Going Oriental in Ellsworth

I must confess, as a transplant from a bigger city I miss restaurant choices, primarily Asian. People who live in or visit Downeast Maine have the choice of a gamut of local seafood establishments; they can indulge in fish and chips to lobster rolls to elegant bisque. It’s all good but what about sushi, pad Thai or kimchi? Do we have to drive a few hours to find our Asian fix? NO! We have a pretty good choice right here in Ellsworth, Maine.

OK, right off the bat I have to complain about the lack of a Vietnamese restaurant. And the Indians are absent too except for occasional appearances at the Ellsworth farmer’s market. And there are plenty of other cuisines I have not tried: Indonesian, Filipino, Burmese and who knows what else. Still, for a year-round population of 7,764 we have two Thai restaurants, a sushi/Asian restaurant, a new Korean takeout, and a “traditional” Chinese restaurant. Not bad!

Just this summer we had the addition of Yu Takeout, the Korean entry. It is located at 674 US Route 1 in Hancock, just 2-1/2 miles east of Ellsworth, and 6.3 miles from SeaCat’s Rest.  (207) 667-0711 will get you to Sonye or one of her helpers. As of this writing there is no menu on line except the one you see below. This is the third takeout to open in this location. I’d say the third time’s the charm!

Another newly opened restaurant is Shinbashi, at 139 High St in Ellsworth. 207-667-6561. It has been around long enough to have many reviews written about it, and they’re overwhelmingly positive. At first, the beautiful interior and extensive menu brought in so many customers they had a little trouble keeping up, but now they’ve hit their stride and are doing fine. The sushi is the best in town and prices are reasonable. There are many choices for non-sushi lovers too: Chinese, Thai and Japanese dishes. The menu is on line here.

Pronsavanh Soutthivong

The Bangkok

For mainstream Thai, you can’t do better than The Bangkok at 78 Downeast Hwy (US Rt. 1), Ellsworth. Laotian Pronsavanh Soutthivong has been greeting her customers for several decades and now has a beautiful new building. Tripadvisor gives The Bangkok a 4.5 out of 5, and I would give it a 5. Our favorite dishes are the green curry and three king party. Pron knows I like my curry hot. The pad Thai is awesome. 207-667-1324.

The Bangkok’s old location is now filled with another Thai restaurant, Siam Orchid, which has a sister location on Rodick Street in Bar Harbor. I have been to the Bar Harbor restaurant and found it very good, so I am sure the Ellsworth branch is just fine. Alas, I cannot offer a first hand report, but don’t take that as a negative! The Siam Orchid is at 321 High Street, Ellsworth. 207-667-9161

Finally, there’s China Hill at 301 High Street, Ellsworth. 207-667-5308.  I referred above to a “traditional” Chinese restaurant. What I meant to say was “traditional American small town” Chinese restaurant.  This place has a loyal local following and for those who know what I mean it will not be a disappointment. Credit China Hill for being the first taste of far eastern cuisine in the Ellsworth area.  I have eaten there once or twice in the last 20 years and I don’t remember it being as bad as many on-line reviews, but since most rural Chinese restaurant went “buffet” (uncertain-aged food sitting under hot lights) I have steered toward Thai, Japanese or Korean restaurants based on a few bad meals, but not at China Hill. I guess the “all you can eat” crowd will always need their own restaurants, and Chinese buffets certainly fit the bill.

I would love to see a Pho (Vietnamese) restaurant open up in Ellsworth. And an Asian market would be nice too. Maybe the two combined! Hint hint. Still, what we have is pretty good. Remember, there’s more to Downeast dining than lobster rolls!

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Red Lobster’s “Maine Lobster”…NOT!

Dear MLA,

I just wanted to voice a concern about an advertisement of Maine Lobster. I again just saw the Red Lobster commercial depicting them as selling Maine lobster. The most recent commercial even portrays Maine lobstermen on it.

I have boycotted this business for the past few years after eating at two separate Red Lobsters while on vacation in Florida because every lobster I saw there had “product of Canada” bands on the claws…..

Mike Drake

Cuddy’s Harbor

Reprinted in shortened form from the Maine Lobstermen’s Association newsletter, April 2012.

Another letter in the same issue is from Mainers who took a Carnival cruise out of Florida and were served “Maine lobsters” without claws! Clawless lobster species are from warmer waters and could be a number of other lobster species, but not Homarus americanus, our north American lobster. Why should we care about whether a lobster is from Maine or not?

