I usually leave the Good. Food. Stories. Neighborhood Guides to my vast network of contributors throughout the world. They’re the ones on the ground, the good eaters who’ve grown up in, live among, and know these spots inside and out. But today I’m taking the reins. And though we’ve recently traveled to the Northeast via Wolfeboro, New Hampshire, there’s one more place I want to take you before the summer ends.
There’s no shortage of fancy dining in the few walkable streets that make up downtown Bar Harbor, but Maine is where I let my laid-back hippie personality come out in full force. Unlike most vacations, where I’m constantly searching for the latest under-the-radar discoveries and trying new places every day, in Bar Harbor, I want to turn my brain off for a while.
The few days that Dan and I spend there every summer have evolved into a comforting, familiar pattern. We’re kicking back at the Bar Harbor Manor with nothing on the agenda but strapping on our hiking boots, looping our way around the trails of Acadia National Park, walking the sandbar to Bar Island if the weather’s in our favor, and drinking lots of local beer. Here’s where you’ll always be able to find us on Mt. Desert Island.
When your all-day plans consist of hikes in and around Acadia, there’s no way a continental breakfast is going to cut it. I admit I first chose Two Cats (130 Cottage St., 207-288-2808) for the name, but the dependable brunch menu made both of us immediately happy. Somehow Dan manages to go hours on carbs and sugar alone; French toast or pancakes studded with chocolate chips and marshmallows give his sweet tooth what it needs, but I gotta go for protein. Egg platters like the omelet with apples, walnuts, and cheddar or tomato, feta, and scallion summer scramble always come with spicy hash browns (homemade hot sauce is on each table, but even this heat seeker only needs to add a few drops to satisfy the spice quotient) and, most importantly, a fresh biscuit with strawberry butter.
We first stumbled on Geddy’s (19 Main St., 207-288-5077) via its subterranean gift shop, which is plastered with—and sells—old license plates from across the U.S. Upstairs, the best plates and old signs are reserved for the restaurant walls, a mishmosh of wayfinding flair that puts the faux-curated memorabilia at the nation’s chain restaurants to shame. The menu’s equally mind-bogglingly filled with choices, but I’ll make it easy for you: pizza or nachos. New Haven may be the spiritual birthplace of the clam pizza, but the briny bivalves are equally satisfying when strewn over Geddy’s chewy, cornmeal-crusted crust, made fresh that day and baked in the wood oven. (Should you want to read more in-depth thoughts on Geddy’s, I also reviewed the place for Slice on Serious Eats.)
Maybe eating pizza two nights in a row is a habit you reserve only for vacation? Maybe you’re not us, then, but you can still do it by walking down the street from Geddy’s to Blaze (198 Main St., 207-801-2755), a newcomer to the Bar Harbor restaurant pantheon that’s only been open for about a year. Blaze does thin-crust wood-grilled pizza and a host of steaks, lobsters, tacos, and nibbly items cooked over Maine hardwood; we went specifically to scope it out for my Slice review, and though I found the crust lacking in comparison to Geddy’s, the combination of toppings on the fig pizza was enough to earn it a spot on my “return visit” list for next summer. A host of beers from Orono’s Black Bear Brewery, Gorham’s Sebago Brewing Co., Lewiston’s Baxter Brewing Co., and Bar Harbor’s own Atlantic Brewing Co. on draft certainly help the cause too.
The Thirsty Whale
Speaking of brewskis, as I’ve said many times, I’d move to Maine for the beer alone. And while the owners of Blaze also run an elegant nautical bar with a healthy selection of local beers on tap, The Thirsty Whale (40 Cottage St., 207-288-9335) is where I feel most comfortable. It’s the quintessential small-town wood-paneled tavern, the place where the locals drink, catch the Sox game, and throw a few bucks in the jukebox. Whether waiting out a rainstorm with a pint of Shipyard Summer or just sitting at one of the big swivelly barstools letting Dan finish off the final sips of my Peak Organic on a balmy August night, it’s my happy place. There’s a full kitchen with serviceable grub: a basket of fries, wings, or fried pickles will soak up any leftover booze before you hit the sack. And until my sister and I turn our fictional bar, The Bitter Buffalo, into a reality, the Whale will remain the most charmingly named watering hole in the nation.
Mt. Desert Island Ice Cream
Yes, this is the place where President Obama got his scoop of coconut ice cream a few years ago, but Mt. Desert Island Ice Cream (7 Firefly Lane, 207-801-4007) has a reputation beyond being the presidential purveyor of frozen treats. There are more tourist-friendly ice cream shops in the vicinity, and if lobster ice cream is your thing, then by all means, head over there. But if you’re a fan of Bi-Rite, Humphry Slocombe, Il Laboratorio del Gelato, or Jeni’s, then this is where you need to be. At Mt. Desert, you won’t get an encyclopedic list of options, just a well-edited selection of flavors like sea salt caramel and The Dude (a White Russian ice cream) made with high quality ingredients. And even if you don’t want to eat seafood at every meal in Maine, you should eat ice cream every day on vacation anyway.