Dining alfresco is a rite of summer — and in the pandemic era, it offers some added peace of mind. From the seaside to the lakeshore to the city, follow the links below to find the best Maine restaurants for outdoor dining (plus a few other favorite spots) in nearly every setting.
From our August 2020 issue
Aragosta at Goose Cove
When chef Devin Finigan moved Aragosta from its prime spot overhanging Stonington’s harbor last year, it seemed she was maybe messing with a good thing. But her new location, 5 miles out of town, is even sweeter, with a deck that looks out across the almost entirely undeveloped, spruce-lined Goose Cove, a sheltered little nook on the eastern side of Penobscot Bay. The menu is tightly tuned to the place, from the just-picked seaweed on which Finigan serves half-shell oysters to the local lobster she folds into dumpling-like casconcelli pasta and then splashes with white-wine sauce (aragosta, incidentally, is Italian for lobster). This summer, Finigan is doing a tasting menu in the dining room, while deck service is a la carte. 300 Goose Cove Rd. 207-348-6900.
Lubec is the easternmost town in the continental U.S., a little nub of land at the intersection of the Gulf of Maine and the Bay of Fundy, where famously mighty tides are abundant with fish and seals. An ideal perch for eating the former and watching the latter is the big deck at the Inn on the Wharf’s restaurant, open daily, breakfast through dinner. Eggs Benedict make a fortifying morning prelude to a trek around nearby Roosevelt Campobello International Park. In the evening, after fishing boats have dropped off the day’s catch at the restaurant’s wharf, enjoy the west-facing angle of the deck, perfect for watching the sun set across the island-dotted water. 69 Johnson St. 207-733-4400.
Along Camden Harbor’s rickety boardwalk, several restaurants serve up classic shore dinners and front-row seats to the quiet parade of windjammers gliding in from sunset cruises. At Rhumb Line, the clientele clambering around the dockside bar has a rakish, just-off-the-water aura. Peter Ott’s charm is statelier, more subdued. And the most characteristic of the lot is Waterfront, which has been ladling out chowder since Jimmy Carter was president. The old standby feels broken in but well cared for, and at high tide, water laps gently just beneath the deck. At night, the lighting is low, the buzz is gentle, and the heaping crab cakes are essential. 48 Bay View St. 207-236-3747.
Top left: At Camden’s Waterfront, Mount Battie frames the harbor view. Photo by Benjamin Williamson. Right, bottom left: Frisbee’s Wharf is the low-key counterpoint to Pepperrell Cove’s Bistro 1828. Photos by Michael D. Wilson.
Just a couple miles from busy Camden, the little bend in the road that forms the village center of Rockport feels a world apart. The pair of restaurants there both offer fine food, plus views to match. Nina June is only open for takeout this summer, due to pandemic precautions. Ditto that for 18 Central, but with the caveat that customers are welcome to tote their meals the few steps to the side porch above the rocky harbor, where lobsterboats putter in and out and moored sailboats rock in the breeze. It’s a BYO-utensils situation, but who needs utensils with a platter of oysters Rockefeller and a to-go Porch Sippa cocktail of Aperol, tequila, lime, grapefruit, and a touch of salt? 18 Central St. 207-466-9055.
In 2016, a fire closed 88-year-old Frisbee’s Market. Henry Ares had worked next door in high school, at Cap’n Simeon’s Galley. Later, he ran the kitchen at Kittery’s high-end Anneke Jans before he and his wife, Eides, took over AJ’s Wood Grill Pizza. Now, they’re part of an ownership group that rehabbed the old Frisbee’s and Cap’n Simeon’s as Pepperrell Cove, a patchwork of four projects: the View (a wedding venue), Provisions (a grocery), Bistro 1828 (a chefy restaurant), and Frisbee’s Wharf (a casual alternative, plus a place to dock your boat). The new Frisbee’s has a big gravel patio right on the water and a perpetual happy-hour vibe. Bistro 1828 has a cove-view roost of its own via a third-floor bar and deck. Order a clam roll at the one or pistachio-crusted halibut at the other — the scenery is great either way. 88 Pepperrell Rd. 207-703-2028.
Certain things are undeniably better as double-deckers. Buses, certainly. Cheeseburgers. Restaurants too. Boothbay Harbor’s Boathouse Bistro has a deck off the second-floor dining room, for observing the action on the village’s busy waterfront. The rooftop deck is of an even higher order. Up above the touristic bustle, the sun is warm and the margaritas cool. Plus, in a town with more than a few hifalutin kitchens, the menu is reasonably priced and all-over-the-board fun, ranging from lobster thermidor to veggie pad thai to scallop risotto to ground-bison and spicy-ketchup flatbread. 12 The By-Way. 207-633-0400.
