Ryan McCaskey’s Favorite Maine Place

Tobey’s Grocery, South China
Photograph by Michael D. Wilson

Tobey’s Grocery, South China

Ryan McCaskey

Ryan McCaskey
Chicago, with a summer place on Deer Isle
Acadia, on Chicago’s Near South Side, est. 2012
Two Michelin Stars, James Beard Award semifinalist five years running for Best Chef: Great Lakes
Says the Michelin Guide
“Acadia is a distinct stand-alone destination.”

[dropcap letter=”W”]hen Ryan McCaskey was growing up outside Chicago, his family made annual summer trips to Deer Isle’s Goose Cove Lodge. It’s the scene of his best adolescent memories: learning to drive on narrow roads, camping out at Little Deer Isle’s Pine Hill, meeting girlfriends at Stonington’s Harbor Cafe. During culinary school, he came back to Goose Cove Lodge each summer to cut his teeth as a sous chef.

These days, McCaskey is chef and proprietor of Acadia, one of Chicago’s most lauded restaurants, known for using the cuisine of coastal Maine as a starting point for an adventurous menu incorporating everything from a famed deconstructed lobster pot pie to foie gras torchon with Maine blueberries to lobster rolls and burgers at the bar. McCaskey gets his shellfish flown in from Stonington (“all the fishermen, I probably dated half their daughters”) and his produce from Deer Isle’s Yellow Birch Farm. The restaurant’s seven-course tasting menu costs $145 and has earned Acadia two stars in the most recent Michelin Guide — a distinction held by only two dozen other restaurants nationwide.

So does the chef rep his former training grounds as his favorite place? Or some reservations-only Portland dining room? Nope. When McCaskey visits Maine — including on his annual staff trip, for which he shuts down Acadia — his first stop upon exiting I-95 is unassuming Tobey’s Grocery, a Shell station and mini-market in South China, where he starts provisioning for the trip.

“By the time I get to Deer Isle, everything’s closed,” he says. “I stop at Tobey’s for a case of Geary’s and whoopie pies, so at least I’ll have that when I get there. It’s a tradition to me now. It’s my first taste of Maine.”

Stepping onto the asphalt at Tobey’s, McCaskey says, is the moment he first feels the temperature drop, a preview of cool coastal days to come. As banal as a convenience store may seem, it’s his ritualized moment of arrival. “Once I took a picture of some clouds and treetops from that parking lot,” he says. “I look at that pic even now and, like, that’s Maine to me.”