First, let’s hear from Red Lobster’s parent company, Darden Corporation:

….we are also the largest buyer and promoter of North American lobster in the world.In order to meet our annual usage needs, we must source North American lobster from both the United States and Canada. The term “Maine lobster” is commonly used interchangeably with North American lobster and Atlantic lobster. The USFDA also refers to the Homarus americanus species as “Maine Lobster”. Given that “Maine Lobster” is the most recognized and accepted term among consumers, that is the term we use.

Rich Jeffers

Directer of Communications

Darden Corporation, Orlando, FL

Also reprinted in shortened form from the Maine Lobstermen’s Association newsletter, April 2012.

The industrious journalists at MLA did some research and found Mr. Jeffer’s claim to be wanting; the FDA uses the word “lobster” as the “Acceptable Market Name” and “American lobster” as the Scientific common name. In fact, according to the FDA you can legally use the word “lobster” to describe Homarus gammarus, the European lobster. The word “Maine” was not mentioned anywhere. When Melissa Waterman from MLA wrote back to Mr. Jeffers with these observations, she got no response by press time.

So why should we care about this? After all, New Brunswick lobster is every bit as good as Maine lobster…probably. Why then would Red Lobster find it necessary to attach the Maine brand to Canadian lobster? Why would Carnival try to pass off spiny lobster as Homarus americanus? Could it be our reputation for clean cool waters? Our remarkable sustainable fishery? Or maybe they just want to evoke happy memories of that last time you came to Maine. I’m not advocating a boycott of anyone, no one wants a collapse of the lobster market, but a few words to the manager of your favorite lobster restaurant might be in order.

Excuse me, I need to go dig in my garden for a few Idaho potatoes and stop in my greenhouse to water my Florida oranges and prune my Georgia peach tree.

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Bizarre Foods Comes to Maine, MDI


Fans of the Travel Channel’s Bizarre Foods show have watched host Andrew Zimmern eat everything from pig brains in Spain to tree worms in the Philippines. When I heard he was doing a show in Maine my first question was, “What do we eat that’s so bizarre? What could possibly compare to roasted caterpillar or fermented seal blubber?”

Also from the travel channel website

To answer this question, Andrew met up with his dad Bob Zimmern, who happens to live in Portland, Maine’s largest city. The two head out to Fore Street for lunch where chef Sam Hayward presented his signature dishes, monkfish livers and roasted sardines. Not a bad start. In a twist on the usual parent-child exchange, Andrew scarfs down parts of the fish (the heads, of course) his dad refuses to eat. Andrew makes an observation that Maine restaurants are especially close to their food sources, and like to feature what’s local.

At the end of the show Andrew returns to Portland and finds local chefs who prepared junebugs three different ways at the Bizarre Foods Deathmatch Cookoff. He must have hit the season just right. He also visited a sushi restaurant I hadn’t heard of called Food Factory Miyake on Spring Street (our usual is Benkay on India Street). Here he tried the ultimate bizarre food, sea cucumber. I’ve seen these limp “sea pickles” washed up on our shore and I will state here and now, I refuse to eat anything that routinely expels its internal organs. Good job Andrew!

In between, the Bizarre Foods crew head out to Isle Au Haut where Andrew met up with The Perfect Storm author Linda Greenlaw. Linda took him lobster fishing and treated him to a full-blown clam bake with lobster, corn, clams, the works. Not bizarre at all, just great!

also from the travel channel website

The bizarre part happened at Pretty Marsh, where Andrew is treated to beaver chili cooked by Kate Krukowski. Leave it to Andrew to come to Maine to eat a large rodent! Kate lives in Pretty Marsh on Mount Desert Island and is the author of Black Fly Stew: Wild Maine Recipes. I have to get this book. I hope it’s not all about sea cucumbers.

Kate and Andrew Zimmern from

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Mount Desert Island-Acadia Adventure for Teens

Sometimes it can be challenging to arrange a trip for your teen aged kids where they will have as much fun as adults on vacation.   Acadia National Park and Bar Harbor can do that for you.

A favorite,  biking Acadia’s carriage roads.    Everyone who has visited us has enjoyed this bicycle adventure.   Where else can you bicycle 100 miles on carriage roads without cars, and get scenic vistas, the breeze in your hair.   Bicycling can be tough on the roads around town, but bring your own or rent from one of four shops on the island, and you will have a care free adventure, and sleep well that night.    A physical challenge, the carriage roads climb high up the mountains of Acadia.   Because the trails loop around and inter-connect you can create an easy and a challenging loop that connect together at the end.   I remember that we just sent the young ones in the group out around the witch pond loop, while we slower riders met them at the bridge – they had managed to get 7 more miles than us in the same time, but we were all tired and happy at the end.

