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A Philadelphia Guide to Vacationing in Portland, Maine

Farm-to-table gems, craft beer, lobster rolls galore – this Portland is much closer to my home.

Steamed lobster dinner at Luke’s Lobster on Portland Pier / Photo courtesy of Luke’s Lobster

If your first thought when you hear “Portland” is the West Coast version, you’re missing one much closer to home. The coastal city about a six-hour drive from Philadelphia is home to a surprisingly vibrant foodie scene. With thriving local farms and seafood purveyors, an influx of talented chefs from cities like Boston and DC, and a supportive, year-round hungry community, the city is proving that Maine cuisine is more only blueberry pie and lobster rolls (although you can get those too!).

In the morning, line up at Tandem Café and Bakery for a homemade cinnamon latte and bun. For a good seated breakfast, go hot soup for southern-inspired dishes like shrimp and grits and fried chicken with buttermilk waffles. To the sacred donutgrab a few potato-based treats, which add a pleasantly dense texture to flavors like Honey Lavender and Glazed Ginger Sweet Potato.

In the afternoon, get to work tasting the seafood, from Luke’s Lobster for lobsters, steamed or stuffed in rolls, outside on Portland Pier. For outdoor local oysters, head to Boone’s Fish House and Oyster Room or Eventide Oyster Co. Nearby, the Buy through Island Creek Oyster wholesales to restaurants, but there’s also a menu of local oysters with canned fish, caviar and small plates (scallop crudo with spicy seaweed) to snack on at tables outside (with a chilled white bottle).

The Tasting Room at Oxbow Blending & Bottling / Photograph by Bret LaBelle

On the town’s East Boardwalk – a 78-acre park with stunning views of Casco Bay – you’ll find a playground, community garden, boat launch and food trucks that cover it all, of Totally Awesome Vegan Food Truckartisan black bean burgers with vegan smoked gouda, for Maine Maple Creemee Co., an essentially soft New England delicacy infused with maple syrup. Grab a lunch and feast at one of the park’s many picnic tables overlooking the water.

For dinner, book at front street, where the city’s culinary renaissance began 25 years ago. These days, the restaurant is more popular than ever, locally sourcing wood-grilled squid and steaks, fresh breads and craft cocktails. Izakaya Minato serves classic Japanese dishes as well as bites like bacon-wrapped mochi and grilled motoyaki oysters with miso cream and ponzu. Or pair a bottle of sake with the $40 omakase. To Balance, it’s hard to save room for dessert with the robust fish and shellfish menu, but do your best for treats like baked Alaska, butterscotch sundae with maple whip and homemade ice cream. Be careful with Twelvethe much-anticipated waterfront restaurant created by Chef Colin Wyatt and Daniel Gorlas, of New York’s Eleven Madison and Per Se respectively.

For a slightly more casual meal, head to Baharata brick-and-mortar-turned food truck specializing in Middle Eastern dishes like mezes and lamb kofta plates. Duck fat is an all-day cafe with salads, small plates and poutine topped with duck fat sauce.

Portland is also full of top-notch breweries, so make time to visit a few, including Bissell Brothers Breweryto drink flagship The Substance IPA in a century-old railway building; Oxbow Blending and Bottling, for sours aged in barrels and with spontaneous fermentation; and, just outside the city, Allagash Breweryfor a taste of Maine’s original craft beers.

And while you’re at it…explore the great outdoors

You can’t go to Maine without swimming in nature.

Under Canvas Acadia glamping resort in Maine / Photo courtesy of Under Canvas Acadia

The great state of Maine has nearly 3,500 miles of coastline (more than California!), so finding your own piece of paradise is easy. Off the coast, three hours north of Portland, Mount Desert Island is home to Bar Harbor and Acadia National Park. Also on the island is Northeast Harbor, a town that once welcomed so many summer visitors to Philadelphia that it was called “Philadelphia on the Rocks.”

Set up camp on the mainland at Under Canvas Acadie (rates from $459), a 100-acre waterfront oasis where private safari-inspired tents are outfitted with en-suite bathrooms and West Elm furnishings, while entertainment includes morning yoga, live music and s’mores in the evening. Stock up on coffee, Belgian waffles, cookies and homemade sauce at Sylvia’s cafe.

Acadia pro tip: Buy a $30 pass online before you arrive and display it on your dashboard; it’s good for seven days and covers everyone in your car. Once inside, take the 27-mile Park Loop Road to explore the east side of the island. Sand Beach is a rare sandy cove (most Maine beaches are rocky) perfect for a quick swim. Also on the loop, Maine’s landmark Thunder Hole shows up with every wave, all spray, foam and roar.

Break for lunch before heading out on some of Acadia’s 150 miles of trails. Reserve a waterside table at the historic Jordan Pond House, where hikers can order homemade popovers with butter and local strawberry jam, as well as salads and sandwiches.

In the afternoon, visit Bass Harbor Head Lighthouse, atop a rocky cliff in western Acadia. (It’s also a popular place to watch the sunset, but there aren’t many parking spaces, so get there early.)

Spend the early evening strolling Bar Harbor; the quaint coastal community is home to restaurants, cafes and shops. Havana specializes in local seafood with a Latin twist and features an award-winning wine list. To Fogtown Brewery, find wood-fired pizzas and craft beers. A second location in Ellsworth, near Under Canvas, has a beer garden. Also nearby, Blueberry Hill Dairy Bar serves Maine wild blueberry swirls.

Take the time to get out on the water. Under Canvas offers adventures that include a private oyster aquaculture boat tour highlighting Maine’s fastest growing marine industry, as well as freshly shucked oysters. Or bring binoculars on an excursion with Bar Harbor Whale Watch Co.for the chance to see whales, dolphins and other marine life in the open sea.

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Published as “If you missed exploring another city’s food scene…” in the June 2022 issue of philadelphia cream magazine.