Finer points aside, the degrees of difference from one lobster roll to the next are rarely so big. The views at the seafood shacks that serve those rolls are a whole ‘nother matter.
The Lobster Shack at Two Lights
This shack sneaks up on you, located down an otherwise ordinary residential street. Then, suddenly, you’re sitting at a table atop a rocky ledge, then scrambling farther out for the postcard view of the namesake lighthouses. 225 Two Lights Rd.
Five Islands Lobster Co.
The hamlet of Five Islands is, as the name suggests, a fine place to gaze out at islands, which surround the small working waterfront. No fancy boats here. The only glitz is of the natural variety. 1447 Five Islands Rd. 207-371-2990.
With full-service indoor dining, the 81-year-old standby splits the difference between shack and restaurant. But this year it’s in full-on shack mode — indoors is closed as a pandemic precaution. The picnic tables among tall pines on the sloping shore of Somes Sound are always a better choice anyway. 13 Abels Ln. 207-276-8221.
McLoons Lobster Shack
The last stretch of the drive — skirting narrow coves, crossing the bridge to Spruce Head Island, winding past fishing wharves — is pretty spectacular. The destination equally so: tiny red shack, granite shoreline, pointy conifers, sparkling water. 315 Island Rd. 207-593-1382.
Just about the only reason to drive down Newbury Neck (unless you live there), Perry’s has a handful of picnic tables on a narrow pier. Look left: families splashing at the pebbly beach. Look right: across the bay, Acadia National Park’s mountain skyline. 1076 Newbury Neck Rd. 207-667-1955.
The Well at Jordan’s Farm
There are three ways to enjoy the farm air and chef Jason Williams’s constantly evolving lineup of food: at a picnic table (reservable a day in advance), on the screened porch (between the kitchen and the pick-your-own flower garden), or in one of the gazebos (with seating from 2 to 12 people). Williams started the restaurant on the multigenerational Jordan family farm in 2010, and ever since, he’s been cooking up entrées such as pan-roasted monkfish with leeks, wild rice, and lemon butter sauce, plus desserts such as doughnuts with fresh strawberries and whipped cream. The strawberries, like nearly everything on the menu, come from around Cape Elizabeth, and much of the produce at the Well is straight off Jordan’s Farm. 21 Wells Rd. 207-831-9350.
Frye’s Leap Cafe
Some places simply radiate summer, and the general store and café on Frye Island sure checks a lot of boxes: open seasonally, on the water, on an island, accessible only via ferry or personal craft, and plunked smack dab in the middle of the vacation-home mecca that is Sebago Lake. This year, the normally freewheeling vibe might be tamped down somewhat — reservations are required so that staff can keep everyone seated at safe distances from other parties — but the menu is still summertime distilled. Fried-avocado tacos and frozen lemonade spiked with vodka? Check and check. 6 Sunset Rd. 207-655-4256.
The Lakeshore House
The hot seats outside at Monson’s homey hostel and pub are swivel chairs fastened to the dock, on which you can enjoy your burger or wings while suspended slightly over placid Lake Hebron. The place caters to Appalachian Trail hikers, along with plenty of locals and camp owners, and on Sunday afternoons, they all let their hair down out back, with rootsy bar bands playing and diners hopping in the free kayaks and paddleboat between rounds. It feels like a barbecue at your hippie friend’s house, but your hippie friend’s yard doesn’t get sunsets as sublime as the Lakeshore House’s west-facing patio. 9 Tenney Hill Rd. 207-997-7069.
Top left: The distance from farm to table is short at the Well at Jordan’s Farm. Photo by Michael D. Wilson. Right, bottom left: On Wednesdays and Sundays, there’s live music on the lawn at the Village Inn and Tavern. Pull up your pontoon for dockside pickup. Photos by Michael D. Wilson.
Co-owner Anna Poto is the breakfast nut behind an ever-changing menu that forces impossible choices: Smoked ham Benedict (with ham from her family’s nearby farm), or the mushroom, pepper, and chorizo scramble (with chorizo also from the farm)? Lemon ricotta pancakes topped with Maine blueberry sauce, or the Belgian waffle with Maine blueberry jam? Anna’s husband, Jon, who runs the front-of-house, can help with decisions, but it all tastes wonderful, especially when consumed on the patio that backs up against a creek and a quiet patch of woods. The restaurant (which also serves delish dinners) is only a stone’s throw from busy Route 1, but that fact is quickly forgotten under the enveloping shade of the old ash tree that grows through a hole in the patio. 144 Bayside Rd. 207-338-4668.
