Normal Service

Been there, seen it, didn't buy the T shirt...
Clearly the easiest way to stop apologising for being such a crap blogger is to actually pull my finger out and post more regularly. So, that's the aim. I don't think I'll ever catch up with the last year's eating - generally the reason for this year's regular gym-going - but maybe a few amalgamated posts of the best bits? 

Lobster Benedict. Yes. I know. 

About this time last year, I was planning a trip on behalf of MSN to the East Coast of the US. The mission? Live blog from the Maine Lobster Festival and find some great things to eat from Brooklyn to Boston. The Maine Lobster Festival was, predictably, excellent fun, even for someone who, in the preceding days, had consumed his own bodyweight in lobster rolls. And deep fried belly clams. And prawns. And deep fried belly clams. And lobster Benedict. And some more belly clams. Yeah. I really liked the belly clams... 

Deep fried belly clams, The Clam Shack, Kennebunkport. George Bush's favourite apparently. 
Actually, I liked pretty much everything I ate that week. While "local and seasonal" has become a bit of a hand-wringing middle class cliche in London, all across the East Coast it's just the way it is. There's also considerable pride in the larder, and a grasp of the skills needed to let it shine. Never underestimate the appeal of good frying. Everywhere I hit up through Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts and Maine did it brilliantly: you'd finish a plate of food - often a paper plate - and there was just the merest trace of a fat stain. Often there was nothing at all, just a memory of perfect, crispy, sealed-and-steamed bits of seafood, be it from restaurant, shack, truck or wherever. Compare and contrast with the UK's seaside fish and chip shops and... actually, don't, it's just depressing. We're getting better - there are certainly pockets of people doing it right - but for the most part, it's depressing. Last time I chatted to a fisherman in Rye, he told me 94% of the catch went to France and Spain, and that's in a little coastal town that's actually got a decent network of fishmongers. "Brits don't like the ugly stuff," was the basic message he gave me, hence anything that needed filleting, trimming or to be pulled out of a shell had a very small audience. Hopefully that's shifting - I think people are cooking more and recession tends to force people into making the most of stuff - because we've got a lot to be proud of on these shores and we shouldn't just let it go to export. 

Anyway, back to the East Coast. There was a lot of driving but, one day aside, the weather was glorious and the scenery was fabulous. On the coast, Maine is like driving through every Richard Gere movie ever made. Inland, it's also beautiful - with my regular soundtrack of J D McPherson and the small towns / rolling farmland, it was like driving back in time by 50 years. Or, at the very least, onto the set of Stand By Me. 

The Richman Pick - The Galley's Zesty Lemon Lobster Roll with Grilled Bread
I won't bore you with every lobster roll (or lobster-based snack) consumed but, er, there were a lot of them. I tend to side with Adam Richman when it comes to lobster rolls. In his excellent book America The Edible he has a great chapter on Maine, in which he and a date manage eight lobster rolls of varying styles in two hours and 25 miles. "And you know what?" he asks. "I still love them. Wet meat? Love it. Dry meat? Love it. Soft bun? Love it. It's like getting some lovin' - even when it's bad, it's still damn good." 
Breakfast c/o The Hartstone Inn. 
The view, Miller's, Spruce Point
Miller's, Spruce Point. 

Richman's particular favourite was The Galley's "zesty lemon with grilled bread" and it's damned fine. My own favourite was probably the one at Miller's, in Spruce Point, a tip-off from the annoyingly talented Michael Salmon of The Hartstone Inn in Camden. I'd been invited there for breakfast - that's a sort of apple sponge with cumin-coated crispy bacon in case you're wondering and yes, it was stupidly delicious - and, like all Maine residents, he had lobster-based suggestions. Given that he clearly knew a thing or two about the local food, Miller's sounded like somewhere to go, even if it was a 30-mile plus diversion. It was the finest location - you're overlooking the waters where the sandwich fillings were caught and several deliveries of lobster pots were made as I sat there - and the roll was impeccable. I asked the girl at the till how recently the lobster I'd just eaten had been caught. She looked embarrassed, explained that it wasn't really high season yet, so it wasn't that fresh. "That one would have been caught about three hours ago," she said. "Sorry." Ahem. (And yeah, that's a shrimp roll. No. I can't justify eating it as well. But yeah, I did. Every last bite.) 
No. I couldn't think of any jokes here either
I'll maybe get onto Boston in due course - although I'm currently lining up a return trip as two days barely scratched the surface of that fine city - but shouldn't ignore Connecticut, nor should I ignore the single finest resource for all such trips: TV Food Maps. If you're the sort of person that watches Man V Food and Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives with a notebook in hand, frantically scribbling down names and addresses on the off chance you get to visit the various cities (and I am), you need TV Food Maps, and its brilliant app. It was through TV Food Maps that I plotted my drive from Brooklyn to Maine, tracked down Valencia Luncheria, Super Duper Weenie and Merritt Canteen and, inevitably, ate some excellent food. 
The New Englander - well, it had to be really
Super Duper Weenie's signature move is to dissect and grill the wiener before putting it in the bun. It gives the sandwich a little extra crunch along with the snap of the excellent sausage. It certainly got Guy Fieri excited... 

For the record, it's also "off the hook"
Menu and a mug...
The Domingo.... 

If I had to pick one, it would be the arepas as Luncheria Valencia. Richard Johnson tipped arepas as one of the "next big things" in street food in a recent Guardian piece and I suspect he's right: they make a brilliant "transport" for all sorts of fillings.The ones at Valencia Luncheria were delightful, light and crispy. This was The Domingo - bacon, spinach, cheese - and I could murder one of these right now and, frankly, at any given point on any day of the week. I think I better find an arepas recipe... 


Anonymous said…
Sounds like an amazing trip. Have to agree about lobster rolls, would eat them every chance I could get if I lived in the US. I think part of the problem you highlight with people not wanting 'the ugly bits' in the UK is not knowing how to deal with filleting, removing things from shells etc. I think a lot of cookbooks/food writers are trying to address this now and it will hopefully change in the future.

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