There’s a new gem on Great Diamond, and it shines flamingo pink.
By Kate McCarty
Photography by Erin Little
The crawling traffic on Commercial Street, long ticket queue at the ferry terminal, and clanking cranes moving freight — all of the busyness of the Old Port melted away as Casco Bay Lines’ Aucocisco III shoved off. The ferry passed by South Portland’s Bug Light, the old fort on House Island, and the waterfront homes on Peaks, docking some 20 minutes later at Great Diamond Island’s Diamond Cove, where golf carts are the main mode of motorized transportation.
We stepped off the boat and headed for Crown Jewel, a low brick building with a small front porch, a few hundred yards up the road. One of two restaurants on the island, it opened last year with a menu that tilts toward seafood. No surprise there. But the kitchen throws plenty of twists. Steamed clams? Check, but with chimichurri and chili jam. Oysters? Yep, lightly baked and accompanied by miso-mushroom butter, gelled pearls of yuzu juice, and pickled mustard seeds.
Inside the blacksmithery turned general store turned restaurant, owner Alex Wight has created a look she calls “universal island décor,” although her island aesthetic is more Key West than Casco Bay. Instead of decking the place out in blue-and-white upholstery, lobster buoys, and model ships, Wight went with rattan-topped barstools, palm-print banquette cushions, and a 4-foot-tall neon flamingo sign that bathes the space in a pink glow.
Chef Rocky Hunter.
Wight used to organize monthly guest-chef dinners at Flanagan Farm, a wedding venue in Buxton that her mom owns. She hired Rocky Hunter to run Crown Jewel’s kitchen. Previously, he was head chef of David’s Opus Ten, in downtown Portland. Together, they came up with a menu of small- to medium-size plates meant for sharing. Hunter describes the unifying theme as “food you want to eat on a hot summer day.”
255 Diamond Ave., Great Diamond Island. 207-766-3000.
Small plates $6–$9, larger plates $12–$20.
Coordinate dinner reservations with the ferry schedule (cascobaylines.com). Boats depart Portland’s Maine State Pier, and round-trip tickets cost $10.70. Hop off at the Diamond Cove dock, not the Great Diamond Island dock on the opposite side of the island.
Crown Jewel stays open through October 7 and, for its last two weeks, ditches the regular menu for five-course prix-fixe dinners, complete with pre-arranged water-taxi service and a cocktail and snack for the ride over.
On a recent evening, our party of four settled into a corner table in the dining room. There’s also a small bar and a chef’s counter — 35 seats in all. Several Maine beers are on draft, and cocktails included a rum punch and a Tom Collins, but we opted for a bottle of light Spanish red.
A couple of dishes per person is plenty. First to arrive was a bowl of crispy brussels sprouts, kale, and fiddleheads tossed with a sweet and spicy apricot harissa. The carrot “lox” comprised long, thin strips of cured rainbow carrots arranged in an artful tangle and topped with dill, rye-bread crumbs, and crème fraîche.
Three corn-and-crab fritters nestled in a river of sweet-corn puree next to big dollops of Gorgonzola mousse. We also devoured an order of crispy shrimp, each bite brightened by fried lemon wheels and turmeric-lime yogurt sauce. Our last dish, pan-seared hake on a bed of white beans, chorizo, and kale, had a saffron-infused tomato broth that we slurped every last drop of.
Running a restaurant isn’t easy, and running a restaurant on an island is harder, but an island restaurant has romantic cache, Wight says, and the seasonality of the business jibes with her itinerant ways — she lives in New York much of the year. Still, supplies have to come over on the ferry, and the island doesn’t have a grocery, so there’s no replacing a missing ingredient. Plus, diners come over on the ferry too, so the waitstaff and kitchen have to manage orders in recurring waves.
Our visit entailed just one hiccup: after putting in a dessert order, we realized we were about to miss the ferry. We took our desserts to go and hustled to the dock. A few minutes later, we were sitting on the boat deck, dipping spoons into takeout boxes. As we passed around apple fritters with Tillamook cheddar ice cream and a thick slice of griddled pound cake with beach-rose ice cream, we breathed the salt air deeply and watched as the city lights came back into view.