Kayak adventures:    Less sporty, that’s okay.   As long as you can get in and out of a kayak, you can manage the physical challenge.    Kayaks are easy for folks of various abilities to join together and get out on the water.    Got a football player in the crowd, they will be as challenged as your light weight book worm, as they have to paddle all that muscle on the water.    Kayaks are simple, and can be mastered in about 30 minutes.    The perspective and quiet-ride are not to be missed.    Want more of a wilderness experience?   Try hiring a guide to take you camping among the many island of Frenchman’s bay.   It can be as wild, or a simple as you wish.    One of the best parts of kayaking is that you choose the level of involvement.   Want a three day adventure or a two hour cruise, it’s up to you.

Arrange your own Free Island Tour.   Taking the Island Explorer bus to a hike, and making it back home all on your own.     Leaving about every 20-30 minutes, the Island Explorer Bus can make a trip from one side of the island to another an adventure in itself.    There are three loops where you can tour the scenic parts of the park, and plan to return and linger longer at a later time.    Rather than just hoping in the car and getting somewhere fast, make the journey part of the pleasure.   Everyone can be looking at the beautiful sky, waves and scenery as you tour MDI.   Did I forget to say it’s free?

Shopping with good food in between.   Wandering around the streets of the business end of Bar Harbor, it’s easy to forget that your mom and dad are about 20 steps behind you.   You’ll find the most young folks at Ben and Bill’s.  It has both chocolate and ice cream, and ca not be missed.    Everyone want to try lobster ice cream don’t they?    There is the Opera House internet cafe that has chess, coffee and good smoothies  at 27 Cottage Street.   Pizza is good at Rosalie’s  or get your pizza with a movie at the Reel Pizza place (see more below).     Epi Sub & Pizza Shop has good sandwiches and is also on Cottage Street.   The Criterion Theatre and Arts Center is now a non-profit organization with events/movies and other entertainment.   Check out their website for whats happening when you are in town.

Movies are a choice for rainy days, or when your older kids need some alone time while on a trip with the family.   I cannot say enough good things about Reel Pizza in Bar Harbor, they just do it right.   They have couches and comfy chairs to watch the movie in.    They provide just the right kind of food you want to eat while watching a movie.   They also have good choices of movies to watch  including main street and independent films.    I always approve a trip to this business establishment.   The criterion theatre mentioned above also often has movies showing.

Hang out at the Rock beach near the town pier.   At the right time you can walk out to the island.

Minature golf….at Pirates Cove.

White Water Rafting …..see our blog about that, it’s a day’s drive away.

Sailing. A Windjammer trip is desirable for any age, but can be somewhere where your teens can be all by themselves.   Especially if  you have mixed age groups or your teen feels like everyone else but them gets to do something special.    They won’t be alone, because the captain makes sure everyone is happy.    You can also charter a smaller boat for a two or three or four person friendship cruise out of Southwest Harbor.   Sailing in and around the bay and a bit on open ocean is a great adventure (and an opportunity for great photos).

Take the Mailboat to the cranberries or to Frenchboro or Swans island.    There is a wonderful thing about being isolated and away from things.    Experience life on a small Island even if only for a few hours.    The teens can walk ahead and explore.     Not much to do, just walk, sit, hang out, toss a few rocks into the water,  walk some more, eat lunch, talk and be.    Isle au Haut is a bit more distant, but also would provide the same sorts of feelings and experience.

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Top Ten Things to do in Acadia

Bar Harbor from the Cadillac summit

Vacation season is almost upon us! An Acadia adventure awaits. This is one of those posts I’ve been meaning to write for a long time since it is an attempt to answer the question I hear most often.  I will try to list the Top Ten in reverse priority (#10 first) and give alternatives when possible. Some choices are weather-related and so should be shuffled in the priority as necessary.

10.  A visit off island. It’s important to see the “real” Maine, away from the remarkable beauty of Mt. Desert Island. Two of my recommended off-island trips are to Stonington on Deer Isle (1-1/2 hours, 58 miles), a real fishing village and former granite quarry. See Kathleen’s post about the Settlement Quarry and the Crockett Cove Woods. The second choice is Castine (1-1/2 hours, 53 miles). Castine is great for history buffs. You can see remains of old Fort George built by the Brits. Castine is interesting because it was claimed at various time by the  French, British, Dutch and finally the Americans. There is also a lighthouse and the Mane Maritime Academy.

