The Best (and Worst) of Maine-Food TV

Grading the food-centric travel shows that have filmed in the Pine Tree State.

The Best (and Worst) of Maine-Food TV
By Will Grunewald
From our August 2022 issue

Netflix’s Somebody Feed Phil recently joined the long line of TV food travelogues to swing through Maine, hot on the heels of National Geographic’s Gordon Ramsay: Uncharted, which followed right behind a visit from Travel Channel’s Man v. Food. To date, half a dozen of the biggest programs to mix food and travel have stopped by, and some have done a better job than others at capturing the feel of the place, culinary and otherwise.

FoodNation with Bobby Flay (2004)

Stream: Discovery+
The national obsession with foodie travel shows hadn’t hit full boil, and the format still needed some fine-tuning, when chef Flay dropped a Maine episode. Quick visits to Cape Elizabeth’s Lobster Shack at Two Lights and specialty-food shops in Portland felt rushed and perfunctory by contemporary standards. The highlight, though, was a home-cooking session — chowder and lobster — with chef Sam Hayward, the James Beard Award winner whose Fore Street restaurant helped fuel Portland’s rise as a dining destination.

Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmern (2008)

Stream: Travel Go, Hulu, Discovery+
Zimmern set a new bar for on-screen adventurousness here, food-wise and geographically — unsurprising from a guy who once ate horse-rib-and-rectum sausage in Kazakhstan. Down east, he met up with a beaver trapper. Back south, he foraged stinging nettles. From Isle au Haut, he went lobstering. Coast and inland both got their due — he ate sea cucumber, whelks, and flounder roe, as well as beaver chili, moose tartare, and June bugs. “Staying closely connected to your food source is becoming increasingly difficult these days in America,” Zimmern noted, “but not so in the great state of Maine.”

No Reservations (2010)

Stream: Amazon Prime Video, Apple TV, Travel Go, Discovery+
Anthony Bourdain, stepping foot in Maine for the first time, promptly vibed with the tradition of unfussiness here (which is why, in Portland, a segment at the divey J’s Oyster clicked a lot better than one at the haute Street & Co.). Another strength: Bourdain’s longtime cameraman, Zach Zamboni, a Milo native, served as guide, leading the host to his hometown for a town-hall bean supper, then up to his family’s camp. Plus, the episode gave Mainers lots of time to talk about themselves — one, asked what it means to be from Maine, replied, “Well, I think it means to always be cold.”

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Man v. Food (2010, 2020)

Stream: Travel Channel Go
For the opening shot, chummy host Adam Richman sported a peacoat and helmed a sailboat, eyeing the rocky coast through a spyglass. That’s good television. But alas, it was mostly downhill from there. Richman copied Flay with a stop by the Lobster Shack at Two Lights. He dispatched the Manimal Challenge — eight-patty burger, two dogs, fries, soda, milkshake — at Arundel’s since-shuttered Tradewinds Café. Not particularly Maine-y. A decade later, new host Casey Webb dialed up another Maine trip with an even more generic challenge: a massive hard-shell taco at Margaritas, a Tex-Mex chain from out of state.

Gordon Ramsay: Uncharted (2021)

Stream: Disney+
Ramsay’s Maine itinerary was strong: lobstering out of the down east town of Harrington, diving for clams on North Haven, churning butter at a dairy in Whitefield. But the hard-charging chef’s relentless energy could feel at odds with his serene surroundings, and he tends to overdramatize — “I just want to grab the clam before something else grabs me,” he said in a bit of voiceover. “I’m either surfacing with a clam or a need for stitches.”

Somebody Feed Phil (2022)

Stream: Netflix
Everybody Loves Raymond creator Phil Rosenthal didn’t overly tax the odometer, but the affable, sometimes-goofball host has a way of taking his time to figure a place out. At Biddeford’s Palace Diner, for instance, he worked his way through most of the menu, then observed, “What I start to notice is each of these things are maybe the best of that thing I’ve ever had in my stupid life.” The tuna sandwich, he added, is “the grandest expression of a tuna sandwich in the world.” The unhurried approach carried over in Brunswick, where he visited his cousin, Anna McDougal, at Spindleworks, a gallery for artwork by disabled adults, and took her and her fellow artists out for ice cream, and in Wiscasset, where he enjoyed a picnic of lamb, corn, and oysters with his Maine-based extended family.


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