lobster. He said, “Hey, whaddaya know, the boat’s coming in now.” It couldn’t get any better or fresher.
My two favorite lobster pounds remain Miller’s Lobster in Spruce Head and Five Islands Lobster at the tip of the Georgetown peninsula.
Miller’s is an old time family business that’s located off Route 73. There are signs everywhere on the road. On Wheeler Bay looking out to the greater reaches of Muscongus Bay, the setting is steely but divine. Nearby is Waterman’s Lobster, another popular summer haunt with a similar feel and menu to Miller’s. But I prefer Miller’s.
They don’t have a fryolater so the menu is pure lobster, steamed clams, mussels, shrimp, and simple sides, like their house made Cole slaw and potato salad. It doesn’t get much better than this.
My other favorite, Five Islands Lobster, at the tip of the Georgetown peninsula, has maintained its high standards and simple charms even though it’s been “discovered” thanks to a lot of press attention. It can get somewhat crowded on weekends but not overwhelmingly.
The day I was there several weeks ago, the mainland was suffering a heat wave while the fog still hovered at the water’s edge. By the time I reached Five Islands, the temperature had fallen to 60 degrees.
The setting, through sun or fog, is pure rocky Maine coastline. On Sheepscot Bay, it overlooks Southport Island to the east and the precious wicker-world-tennis-whites summer colony of MacMahon Island, about a 3 minute boat ride from the town dock.
The Five Island’s menu is pretty encompassing, and I think they offer some of the best onion rings and fried clams available anywhere. (Down East magazine rated their fried clams the best in Maine. I don’t disagree.) The breading is highly seasoned and fried just right, and the clams are very briny and fresh tasting. Another favorite on the menu is Jenny’s Sandwich, which is a crab cake on grilled halibut served on a bun with a choice of cilantro lime or mustard dill mayonnaise. With sides of fries, onion rings, and cole slaw, the caloric binge is worth it.
What I’m looking forward to for the remainder of the summer is seeking out other pounds farther afield beyond the Midcoast to Downeast. I know there’s still a long list and when I get to them next month, I’ll report back.