Friday, August 27, 2010

72-Hour Lobsterfest in Portland, ME

J's Oyster

In an attempt to escape the infernal heat plaguing New York, as well as providing a convenient excuse to gorge on fresh lobster, I joined MW and her family for a trip to Port Elizabeth, Maine. Arriving late Saturday with a hungry party of eight and having no reservations, we naively asked and were promptly rejected by the hostess at Street and Co. Regrouping, MW and I were able to get a table at the nearby J's Oyster. Little more than a locals bar on the water's edge that just so happens to serve food, J's seemed anything but pretentious. Featured on No Reservations, showing Anthony Bourdain happily scarfing down steamers with beer, J's was filled with locals sharing the latest gossip and food over ice cold beers.

Our waitress eyed our table suspiciously as she took our order but eventually warmed up to our party given the amount of food we ordered. While half of the party stuck with soda or non-alcoholic beverages, the rest of us ordered pints of Harpoon IPA, from Boston, Mass.

We started with two Dozen Oysters served "Naked," which, in this case meant they were served Raw on the Half Shell with a side of weak Cocktail Sauce, fresh Lemon and Oyster Crackers. Our oysters appeared to have come straight from behind the restaurant as they still had mud visibly caked on their bottoms. Apparently, "naked" also meant dirty. Even a dousing of Tabasco couldn't make make these oysters more palatable.

Moving on, the table ordered three bowls of New England Clam Chowder, which the menu specified was made with bacon. Always a good sign, the addition of bacon was noticeable and the chowder had a creamy but not too thick consistency, characteristic of most canned varieties. The broth contained a strong briny flavor without being over seasoned and every now and then you were even lucky enough to find a thick piece of the advertised bacon.

But we didn't drive up to Maine for some suspect oysters and a decent chowder. As far as I was concerned our meal officially began with two large orders of J's Famous Clams, or steamers, bellies and all. Two heaping buckets full with these steamed clams arrived leading to a veritable free-for-all, followed by a series of peeling, dunking and chewing. Fortunately, the clams were as good as advertised, briny and sweet, tasting even better when chased with cold beer.

Next came our entrees, two Lobster Scampi's, four Steamed Lobster Dinners and two Alaskan King Crab Dinners. MW's Lobster Scampi consisted of a heaping pile of Cappellini tossed with a Garlic-laden White Wine Sauce and Maine Lobster. The dish was good, though nearly identical to any other scampi dish I've tried, this version managed to separate itself from the pack by the addition of fresh lobster. The chunks of chopped claw and tail meat were a succulent and sweet addition to the al dente pasta.

The steamed seafood dinners were identical aside from one containing Maine Lobster and the other containing Alaskan King Crab. In addition to the lobster or crab, both contained Corn on the Cob and more Steamers with a side of Drawn Butter. But while the lobster tasted notably fresh, the crab legs tasted like they had developed a case of freezer burn, imparting an important lesson: stick with the local seafood when in Maine.

Overall, J's is your average locals bar that serves up some good seafood. However, contrary to their name, I'd suggest passing on the oysters and instead, order some steamers, lobster and beer.

J's Oyster
5 Portland Pier
Portland, ME 04101
(207) 772-4828

To see all our pics click the flickr link.

J's Oyster Bar on Urbanspoon

Hot Suppa!

Seeing how I had an entire 72 hours in Maine, unintentionally cut short by work, we decided to only hit the "must-try" restaurants. For breakfast, this meant a trip to Hot Suppa! was in order, which Bon App├ętit's restaurant editor, Andrew Knowlton, championed their corned beef hash. Thankfully, this long-haired food writer channeling his best Russell Brand impersonation, knows a thing or two about food, because this was one of the best versions I've ever had.

Draped in a vibrant purple exterior, Hot Suppa! noticeably stands out from its surroundings on Congress Street. Wood and brick dominated the cozy dining room as our party was split into two small groups. A large board, positioned above the kitchen displayed the daily specials. But daily specials be damned! We came for their famous hash, which arrived shortly after our waitress arrived with coffees.

Obviously, I ordered the Homemade Corned Beef Hash with two Poached Eggs, Hashbrowns (we were informed that the deep fryer was broken and as a result, the restaurant could not serve home fries) and Marble Rye Toast. When my plate arrived I took a second to observe the hash before devouring it. The hash clearly looked homemade, with large chunks of Boiled Corned Beef, Potato and Vegetables that had the most amazing black crust on it from a good sear on the flat top. Eaten plain or piled high on a piece of marble rye (insert Seinfeld joke here) and dredged through runny yolk, I couldn't help but agree with Mr. Knowlton's assessment that this was indeed, some damn good hash!