9.   Shopping, Brewery, Museums. I would love to claim we have perfect weather in the summer, but if you find the outdoors soggy, you should have some indoor options. Go here to see museums associated with College of the Atlantic. Try the Abbe Museum, 26 Mt. Desert, open 10 AM to 4 PM, Thursday to Saturday from late May through early November for Maine’s Native American story.  Southwest Harbor’s Oceanarium is a hit with kids.  A brewery tour is on tap at Atlantic Brewing at Town Hill while shopping is always an option in downtown Bar Harbor.

8.   Beach Time. Finding a place to stretch out in the sand or swim is not that easy on the rocky shore. There are two great options. The first is Sand Beach, the first  stop on the Park Loop Road after the pay gate  ($20 per week per vehicle). This is on the ocean so taking a dip may involve pain. For a warmer option try Echo Lake Beach on Rt. 102 just north of Southwest Harbor. This is a great place for kids. For a walk on a stony ocean shore, try Seawall, on Rt 102A just south of Southwest Harbor.

7.   Explore Anenome Cave. This is a little known place and you need me to tell  you where it is.  It is also a little dangerous; the rocks are slippery and it is possible to get trapped in the cave if the tide is on the move or the waves are high. Visit at low tide in calm seas. Drive to the Schooner Head parking lot, the last stop before the pay gate on the Park Loop Road.  The trail will lead to the shore and the cave is ten minutes or so away along the shore (follow the shore south, to the right). Inside are tide pools with pink anenomes and other interesting sea creatures and plants, some which seem to be adapted to low light conditions. Please see Sarah’s comments at the bottom of this entry.

6. Dinner at a Lobster Pound. Our two favorites are at Beal’s Pier at the end of Clark Point Rd in Southwest Harbor and Abel’s Lobster Pound on Abel’s Lane off Rt. 198 on the way to Northeast Harbor at the top of Somes Sound.   Any place can boil a lobster. What you want is the real Maine experience that goes with it. Don’t expect elegance. An occasional whiff of bait may be in the air, but the views are awesome.

5.  Hike, hike, hike. You need to work off the lobster, right? What better place than Acadia National Park. There are so many to choose from and the right one can be found for all fitness levels. Try to pick one with a mountain top like Bubble Rock so you can be rewarded with a stunning view. South Bubble is pretty easy (400 feet). Read about hiking preparations here.

4.  Get out on the water! This can range a bit in expense. At the low end you can borrow our kayaks when you stay at SeaCat’s Rest. Our water is fairly protected, at the sheltered end of Frenchman Bay. There are also guided kayak trips leaving from Bar Harbor. If I were to recommend a more expensive outing I would include a whale watch trip. You will see a fair amount of open ocean and be rewarded with a close encounter with ocean leviathans! For even more options go here.

3.  Luncheon at Jordan Pond House. This is just mandatory, that’s all there is to it.  Read all about it here.

2. Bike, walk or (horseback) ride the carriage trails. This is the Rockefeller family’s  gift to America representing an ideal of pre-automobile road and stone craft set in the beauty of Acadia. Don’t miss it. More here.

1. Drive the Park Loop Road and to the top of Cadillac Mountain. This is how most people start their trip here and it is a good way. Pick a clear day for the Cadillac summit and take your camera. Don’t forget the free Island Explorer bus which can take you just about anywhere. Try to time your Thunder Hole visit to middle to high tide and good waves are a plus. This is a good time to buy your week-long park pass.

Thunder Hole on the Park Loop Road

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A Secret Fog Forest in Maine

I couldn’t believe my eyes, moss covered rocks everywhere, lots of wild life, and beauty. I had found Crockett Cove Woods. An hour’s drive from SeaCat’s Rest, but worth the ride, this 98 acre preserve is a treasured gem.

A dense spruce and fir forest covers this sliver of land between the shore front houses and the west road to Stonington on Deer Isle. On the island’s north shore, along Eggemoggin Reach, the trees are mostly white pine mixed with oak and other hardwoods. Here, along the southwest shore, lichens and mosses thrive in the cool, moist air of this coastal fog forest. A wide variety of coniferous forest birds can also be seen here. The preserve and its trails are maintained and managed by a local volunteer stewardship committee. In 1975, Crockett Cove Woods Preserve was donated to The Nature Conservancy.

The preserve has two parking lots, each with a short loop and then a long, wet trail connecting the two. The wet part of the trail is wet all year long, because the moss keeps the trail spongy. I’d recommend the Indian Pipe section if you just have a short time. It packs a mossy and boulder filled experience into just about 1/2 mile trail up and around a hill. The moss does absorb the sound, and makes for a very peaceful place. This place is not for the masses, as there are only two or three parking spaces at either end, but that makes it even more special for me. I like to be outside with small groups and experience the forest like it must have been 200 years ago. This place will do that for you.

