Best of Maine
The best cup of coffee I ever had was at the Black Duck Emporium on Monhegan Island. I had spent two days in downpours looking for birds that were just as soaked as I was — really the most wretched little warblers you could imagine, shivering to keep warm and grateful for the mealworms my friend had brought with him for the sole purpose of sustaining these heroic passerines on their northbound migration.
But back to that cup of coffee.
I remember nothing about it: neither the brand nor the brew. It might have been French roast or something milder. It might even have been (God help me) flavored. What I recall about that coffee was that it was steaming hot. It warmed my throat and my stomach and, eventually, my entire soul. As I stepped back outside into the unforgiving elements I exclaimed into the mist, “This is the best coffee I’ve ever had!”
So the Black Duck Emporium deserves a spot on my personal “Best of Maine” list, right? Yes — and no. The next time you’re on Monhegan you should definitely sample a cup. But in terms of taste alone, would I place it above the coffee I’ve had at Bard or the Speckled Ax in Portland? Honestly, no. Coffee, like beer or lobster rolls, or even soap, aims at some sort of Platonic ideal. Sooner or later, I am sure, I will enjoy coffee that is perfect in every way, and it will be the measure against which I compare every subsequent cup of joe. Objectively, it will be the best I have ever had, but I doubt it will ever satisfy me the way that steaming pint of java did on fogbound Monhegan.
This is my roundabout way of making the point that when we define something as “the best,” we are, of course, making a subjective statement. And situation counts for a lot. A slice of pizza might taste especially good because of the friends who are enjoying the pie with you. The “best” lighthouse in your life may well be the one you first visited as a child from the Midwest, never having seen one of these iconic Maine beacons before.
We call this issue of the magazine the “Best of Maine,” but in all candor: It’s nothing of the sort. (How’s that for delegitimizing our own awards?) A better name for the section that begins on page 96 is “People, Places, and Things We Really Like and Suggest You Sample Yourself.” Down East’s editors understand that superlatives are slippery and subjective. Our choice for most overlooked beach will not necessarily be your choice for most overlooked beach, and thank heavens that is the case. What a boring world it would be if we all agreed on everything!
My invitation to you is to treat this issue as the beginning of a conversation — maybe even an argument — that we look forward to continuing in the year to come when we publish our next highly idiosyncratic guide to the “best” things Maine has to offer.
— Paul Doiron