I have spent the past year exploring New England's food scene and decided to put together a bit of a restaurant guide to the area. Starting from Portland, Maine and ending in Newport, RI, these are some of my favorite and most memorable spots on the New England coast. If I have one recommendation above all else, it'd be to stay in Maine as long as you can! Seriously...I couldn't get enough of its beauty and its oysters and I can't wait for many future visits.
I had a love affair with Portland. Maybe it was the lobster boat. For anyone who makes their way up to Portland, be sure to check out Lucky Catch where they'll whisk you away on a lobster boat and actually allow you to participate in the lobstering process. If you need anymore reason to go, you should know that you can purchase lobsters right from the boat and take them over to Portland Lobster Company where they'll cook 'em and serve 'em to you right on their deck. Now that's a Maine lobster experience!
My three favorite places in Portland have to be Eventide Oyster Co. (in a previous post, I shared a recipe for my version of their amazing chickpea fries), Hugo's, and The Portland Hunt + Alpine Club.
Eventide Oyster Co. doesn't seem to need anymore press, but it is normally the first place I go when I arrive in Portland. Their oysters are phenomenal, I love the atmosphere, and I can always use a good celery mimosa. While their lobster rolls aren't "traditional", they are more than amazing and not overwhelming in size - perfect! Right next door, their sister (or brother?) restaurant is Hugo's and is definitely more of a commitment. Their tasting menu is awesome and there's always at least one dish that I have to recreate at home. This last time, it was their egg salad. It might sound odd, but seriously, it was phenomenal.
I don't think you can find a better cocktail in Portland than at the Hunt + Alpine Club. It's the kind of place that makes me want to return to Portland even sooner than I already do. Since I travel a lot, I find that I have a lot of regular neighborhood places in cities where I don't even live...this is one of them.
Don't forget to visit Allagash Brewing Company! They have a "house beer", only available there, sold in branded wooden crates...I will surely miss being able to replenish my stock. Rising Tide Brewing is also an excellent place for a tasting - I love their "Ishmael" American Copper Ale. If you happen to head over to Rising Tide Brewing, be sure to walk over to Maine Craft Distilling, right next door, and check out their unique spirits. Specifically, they have a sorta-kinda gin made from carrots, "Chesuncook", that I was thrilled to buy and take home.
As I mentioned in a previous post, about 20 minutes outside of Portland in Biddeford, Maine is where you'll find Rabelais - Fine Books on Food & Drink. A must for all food, wine, and book lovers. They have some wonderfully unique items and you could spend hours perusing the collection.
It is impossible to talk about Boston without bringing up Barbara Lynch. I'll be honest - I didn't know that much about her other than the fact that she's a pretty badass female chef. Once I got here, I ate my way through her entire restaurant group and immediately felt guilty for under-appreciating her all these years. Her restaurants are a home away from home and provided me with the type of food and drink that I so longed for after moving. Among my favorites are B&G Oysters (a must for oysters, both fresh and fried, and a lobster roll), Drink (for an excellent hipster cocktail and phenomenal bar snacks), Menton (for when you want to be fancy), and The Butcher Shop (for the animal lover...or if you just want a glass of wine).
If money is no object, L'Espalier has an exquisite tasting menu with some of the best service in the area, comparable to Barbara Lynch's Menton. Since L'Espalier actually has a tea sommelier, they do a fantastic tea service on Saturdays and Sundays - I'm a sucker for a good tea service!
Puritan & Company in Cambridge had an awesome, casual, farmhouse-y vibe with wonderful food and good cocktails. Their bread alone is worth the visit! Other great spots for dinner are Townsman, Commonwealth, and Alden & Harlow.
Be sure to head over to Flour Bakery (for the best chocolate chip cookie...ever. You think I'm kidding, but I'm not!) and Bee's Knees Supply Company (great little market with cheese, charcuterie, coffee, and lots of local products) on Farnsworth St., right around the corner from Drink and Menton.
Bully Boy Distillers is a craft distillery in Boston doing small-batch rum, whiskey, and vodka. Definitely worth a visit if you're into that sort of thing. Harpoon Brewery is also an excellent place to stop for a beer tasting and a tour.
Providence, Rhode Island
Talk about a city that has done a few backflips. When I first visited Providence, the downtown area felt like a ghost town. However, when I arrived in Providence in the summer of 2013 things were really looking up!