For lunch or dinner you have many great choices. Right on the harbor in Stonginton, Fisherman’s Friend for the freshest seafood on the planet. Also, back a bit in Deer Isle, a wonderful small secret spot: Lily’s restaurant. They used to bake cakes for Julia Child’s birthday celebration. Also a Portugese restaurant is talked about way around at the goose cove bed and breakfast – open seasonally only though. Off island, just before the reach bridge is El El Frijoles is a California-Style taqueria located in a barn. They offer fresh and delicious Mexican cuisine in a most unusual setting (opens on May 20th) and recently I stopped at the Barncastle Hotel and Restaurant in Blue Hill, all good choices. You might have to make several trips over a few years to try all these places out.

Thanks Island Heritage Trust for helping preserve such a special place.

Where is Crockett Cove Woods?
Take 15A, the Sunset Road about three miles beyond the Sunset Post Office. Turn right on Whitman Road and then right on Fire Road 88 where you will find the preserve entrance.

Here’s a link to the map and self-guided walk.

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Jordan Pond House

photo courtesy of the National Park Service

It is unusual to find a famous restaurant in a national park.  After all, the park service is all about preserving the great outdoors and providing a way for humans to enjoy it.  A somewhat less important responsibility is to preserve the cultural heritage of an area as it existed before it was given to the federal government. This is where the Jordan Pond House comes in.  The land on which it stands used to be part of a farm owned by the Jordan family of Seal Harbor. The family built the restaurant in the 1870’s and in the next 70 years it became a regular meeting spot for high society gatherings. Read about the rich and famous of Bar Harbor here. It was during these years that the character and rustic elegance of the restaurant were established.

In the mid 1940’s, John D. Rockefeller, Jr. purchased the restaurant and gave it to Acadia National Park and stipulated that it continue.  Since then it has been operated by the Acadia Corporation with a commitment to preservation. The original building was destroyed by fire in 1979 but soon after rebuilt with private funds.  At the  end of beautiful Jordan Pond with views of Bubble Mountain the setting couldn’t be better, but it’s the popovers that keep folks coming back.  Served with tea  or coffee and homemade strawberry jam, they are required fare.  For non tea drinkers, the classic lemonade is served fresh squeezed and the old custom of supplying sugar in a simple syrup separately is followed.  Your lemonade can be as sour or super-sweet or somewhere in between, just as you like it.

Good basic New England classic food are served including salads, crab cakes, lobster quiche and seafood chowder of haddock, scallops and shrimp.  Dinner is served from 5:30 PM on.

In the tradition, afternoon tea is available outdoors on the lawn, the elegance continues. The sloping  lawn and shaded tables provide ample  seating. Spring and fall visitors prefer the giant fireplace inside. Although usually quite busy, they have a nice pager system so that folks can wander the grounds and gardens while waiting for a table.  Also, there’s a gift shop to browse in which features many unique items. The restaurant is open from 11:30 AM, mid May to late October.  Reservations can be made at 207.276-3316.

Jordan Pond House also serves as the start and end of several hiking and carriage trails. The easiest one, the Jordan Pond Nature Trail is one mile in length. The more ambitious Jordan Pond Shore Trail is a level 3.3 miles and circles the pond.  Both serve well as before or after lunch outings.  My personal favorite is to bike down  from the visitors center along the carriage trails, have tea and popovers and then let the Acadia Island Explorer take my bike back to the visitors center on their bike rack.    

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Eat Well In Bar Harbor By Eating Local Food

farmstandLooking for good food near Acadia National Park in Maine?

Featuring local foods is a specialty for many of Bar Harbor restaurants. Havana, Red Sky, Mache, Asticou Inn all feature local foods on their menu.  Local food is a great option: fresh taste, high nutrition, low carbon footprint.   All good for the planet and you.

If you are camping out or staying where you can cook your own meals you can find great local foods at farmers markets, local food markets such as the Blue Hill Coop, Alternative Market in Bar Harbor,  John Edwards Market in Ellsworth, A&B Naturals in Bar Harbor, Sawyers Market in Southwest Harbor and  Pine Tree Market in Northeast Harbor.    Local food is affordable and fresh.   Seek food in season for the best bargains. And don’t forget the many fresh seafood markets!

Maine schools have joined together with local farmers to supply schools with local foods.   Mount Desert Elementary, MDI High School, Lamoine Consolidated School, Deer Isle Stonington High School,  and the College of the Atlantic all get food from nearby growers.

Take home some local foods like jams and jellies to help you remember your vacation all winter long.

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