The Village Inn and Tavern
One of the highlights of supper at a picnic table on the Village Inn’s back lawn is watching ducks alight on the stream connecting Great Pond and Long Pond. Another is eating ducks — not the same ones — roasted for 12 hours and drizzled with one of nine rich sauces, the specialty of the house since the ’60s (though we also recommend the lobster tostada). Still another is admiring the boats coming and going from the inn’s half-dozen docks, including the occasional stunner of a vintage runabout, a style popular around the Belgrades. Heritage and comfort are the motifs at the nearly 100-year-old inn, and the huge shade trees and Adirondack chairs and cocktails delivered to your boat (if you have one) all fit the retro-relaxed atmosphere. 157 Main St. 207-495-3553.
Only 10 miles from Baxter State Park’s southern entrance, the lodge-y pub at the New England Outdoor Center opens onto a stone patio a hundred yards from the shore of Millinocket Lake. Down along the water, canoes are stacked and campfires lit by overnight guests staying in cabins. In the evening, the restaurant turns boisterous as Baxter day hikers guzzle calories of both the solid and liquid sort. All the better if there’s a wait for a table — time to wander down to the lake as the sun dips behind Katahdin, then head back to the bar, grab a drink, and sit by the firepit for a while. So pleasant is the setting that food almost becomes an afterthought. Almost. From pubby (nachos) to classy (seared scallops with roasted-beet puree), everything tastes gourmet after a day in the park. 30 Twin Pines Rd. 207-723-8475.
Picnicking is the original socially distanced outdoor dining. And while you can lay out a blanket almost anywhere, a stunningly situated picnic table is a rarer find.
View: From atop this low peak in Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument, an unimpeded look across sparkling Katahdin Lake to Maine’s mightiest mountain.
Get There: From the 12-mile marker on the monument’s bumpy loop road, it’s a 2.3-mile hike up switchbacks and stone steps to the solitary picnic table.
Pack: Don’t count on picking up supplies anywhere near the trail. PB&Js all day.
View: Lobstermen unloading their catch, ospreys diving, and a little swimming beach.
Get There: Drive to Rockport Harbor Park, then pick a table, any table.
Pack: Fried haddock from just up the hill at Graffam Bros. Seafood Market (211 Union St.; 207-236-8391) or a gourmet sammie from Bleecker & Greer butcher shop (310 Commercial St.; 207-236-6328).
View: The lush shoreline, Sunfish sailing, and the occasional seaplane splashing down.
Get There: In Rangeley Town Cove Park, eschew the pavilion-shaded tables to the left of the boat launch in favor of the spruce- and birch-shaded one on the tiny peninsula.
Pack: Anything from Classic Provisions, but especially the chicken-salad wrap with lemon dressing and bluebs (2455 Main St.; 207-864-2717).
View: Echo Lake below, and the undulating farm fields and woodlots of the Aroostook countryside all the way to the horizon.
Get There: In Aroostook State Park, there’s a lone picnic table next to a lean-to just off Quaggy Jo’s North Peak, on the Ridge Trail.
Pack: Another PB&J situation.
The Bold Coast
View: The islands dotting Narraguagus Bay, and more often than not, nary
Get There: It’s a short, uneven walk through the Milbridge park’s coastal woods to any of three picnic tables scattered around the rocky shore.
Pack: Tacos and tamales from Vazquez Mexican Takeout, an easy stop in town along the way (38 Main St.; 207-546-2219).
It’s away from the water on a heavily trafficked road, a parking lot pressed into service as a patio, just as Shuck Station is an auto garage pressed into service as a restaurant. On paper, nothing about the place makes it sound like one of Maine’s most enjoyable spots to slurp oysters, but the deck-party vibe in Shuck Station’s little gravel lot is undeniable. Frequent live music helps; so does the deep bench of Maine craft beers and the “midcoast oyster shooter” — a fat Moondancer oyster, topped with Split Rock Distilling’s horseradish vodka, served with Bloody Oyster Cocktail mix from Bristol’s WaldoStone Farm. 68 Main St. 207-682-0129.
Mason’s Brewing Co.
A mile’s stroll from downtown Bangor, across the Chamberlain Bridge and down the Riverwalk trail in the neighboring city of Brewer, is, fittingly, a brewery — and one with an aces porch to boot, set right along the Penobscot River. Families wander past on the path and an occasional boat cuts along the water. While sipping the brewery’s much-sought-after Hipster Apocalypse hazy IPA and gobbling slices of Truffle Pig pizza (white sauce, candied bacon, wild mushrooms, spinach, truffle oil), one Down East editor recently had the additional pleasure of soaking up the afternoon sun while watching a bald eagle swoop for fish in the river.
