It’s no secret that Maine has some world-class food, and with the explosion of highly-rated restaurants up and down the coast, the state now has a dining scene that’s the toast of the nation.
From the crab, oysters, scallops and lobsters plucked from the sea and shipped from Down East Maine to the kitchens of chefs such as Thomas Keller and Jean-Georges Vongerichten, to the humble whoopie pie’s elevation as a trendy dessert on par with the ubiquitous cupcake, Maine food now enjoys a higher profile than ever before.
In recent years some chefs and purveyors — some from Maine, some with fond memories of visiting Maine — have put their own take on Maine food on the map.
Matthew Lief; The Islesford Dock Restaurant, Little Cranberry Island, and Landhaus, Brooklyn, New York
Matthew Lief spent a number of summers cooking with his family at the Islesford Dock Restaurant — the only restaurant on Little Cranberry Island, and a favorite of everyone, from local lobstermen to Martha Stewart. While at the Islesford Dock he started and maintained an organic vegetable garden, which provided the restaurant with produce, herbs and flowers, and he expanded on the idea of farm-to-table while cooking at L’Arpege in Paris, France. Now set up in New York, Lief has a booming business, Landhaus, making big, meaty, high equality sandwiches using the recipes he refined in Islesford to charm the tastebuds of hip Brooklynites.
“The traditional clam chowder we refined at The Dock is still part of my repertoire,” said Lief, a University of Maine graduate. “I [also] do catering around the city under the name Islesford Dock NYC. I work with my connections on Islesford and in Maine to bring the best lobster, crab, and oysters to my customers. In particular, our classic lobster rolls and clam chowders have been a huge hit with our customers here in New York. Simple recipes that let the quality of the product shine through.”
Landhaus last year received an important accolade from the Village Voice: Best Bacon in NYC, for its house-cured bacon. At the Landhaus’ permanent Saturday residency at the weekly Smorgasburg food bazaar in Brooklyn, you can buy bacon on a stick — a thick, smoky slice of pork goodness.
Doug Quint, Pittsfield native and co-founder, the Big Gay Ice Cream Truck, New York City
Growing up in Pittsfield, Doug Quint would walk up the hill in the summer — past the chicken coop, but before the cow pasture — to the Tastee Freeze, where he would purchase a vanilla soft serve ice cream cone with chocolate jimmies. Now, as an adult living in New York City, he’s still into soft serve ice cream — but he’s selling it from a truck and, now, a storefront called Big Gay Ice Cream.
If you’ve seen the New York City episode of Anthony Bourdain’s new show, “The Layover,” on the Travel Channel, then you’ve seen Quint, his partner Bryan Petroff, and their mouthwatering array of soft serve ice cream, topped with a variety of things ranging from Dulce de Leche and Nilla Wafers to toasted curried coconut and bacon marmalade.
Quint, who is also a professional bassoonist, was finishing up doctoral work at City University of New York when the opportunity came up to buy a food truck.
“I thought, ‘Maybe I’ll do a weird job this summer.’ I ended up loving it, and the soft serve made me have fond memories of home,” said Quint. “Food trucks are such an urban thing, of course, and I wanted to combine the kind of friendliness of a smaller town with the food truck idea. I wanted to get to know my customers.”
That combination of friendliness and seriously delicious ice cream has made Quint and Petroff a wildly popular attraction in and around Manhattan, and on a hot summer day, the line can stretch for blocks for a chance to try a Salty Pimp (vanilla ice cream with caramel, sea salt and chocolate dip) or a Choinkwich (chocolate ice cream and bacon marmalade between two chocolate cookies). It’s an homage to the classic Dairy Bar that anyone who grew up in a small town — Maine or not — remembers.
“I’m a Maine boy at heart, and this comes from that,” he said.
Ryan McCaskey, chef, Acadia, Chicago, and lifelong summer resident of Deer Isle
Though he’s not a Maine native, Ryan McCaskey is a lifelong visitor of Deer Isle and Stonington and grew up accompanying his parents to Down East Maine each year. At age 19 the young chef took a position as sous and pastry chef at the prestigious Goose Cove Lodge in Deer Isle, and later went on to work with food luminaries such as Thomas Keller and Grand Achatz. The luscious seafood and garden fresh produce of Maine had a huge impact on the burgeoning chef and now that he’s got his own restaurant in Chicago, he named it — what else? — Acadia.
Acadia is focused on recreating some of the hallmarks of Maine cuisine in a fine dining atmosphere, with beautiful presentation and fine ingredients. Shrimp, lobster, scallops and oysters are shipped in from Stonington, lobster rolls and Maine potato chips make the bar menu, and for dessert? An artisan whoopie pie. It’s a unique taste of Maine, a few thousand miles from home.
Do you have other suggestions for Maine foodies making it in the rest of the country, or the world? Please leave a comment so we can add them to our list.