Portland, Maine, has a thing for wood.
Fore Street, one of the most awarded and written about restaurants over the last few years, is a charming, simple, and chic restaurant that cooks entirely on wood. They have a wood-burning oven for roasting mackerel with mustard butter, or for their famous skillet-roasted mussels with almonds. They rotisserie local pork racks and whole farm-fresh chicken over wood and their sauté pans sit on a wood-burning stovetop. We always eat there at least once a year, and we’ll be there Thursday evening. Every single scrap of food in the place is locally sourced except the olive oil and if you don’t save room for the native cheese plate you are nuts.
Yesterday we ate at a place that my dad has been raving about for years—Flatbread Company, a pizza restaurant with a massive wood-burning oven built by hand out of river stones. Its pizza sauces are cooked in a forty-gallon cauldron that sits on an open wood fire and I have to tell you that the sight of this thing bubbling away and the aroma it creates are stupendous. The pizza is heavenly, and even the pepperoni is handmade and aged on the premises. The joint sits on the end of a dock in downtown Portland and may have the best views of any pizza joint east of Naples.
Today we went up to Five Islands for a lobster roll and some fried clams, my favorite spot in and around the city of Portland. The Five Islands Lobster Company has three huts on the end of a pier that falls into the Atlantic, all surrounded by picnic tables. One hut sells steamed lobsters and clams, one sells ice cream, and the other makes lobster rolls and fried clam baskets. We ordered our rolls, watched Noah play on the dock, showed him a lobsterman unloading his catch and floating his traps along a net line waiting to be cooked. I took some pix with my phone to give you an idea of this place but words alone can’t do it justice. Having a fresh lobster roll almost every day, each one in a spot more idyllic than the previous one can be dangerous, but what the heck, we’re on vacation. Everyone in our car agreed that the sweetest, best-tasting lobster rolls are from Five Islands, and the fried clams are greaseless beauties, served with the rarest of condiments, homemade tartar sauce. So the moral of the story is if you don’t eat food cooked over wood, at least eat your food standing on it . . . it’s a reach, I know, but all this vacation-Dad stuff has me exhausted.