15 Hardy St. 207-989-6300.
In cities everywhere, rooftop bars have serious cachet, providing needed respite from street-level stresses. Portland seems largely to have missed the memo though. Maybe short summers scare local restaurateurs off the idea. Fortunately, one rooftop outpost pretty well makes up for the overall deficit. Inside, Bayside Bowl is an upscale pub/bowling alley. Topside, it’s a bohemian oasis — cityscape views, a 1960s Airstream trailer that dishes out tacos, and a bar that pours local beers, frozen cocktails, and sangria. Summer might be short, but that’s making the most of it. 58 Alder St. 207-791-2695.
Top row: An Airstream. Parked on a rooftop. Used as a taco truck. At a bowling alley. Improbable. Terrific. Bottom row: Extra space between tables is the norm now, including at Mason’s. Photos by Michael D. Wilson.
Novare Res is the hub of Portland beer culture, and every great beer culture knows the value of great beer gardens. On Novare’s patio, shade trees and umbrellas shelter picnic tables, cornhole bags smack against boards, platters of deviled eggs, kielbasa, and warm pretzels with beer cheese land in front of customers, and bistro lights keep the convivial buzz going deep into the evening. Despite Novare’s cred with beer lovers around Maine and beyond, and even though the patio bumps all summer long, the place still feels like a hidden gem, owing to how it’s reached via pedestrian-only alleyway and snugged beneath the brick-and-ivy exteriors of surrounding buildings — smack dab in the middle of the bustling Old Port, but also a world apart from it. 4 Canal Plaza. 207-761-2437.
Lompoc Cafe & Books
Along Bar Harbor’s Main Street, gridlock is as much a pedestrian phenomenon as a vehicular one at the height of summer. Souvenir-shop-less Rodick Street, only one block over, can seem almost deserted by comparison. But there’s a Thai restaurant and an Indian restaurant, a bar for beers and burgers, another for quinoa bowls and smoothies. And there’s Lompoc Cafe, which for more than three decades has been a favorite place to kick back after a day in Acadia National Park. The leafy patio hosts bocce matches, refreshing drinks, and creative bites (like the Honeycomb sandwich, with goat cheese, garlic spread, apple, greens, and honey on ciabatta). This summer, owner James Pike introduced some changes: the “& Books” part of the name is new (as are the bookshelves inside). Breakfast service was added too — egg sandwiches, pastries, and a full coffee-bar lineup. Now, the patio is an all-day affair. 36 Rodick St. 207-901-0004.
Food for Thought
At his year-old restaurant, Chef Brad Andries plates up memorable flavors at forgettable prices. Among those big-impact flavors: roasted corn doused in chipotle crema and salted ricotta then dusted with Bloody Mary seasoning; honey fried chicken in a fresh vanilla waffle cone, with coffee butter and maple syrup; and shrimp in blueberry–chili sauce, with gorgonzola and toasted almonds. Most everything is priced in the mid-teens or lower, and the vibe is correspondingly laid back. Seating, at barrels repurposed as high tops, is all outside, shielded from Ogunquit’s main drag by a privacy fence and from the sun by a repurposed sail stretched over the gravel courtyard. 414 Main St. 207-216-9102.
Food trucks (and carts and trailers) move around, but the best places to find them stay the same.
Fort Williams Park
Bite into Maine first rolled into Fort Williams Park nine years ago and quickly won fans for its lobster rolls, which range from traditional (mayo or butter) to wild (wasabi, chipotle, or curry mayo). Those rolls pair just right with the park’s dramatic view of Portland Head Light.
A New England village green that’s still a hub of civic life: weekly farmers market, free concerts, winter skating rink. A few food vendors get in on the action, and the longest lines are at Danny’s Dogs (slinging hot dogs since 1982) and Taco the Town (serving tacos since 2016).
What’s the charm of an industrial park next to I-95? Beer, mostly, plus the food trucks that follow in breweries’ wakes. Falafel Mafia’s pita pockets and Muthah Truckah’s muffuletta are popular on the circuit, and breweries including Foundation, Austin Street, and Definitive added and rearranged outdoor space recently. More room to spread out and chow.
Congdon’s Doughnuts has been frying dough since 1955. Since 2017, it has used an adjacent lot for after-hours food-truck rallies, with eight or nine vendors a night. Fahrenheit 225’s pulled pork hits the spot, especially with the beers from Saco’s Barreled Souls Brewing Co. that fuel the party.
The grassy slope above Casco Bay on the city’s East End is prime turf for throwing down a picnic blanket. Mr. Tuna is often on the scene with sushi hand rolls — spicy salmon, Maine crab, crunchy shrimp. Gazing out at the water always sets the mood for seafood.