Lobster pounds and clam shacks. Pick-your-own berries and local corn. Whoopee pies and Italian sandwiches. Baked bean suppers and fiddlehead ferns.
Those are just a few of the ways you can experience Maine through food when you're on vacation. A new book called "Dishing Up Maine" offers recipes for classic Maine dishes like baked beans, strawberry shortcake and blueberry muffins, as well as listings for culinary experiences around the state, from farmers markets and food festivals, to lobster pounds and clam shacks, to fine dining.
Here are some recommendations from author Brooke Dojny - winner of the James Beard Award and a former prep chef for Martha Stewart - for sampling Maine seafood and other regional specialties.
* Enjoy fried seafood at clam shacks by the side of the road, or order up your fresh-caught lobster at a lobster shack on a working pier. Place your order at a window, get a number, and pick up your food on a plastic tray with paper plates. The best places have long lines, but they're worth the wait.
"It is just one of those quintessential Maine experiences," Dojny said.
Try chowder, typically "made with steamer clams and milky and buttery and brothy," she said. If you're not up for a whole lobster, try a lobster roll, made from chopped lobster, mayo and a little lemon juice, heaped in a butter-grilled, top-split hot dog roll.
Dojny's favorite seafood places include Two Lights Lobster Shack in Cape Elizabeth, near Portland on what Dojny describes as "a beautiful dramatic headland, the entrance to Portland Harbor, marked by two lighthouses. On a foggy day, it's quite an experience sitting there with the foghorns booming."
Another favorite is Harraseeket Lunch and Lobster, a quiet and unspoiled place "a world away" - but just a short drive - from L.L. Bean's bustling retail store in downtown Freeport.
* Look for signs on local roads for baked bean suppers "put on by local churches or civic organizations as fundraisers," said Dojny. Pay a few bucks and share whatever the community has cooked up - pies, casseroles, coleslaw and of course baked beans, "all homemade and almost invariably just delicious," Dojny said. Maine baked beans are typically simmered for hours with molasses, onions, salt pork, and mustard, "until they absorb all that sweetness and get rich and dark and syrupy."
* Look for strawberry shortcake at country fairs, food festivals and in diners. Dojny notes that in Maine, strawberry shortcake is not a layer cake; it's a warm biscuit topped with a little butter, sweetened sliced berries and whipped cream.
* Try tiny Maine blueberries, utterly different from the fat blueberries found in supermarkets. These grow on barrens in the eastern part of the state, and are harvested with a rake. Look for pies, muffins and pancakes at diners and B&Bs.
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* General stores, convenience stores and sometimes gas station marts sell whoopee pies and Italian sandwiches. Dojny said whoopee pies are "probably the precursor to some of the Hostess cakes - it's like a devil's food cake, round with sticky sweet frosting," Dojny said. And an Italian is "what the rest of the country would call a submarine sandwich, a hoagie or a hero - cold cuts layered with cheese and condiments in a crusty roll."
* If you're renting a house and feel like cooking, seek out local corn and other fresh produce at farmers markets and roadside stands. Check newspaper classifieds for pick-your-own farms - strawberries in early summer and raspberries in August. Up in Aroostook County, you may see bags of potatoes left out for the taking; you pay by the honor system - dropping money in an unsupervised jar.
"It restores your faith in humanity," Dojny said.
* Check out Maine's growing upscale restaurant scene. "Many chefs have moved to Maine because the food scene is so vibrant and the ingredients are so fantastic," Dojny said. "Dishing Up Maine" includes recipes from Maine's top chefs, and Dojny's restaurant recommendations include Fore Street in Portland, Primo in Rockland, Cleonice in Ellsworth, and Burning Tree in Otter Creek, which is near Bar Harbor and Acadia National Park.
You may find fiddlehead ferns on some menus. These wild greens are a favorite of old-timers, but they've turned trendy in recent years. "They taste sort of like asparagus - crunch and green," Dojny says. "They are a little weird-looking, but they are just delicious."
If You Go:
DISHING UP MAINE: By Brooke Dojny (Storey Publishing, $19.95).
TWO LIGHTS LOBSTER SHACK: 225 Two Lights Road, Cape Elizabeth; 207-799-1677. Lobster is daily market rate. Sides under $10; entrees $10-$20.
HARRASEEKET LUNCH AND LOBSTER: Town Landing, South Freeport; 207-865-3535. Sides under $10; entrees up to $24.
FORE STREET: 288 Fore St., Portland; 207-775-2717. Entrees $17-$34.
PRIMO: 2 South Main St., Rockland; 207-596-0770. Entrees $23-$38.
CLEONICE MEDITERRANEAN BISTRO: 112 Main St., Ellsworth; 207-664-7554. Entrees $19-$25.
BURNING TREE: Route 3, Otter Creek; 207-288-9331. Entrees $18-$26.
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