Sea and seafood, pie and pizza, all so appetizing along Route 1
Coastal Route One is the great American road of Maine. It begins on the north side of the Piscataqua River in Kittery and runs along the convoluted coast all the way to Calais. Sandy beaches in the south give way to a rocky coast around Portland that continues for hours and hours, crossing through towns and hay fields, over tidal rivers, coastal mountains, blueberry barrens, and wild rivers flowing into the sea.
Along the way, and along some scenic detours, there is road food galore. Seafood aplenty, but also good old diner food, griddled hamburgers, pizzas cooked in wood-burning ovens, homemade ice cream, and Jamaican barbecue.
Living on the coast means spending a lot of time driving up and down Route 1. This month I stopped along the way at the farmers’ markets, clam shacks, and ice cream parlors that caught my eye. Here are 10 great ones:
The daily specials list at Moody’s Diner in Waldoboro reads like the index of an early American cookbook. There’s the New England boiled diner, the pea soup with johnnycakes, shepherd’s pie, Yankee pot roast, boiled haddock with egg sauce, corn chowder. The dishes are homemade and probably taste pretty much as they did back in 1927 when the diner opened.
Moody’s is a relic from the past thriving in the present. It is not just nostalgia and a neon sign that pulls the travelers, truckers, locals, and everyone else off Route 1 and into the plywood booths and swivel counter seats of the super-stretch train car. They come because the food is good, and not expensive or fussy. They come because the diner is open from dawn until 9 or 10 p.m., year round. Road food at its best. 1885 Atlantic Highway, 207-832-7785, www.moodysdiner.com, most items under $10
Cook’s Lobster House is at the dead-end tip of Bailey Island, one of the long Harpswell fingers that jut into Casco Bay. Cook’s is on the wharf and lined with giant picture windows that look out onto the fishing boats and the one-of-a-kind 1928 granite cribstone bridge, which spans Wills Gut. Cook’s opened in 1955 and is the rare lobster-pound type of restaurant that is open all year. The food is standard, but the dining room, all old pine and nautical curiosities, makes you want to settle in for an afternoon of rum drinks and sea creatures dipped in butter. Route 24, Garrison Cove Road, 207-833-2818, www.cookslobster.com, shore dinner with a 1 1/4-pound lobster and steamed clams $40.95
The specialty at Flo’s Hot Dogs in Cape Neddick is a simple, perfect thing. A steamed frank, packed in a top-loading steamed bun, topped with celery salt, mayonnaise, and spicy relish. Florence Stacy bought the business in 1959. She ran it for 14 years and then sold it to her son and daughter-in-law, who have run it ever since. Beware of long lines. 1359 Route 1, floshotdogs.com, hot dog $2.50
Since 1960 Harmon’s Lunch in West Falmouth has been serving hamburgers, hot dogs, grilled cheese, and french fries. The hamburgers are cooked to a juicy medium on a griddle and stuffed into steamed buns. They are topped with fried onions, American cheese, and red relish. There is no lettuce or tomato. The fries are hand cut and cooked to order. 144 Gray Road, 207-797-9857, cheeseburger $2.35
The Jamaican Jerk Center is just down the road from Flo’s. Order curried goat, oxtail, jerk chicken, and fried plantains. Order sorrel or Irish moss to drink. On summer evenings plan to stay awhile and enjoy live reggae groups such as Fitzie Niceness and the Irations. 1400 Route 1, 207-351-3033, www.jamaicanjerkcenter.com, Jamaican jerk wing dings $7
Lake St. George in Liberty is deep and clean and full of fish. John’s Ice Cream Factory is next to the boat launch. I know plenty of people who leave their houses, pass about a dozen ice cream places, and keep driving 45 more minutes for an ice cream cone at John’s. The little shop in the middle of nowhere specializes in homemade, limited edition, and seasonal flavors like raspberries and cream, peppermint stick, peanut butter crunch, and chocolate orange peel. 510 Belfast Augusta Road (Route 3), 207-589-3700, small cone $3.
The peripatetic Uproot Pie Co. is known for its thin crust pizza, stretched and baked by Jessica Shepard. With her masonry oven (built last winter by her partner), Shepard roams the hills and harbors around Camden. She can be found at farmers’ markets, wineries, and summer festivals. The pizzas are small and perfectly round with crispy crusts and plenty of seasonal ingredients from local farms.
Tuesday: Plein Air at Oyster River Winegrowers 5-9 p.m.; Wednesday: Camden Farmers’ Market 3:30-6; Thursday: Rockland Farmers’ Market 9 a.m.- 12:30 p.m.; Friday: Union Farmers’ Market 2-6, 207-370-1568, most pizzas under $10
Patty Grant, owner of Patty’s Seafood Take Out in Edgecomb, says crab rolls are her specialty. The crab is handpicked by a neighbor and served in a butter-grilled bun with a lemon wedge and a side of potato chips. A grandmother of seven, Grant lives in the tidy ranch house behind the take-out trailer. In the morning she walks outside, and if the weather is fine she cooks. She does not keep regular hours. Other hits include her grandmother’s potato salad, strawberry shortcake, and fried clams. Route 1, One, www.pattysseafood.com, fried haddock basket $10.50
The Sea Basket in Wiscasset is a seafood restaurant with no view of the sea. No matter, everything else is ship-shape. The lobster stew and haddock chowder are rich and milky, and the fried food is better than most. Shrimp, scallops, haddock, and clams are battered and fried until golden brown; hand-cut onion rings are lacy and delicate; russet potatoes are baked, cut into thick wedges and fried until crispy. 303 Old Bath Road, 207- 882-6581, www.seabasket.com, fried haddock basket $11.50
Thurston’s Lobster Pound in Bernard is the rare lobster pound that has both good food and a good view. It is right on the harbor, on the wharf, and is surrounded by bait houses, lobster traps, and the fleet of fishing boats bobbing merrily on their moorings in Bass Harbor. This is the wildest corner of Mount Desert Island, and even with crowds of bib-wearing lobster gourmets, it feels a world away from boisterous Bar Harbor. Steamboat Wharf Road, 207-244-7600, www.thurstonslobster.com, market price for most of the seafood, $11.55 per pound for a hard shell lobster now
Jonathan Levitt can be reached at www.jonathanlevitt.com.