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NYC Chef Sara Jenkins's 6 Mid-Coast Maine Favorites

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New York chef Sara Jenkins, owner of popular East Village restaurants Porsena and Porchetta, is a Maine enthusiast. Below, she has some dining recs.

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[Ted Axelrod]

Even though I spent a blissful childhood hither and yon around the Mediterranean, I am a Mainiac (because if you call yourself a Mainer, you are probably from away) born in Camden, my mother's hometown stretching back some 13 generations or so in the mid-coast area. So while I’ve never really lived here I have deep connections to the area and I have been eating here for well over 40 years. As I child, whenever we came it was all about lobster and fried clams, things we didn’t have in the Mediterranean and things that were unique at that time to the area. But fried clams and lobster can really only be eaten for so long before a well traveled palate starts to long for something else.

Fortunately over the past 10 years or so the dining in this area (from Thomaston to Belfast) has gotten so much better that I sometimes want to fly up here just to eat Thai food or sushi made with great local fish or even great New England seafood made with care and respect. These are my six favorite places to eat at when I am up here and I think they all can hold up to anything I eat in New York these days.

2012_8_slipway.jpg1) The Slipway, Thomaston
This is an old restaurant space in a gorgeous location on the banks of the tidal St. George river in Thomaston. It’s classic New England seafood, cooked by a local boy, Scott Yakovenko, who knows his fish and sourcing. I love to sit outside and watch the twinkling lights on the dock, eating local oysters, clams and crab from the raw bar and then diving in to some of the best fried clams I’ve had in 20 years. (photo credit)

2012_8_sushisuziki.jpg2) Suzuki Sushi, Rockland
Keiko Suzuki came to Rockland to learn English and fell in love with an American boy and stayed. Inspired by the small, simple, healthy restaurants of her hometown in Japan she opened a very Zen place with no grills and no deep fat fryers. She works to locally source all her fish including line caught Mackerel from off the Rockland breakwater. I have eaten local sea urchin and razor clams, sweet Maine shrimp and scallops here depending on the season and what’s available. Unlike most stateside Japanese restaurants the gyoza are homemade with local pork and house salad is made with local mesclun mix making it bright and distinctive. (photo)

2012_8_primo.jpg3) Primo, Rockland
Primo at this point is the granddaddy although I remember when Melissa Kelly first bought the dilapidated old building a long abandoned restaurant, no one up here expected her to last more than a year. Instead long before it was the trend du jour she set about creating a true farm to table restaurant and today most of their produce comes from the gardens out back, the salumi are cured in house from their own pigs, the eggs in the beautiful pastas are all their own. They are booked weeks in advance and I’m not much for planning ahead so I usually sneak up to the antipasto bar to get a glass of wine, salumi and whatever little snacks catch my eye on the menu. (photo)

2012_8_longgrain.jpg4) Long Grain, Camden
I lived in LA in the late 80’s and that was my introduction to Thai food. Ever since it’s been hard to find anything that lives up to it, but about two years ago this tiny Thai restaurant opened up on one of Camden’s main streets and now it’s the first place I go when I come up. The Khao Soi is hard to resist, made with long simmered whole farm raised chicken and the perfect balance of sweet coconut milk, spice and sour vegetables. I haven’t had a finer one anywhere else. Like everyone up here they carefully source local vegetables, seafood and meat and so the crab in the rice is Maine crabmeat and there’s an amazing variety of greens in the beef salad and daily stir fried wide rice noodles. To my great happiness they have had a huge success with the locals and it looks like they will be cooking in Camden for years to come. (photo)

2012_8_lostkitchen.jpg5) Lost Kitchen, Belfast
I haven’t been able to get into eat yet at Erin French’s Lost Kitchen in Belfast Maine but last summer before it was properly open I ate dinner in her underground restaurant in the same space. Erin is a local Maine woman with as fine a chef’s sensibility as I have come across in a while. Carefully selected seasonal ingredients shine in her refined and elegant menu. The restaurant is housed in a beautiful old triangular building and gorgeously fitted out and restored by her boat building husband. (photo)

2012_8_chasesdaily.jpg6) Chases Daily, Belfast
Owned and operated by the large Chase family, this vegetarian restaurant is open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner once a week on Friday nights in a cavernous space that looks like it was once a hardware store. Eat off the daily menu at the tables up front, but for me the biggest highlight is the amazing daily vegetable market in the back where they sell all the excess produce produced by their farm. In fact I find their produce so gorgeous and varied the problem is always restraining myself from trying to bring home everything. If you get there early enough there are great house made breads and pastries available as well. (photo)

— Sara Jenkins

Primo

2 S Main St, Rockland, ME 04841 207-596-0770

Long Grain

20 Washington Street, , ME 04843 (207) 236-9001 Visit Website