But as good as Hot Suppa!'s hash is, it'd be a crime to pigeonhole the restaurant as a one-trick pony. MW's Biscuit with Country Gravy with two Poached Eggs and Hashbrowns was comforting and delicious. As if the dish needed any additional flavor/fat, the flaky split biscuit was brushed with butter before being toasted and covered in a hearty sausage gravy. The combination of egg yolks and thick gravy with bits of sausage and buttery biscuit culminated in one fabulous bite after another.

Despite the fact that Hot Suppa! doesn't even serve supper, the friendly service, intriguing specials and great food at reasonable prices make this a "must-try" destination for every hash lover.

Hot Suppa!
703 Congress Street
Portland, ME 04102
(207) 692-2145

To see all our pics click the flickr link.

Hot Suppa on Urbanspoon

The Lobster Shack at Two Lights

Wanting to forgo the lengthy trip to Bar Harbor, we made the conscious decision to stay close to Portland and wound up a mere five minutes away in Cape Elizabeth. A quick search for quintessential Maine lobster rolls turned up The Lobster Shack at Two Lights, which was conveniently located about five minutes away.

Located off the beach, Two Lights serves up some of the best fried clams, bellies included of course, blueberry pie and fresh local lobster rolls in all of Maine, with a spectacular ocean-front view of two famous lighthouses to boot. Although we knew exactly what we were going to get, to help pass the time while standing in line, we scanned the menu posted outside. We placed our orders, lobster rolls please, and waited as our lunch was prepared. Finally, our number was called and we took our trays outside to dine al fresco.

So just how was my first Maine lobster roll? Surprising. In retrospect, I'm not sure what I was expecting, but compared to the countless Manhattan varieties, this lobster roll was very toned down, almost basic. Instead of mayonnaise (Pearl Oyster Bar, Mary's Fish Camp or Ed's Lobster Bar) or butter (Luke's Lobster), the lobster meat was served naked, with a large dollop of mayonnaise served on one side atop a bed of shredded iceberg lettuce in a buttered split top roll. Basic indeed, but far from boring, this lobster roll skipped everything extraneous and instead, was predicated on fresh chunks of Maine lobster.

Overall, the lobster roll at Two Lights was good, but interestingly enough, not my favorite. Call it blasphemy, but I still prefer the lobster roll at Pearl Oyster Bar. However, this experience reinforced the simplest of all cooking concepts, less is more when dealing with the freshest products, which is exactly what you'll find at The Lobster Shack at Two Lights.

The Lobster Shack at Two Lights
225 Two Lights Road
Cape Elizabeth, ME 04107
(207) 799-1677

To see all our pics click the flickr link.

Lobster Shack on Urbanspoon

Cooking at Home: Lobster Bake

As if I hadn't gotten my fill of lobster and steamers during my brief time in the pine tree state, we headed to Three Sons Lobster and Fish to pick up the essentials for a lobster bake at home. While there are plenty of reputable markets and whole sellers of fresh seafood in Maine, due to its proximity and reputation we chose Three Sons. Basically a warehouse filled with crates of lobsters and other miscellaneous seafood, Three Sons sells some of the freshest seafood to customers, either cooked or alive. With the advice of a helpful employee, we settled on eight Hardshell Selects and six pounds of Steamers, and after a quick trip to Whole Foods were we picked up some local Corn on the Cob and New Potatoes we began cooking.

I ended up simply quartering and halving the potatoes and mixed them with a some olive oil, roasted garlic, fresh parsley, salt and pepper before roasting them in the oven.

For a quick but tasty garlic bread, I used some more of that roasted garlic and parsley and made a compound butter which I then smeared on some split french baguettes and baked them in the oven.

One of the best things about fresh seafood is how little you have to do for it to taste great. Case and point, our dinner that evening. After a quick steam in salted water, our lobsters emerged bright red and ready to enjoy.

The steamers and the fresh corn on the cob took little time and everything was served with drawn butter and plenty of cold beer as we over the dining room table that had been covered with newspapers.

My last meal in Maine and quite possibly overall favorite, ended up being the one I cooked myself. Utilizing the freshest seafood and local ingredients, prepared simply, and enjoyed in the company of friends made my 72 hours in Maine vacation one I'll never forget.

Three Sons Lobster and Fish
72 Commercial Street
Portland, ME 04101
(207) 761-0825

To see all our pics click the flickr link.


  1. I'm a native to the town where Two Lights is, and it's CAPE Elizabeth, not PORT Elizabeth. PE is in South Africa.