“Yeah, here’s to all
To all this culture’s rules and your pretty things
How dirty, wild, blurry, juvenile
We ain’t got no time for what tomorrow brings
And the choir sings
To all the lows and every high
The hellos and the goodbyes
In this moment, I could die with you”
“Don’t Come Down” – The Maine
We really explored only two places in depth in the nation’s 23rd state (the relative youngster compared to the other New England states we visited), but these explorations proved in our heads that another visit to the region was in order in the semi-near future.
(Pegma)Tite-n Up: Located in the village of Bethel in west-central portion of the state, The Maine Mineral and Gem Museum packs a lot of science content and pretty gemstones in its modestly sized 15,000 square foot two-story building. Opened to the public relatively recently in 2019, the museum will rock anyone with a liking to geology and earth sciences.
Maine has proven to the center of a number of notable gem finds over the decades. However, even those without a huge interest in things geologic would be impressed by the wide variety of unearthed gems and minerals, not to mention the those rocks with an extraterrestrial origin.
In fact, this museum has the honor of housing the largest piece of Earth’s moon in the entire world, in addition to the largest chunk of the asteroid Vesta and other pieces from this vast universe of ours. With only a few visitors on the day of our visit, we received a nice little thrill when we actually got the chance to hold chunks of the Moon and Mars in our bare hands.
With plenty of educational and interactive exhibits and appreciated pandemic precautions (staff members gave us both a special rubber pencil to manipulate the interactive exhibits’ buttons, knobs and touch screens), and even a non-auditorium auditorium movie experience (in the meteorite room,) this museum sports a rock-solid appeal for all ages.
Donut Pass Me By: Every state has their delicious donuts, but Maine’s signature donut is truly distinct. Brought over by Dutch settlers, potato doughnuts proved to be popular in states like Utah, Pennsylvania and Maine; in fact, the first donut chain was Spudnuts, which used the Potato Donut as its calling card when it was first established in Salt Lake City in the 1960s.
Scattered Spudnuts locations still remain around the country (bad business decisions killed the chain’s momentum in the early 1970s), but a holy grail for this unique treat thrives in Maine in the form of The Holy Donut, which has pumping out these sweet rings for nearly a decade.
Pandemic restrictions have forced businesses to undertake unique measures, and the Holy Donut location in Scarborough (one of three locations) proved no different. In essence, you could get in the drive-thru line with your car or park your car and order from an specially-setup ordering kiosk and pick up your donut order another entrance door.
Like Lindsey’s Bakery in Circleville, OH, a portion of their offerings are Vegan, with the only catch being when something is gone for the day, it’s gone. Thankfully, pretty much everything they offered was still there by the time we could put an order, and we made out with four somewhat spendy (compared to typical donuts) but rather substantially-sized donuts.
In essence, these donuts are the best of cake and yeast textures combined, and we were more than happy with one donut being our early breakfast (we saved our other donut for later munching.) You’re in for a little bit of a wait on most days, but the wait is worth it.
Hard to Port: We’ve heard good things about both Portlands of note in this country. We enjoyed our visit to the Oregon version nearly a decade ago; Maine’s version left us craving for more as well.
On this trip, we went lighthouse hunting all along the Atlantic coast, but our favorite set of lighthouses centered around this city of 66,000 people. Two Lights Park (with two lighthouses, the squat-but-sturdy Bug Light, and the Portland Headlight sated our up close lighthouse jonesing, with many other lighthouses such as the Ram Island Ledge and Echo Point Lighthouses beckoning from just offshore.
Not unlike the West Coast Portland, Maine’s Portland has a happening and renowned fermented and distilled beverage scene. We noticed this first at Allagash Brewing, one of the more well-known of the second wave of craft breweries and one of the first to focus on Belgian styles. The inside of their facility is closed to visitors due to COVID, but there is plenty of space outdoors to accommodate visitors. We enjoyed a seat underneath some pine trees and ordered some delicious brews, which went well with an item that added to my perception that seafood isn’t all that bad after all.
The Bite Into Maine food trailer (which has several locations throughout the area, including the park that holds The Portland Headlight Lighthouse) was onsite for food replenishment, including their signature lobster rolls. Lobster Rolls are available in three versions; we went with a single Connecticut Style Roll (adorned only with warm melted butter) and split it. We can both confirm we were blissful from the experience. At $7, the Nowaday Ale Beer Brats are a more than acceptable substitute if one deems the price of a roll ($26/$34 depending on the lobster content; however, the price did seem to be in line with other restaurants’ offerings in the area) a bit much.
We ventured from there to another brewery in Rising Tide Brewing, on the advice of Carla Jean Lauter. I had become acquainted with this longtime local beer blogger and writer for Down East Magazine through social media, and whose knowledge I had come to appreciate. She gave us the word that Rising Tide’s IPAs would be more along the West Coast style versions we prefer.
Even better, Carla was able to join us at the brewery to just share some brews and pizza (both of which were all delicious,) compare beer stories, and just shoot the proverbial sh*t with each other. This time with Carla sold us even more on a future Portland trip, and her hospitality made us feel incredibly welcome. Some of our favorite moments while brewery hopping have been the random people we met at the brewery itself, and we couldn’t have had a better time hanging out together for a couple of hours on a beautiful late summer day.
The vibe at Rising Tide, a family-owned ventured with opened up in 2010, definitely added to the experience, and seemed to reflect the city of Portland overall – a pleasingly easygoing and welcoming atmosphere that pretty much reinforced our thoughts that a return visit to Portland was in order.
Random Notes: Not sure if this was a conscious choice or something that happened naturally, but Portland’s scene has something of a hub setup – one can easily pick one destination area and hit up three or four places by just walking down the street a bit. We noticed that one such hub had a Meadery, a Distillery, and a Kombuchery just down the street. Rising Tide has Austin Street Brewery across the way (with a mattress store (of all things) sandwiched in between), while Allagash has four breweries directly across the street from it, plus places to grab some eats.
We had intended initially on attending a Portland Sea Dogs game (we are baseball fans and do love visiting minor league parks whenever possible.) However, we learned about that concept of demand pricing by waiting until the last minute to try to purchase tickets. If we had gone, we would’ve spent more for seats than most major league games we’ve attended. No fault of the Sea Dogs here – we just have to plan accordingly the next time around.
We also stumbled upon a nice little monument to the World War II Liberty Ship fleets; Portland and its shipbuilding facilities were key to replenishing the supply of these supply ships that proved vital to the Allies eventual victory. Interestingly, I learned that one of those ships, the Jeremiah O’Brien (a ship I became familiar with while living in San Francisco, a liberty ship that participated in the Normandy invasion and is now a museum ship, was built in Portland.
Lastly, the East Promenade (or East Prom, as the locals call it – thank you Carla for the tip!) of Portland is not unlike the San Francisco’s Marina District (coincidently, the Jeremiah O’Brien mentioned above is docked not too far from the Marina District at Pier 45.) However, the elevation at the East Prom allows for a more panoramic view of the Casco Bay and Portland Harbor than the Marina does of San Francisco Bay.
On this beautiful summer day, folks were out picnicking, ordering food from some of the local food trucks, casually strolling along the walkways, or simply hanging out (like we did) on a bench, staring out at the seemingly hundreds of boats anchored in the waters just offshore.