My first night in Providence, I walked into birch restaurant, which had only been opened a week or two, not even knowing what was in store for me. Let's just say it was a great first night in Providence. They've gotten a lot of press since then and may just be the best restaurant in Providence at the moment. It's a tiny 18-seat u-shaped bar. It's a unique dining experience, especially for Providence, and the food and service are always above and beyond.
And for my regular favorites:
New Rivers for $1 oysters on Tuesday nights - their entire menu is great, but I held out for $1 oyster night every week.
Even though they've gotten plenty of press for many years, I'll still say that Al Forno has great grilled pizza and their calamari pizza is unique, unhealthy, and completely amazing. If you're looking for phenomenal Neopolitan style pizza, go to Figidini for a margherita pizza...it's some of the best I've had outside of Italy.
The Grange is a strictly vegetarian restaurant, but in more of a hipster than a hippie way. They have great cocktails and excellent food - I especially love the mushroom po' boy and the carrot hotdog.
Flan y Ajo is a special little place, but is in the middle of an expansion right this second. As of now, it is a teeny tiny little B.Y.O.B. tapas bar on Westminster Street downtown. There are four seats at the bar and some miscellaneous seating and standing options around. Jordan runs a one-man kitchen with two burners and cranks out excellent food. It's such a quick, easy, and affordable spot to share a few small plates and a bottle of wine. Since it's expanding, I assume it will no longer be B.Y.O.B. and there will be plenty of seating. Either way, great spot.
Newport, Rhode Island
This small little seaside town is home to some of the finest food in New England. For a delicious brunch with a beautiful view, make a reservation at Castle Hill Inn (or, better yet, stay at the hotel). Reservations may be hard to come by, but their outdoor bar is first come, first served. The bar is surrounded by the same beautiful view that you'd have at a table and, inevitably, you'll be greeted by a bartender who looks like a Kennedy. If you're just in the mood for a cocktail and a small snack, grab one of the adirondack chairs on their lawn and enjoy your cocktail with the quintessential New England view.
For a casual beer and a delicious, authentic lobster roll, head over to Brick Alley Pub & Restaurant on Thames Street, right in the middle of the main tourist strip.
There are so many great restaurants to choose from in Newport, but if I had to choose a nice dinner spot, it'd probably be Tallulah on Thames. I really care about food being memorable and creative, especially while traveling, and Tallulah definitely delivers. Reservations are a must.
If you want a beautiful view of the sunset, head over to Fluke Wine Bar & Kitchen and go upstairs to enjoy a glass of wine or a cocktail. Another great dinner option is The Mooring - usually crowded, but excellent seafood.
Martha's Vineyard was never, not once, about finding a nice restaurant or fancy food. I wanted lobster and clams and to soak up the peace of the island right before the summer season started. By the way, I 100% recommend going the weekend before Memorial Day or the weekend after Labor Day...your wallet and sanity will be forever grateful.
My number one recommendation is to stay at The Charlotte Inn...if you have been wondering what happened to real hospitality in the U.S., it all went to this place. I walked up the path, opened the screen door, and stepped over their picture-perfect golden retriever to get to the reception desk. As Carol, the general manager, walked me up the creaky steps and down the hall to my room, I decided I was going to move in. Everything was beautiful and everything had been so well thought out...inside and out. Martha's Vineyard is no longer my destination. The Charlotte Inn is my destination and it's just a plus that it happens to be on such a nice island!
Alright, now to the good stuff...lobster! Head on over to Larsen's Fish Market in Manemsha for oysters, clams, and lobster. This is a perfect spot to watch the sunset, but any time of day is worth going. Speaking of lobster, Offshore Ale Co. in Oak Bluffs has an excellent lobster roll and it isn't a bad idea to wash that down with some of their beer, brewed right on the Vineyard.
State Road Restaurant is a great spot for breakfast or dinner and I'd go back again and again. Martha's Vineyard has some puzzlingly crowded spots that I just wanted to avoid completely and I found State Road to be the perfect alternative.
As a final note: There is some great dairy farming happening on the Vineyard and two farms that I would recommend visiting are Mermaid Farm & Dairy and The Grey Barn. Stop by with a cooler and be prepared to bring some fantastic raw milk, cheeses, and meats home from Martha's Vineyard. I don't know about you, but when I travel I'd much rather bring home some cheese than yet another t-shirt or shot glass!
*all photos by Shauna Burke