Dip your fork into a bounty of gifts from land and sea on a Maine culinary odyssey. Mainers work hard cultivating and harvesting crops in these northern lands and plucking delicacies from the cold Atlantic. So, from the moment you tie on a lobster bib until you lick the last morsel of whoopie pie from your fingers, be sure to appreciate not only how delicious these distinctively Maine foods taste, but how much labor and love is behind every bite.
Maine and lobster are practically synonymous. What makes these Maine-caught crustaceans the yummiest on the planet? They have large, meaty claws—unlike their clawless Pacific-caught cousins—and the waters off the coast of Maine are optimal for lobsters to grow and thrive. Maine lobstermen haul traps year-round, ensuring a steady supply of the state's signature dish whenever you visit. And, of course, even if you've sampled Maine lobster elsewhere, it will never taste better than while you're in Maine. Fresh lobster is sweet and rich, and while you can try it in myriad dishes, the effort of cracking your own lobster at one of Maine's famous lobster shacks is an experience not to be missed.
Suspend your notion of how blueberries taste and look. The little blue fruit coveted by Mainers is the wild variety, and, unlike the blueberries you typically find in a grocery store, these delicious berries grown in Maine are smaller and taste both sweet and tart. They taste amazing in baked goods like muffins and pies, where sugar balances the berries' slight tartness. Machias, Maine, where the Machias Wild Blueberry Festival is held each August, is the ideal location to sample the official state berry of Maine. Helen's Restaurant is famous for its Maine wild blueberry pie. Not traveling that far north? The Maine Diner in Wells serves excellent wild blueberry pie, too.
There's a bit of debate over whether whoopie pies were actually invented in Maine, but there is no arguing that the most delectable of these cream-filled, chocolatey cakes are baked in the northernmost New England state. Once each year, in Dover-Foxcroft, Maine, judges and the thousands of people who attend the annual Maine Whoopie Pie Festival choose the best whoopie pie makers in the state. You can seek out past winners like Countryside Restaurant & Bakery in Corinth year-round. Auntie’s House in Kennebunk, Maine, puts its own gourmet spin on Maine's whoopie pie tradition, and you can even order their decadently rich, chocolate-dipped whoopie balls for home delivery when you're missing Maine.
Although its production is only about one-third of Vermont's, Maine still ranks as the third largest maple-syrup-making state in the nation. On Maine Maple Sunday in March, more than 100 members of the Maine Maple Producers Association open their sugarhouses for demonstrations, tours, and special treats. Wherever you roam in Maine, particularly during the spring sugaring season, be sure to sample real maple syrup on your pancakes and in everything from beers crafted by Lone Pine Brewing to Maple Sap Tap gelato at Gelato Fiasco locations in Portland and Brunswick.
As red as lobsters, Maine's signature hotdogs are snappier to the bite than other natural casing dogs. Handcrafted with fresh, lean beef and pork by fifth-generation-owned W.A. Bean & Sons in Bangor, Maine "Red Snapper" Frankfurts are particularly popular during the summer grilling season and are traditionally served on butter-brushed, toasted, split-top hotdog buns. To get your hands on some, you can head straight to the Bean & Sons retail store. You'll find red snappers at hotdog stands and restaurants in the state, too, as well as at the annual Maine Red Hot Dog Festival held in Dexter in August.
Maine's number one agricultural product is potatoes, and the humble spud is celebrated with wild abandon each July in Fort Fairfield at the Maine Potato Blossom Festival. There are more than 75 potato-centric events including everything from a parade and fireworks to mashed potato wrestling. Maine potatoes find their way into a vast variety of foods and beverages made in the state like Cold River's handcrafted Maine potato vodka and the Maine potato doughnuts fans wait in line to buy at The Holy Donut in Portland. If you consume potatoes only one way in Maine, make it an order of fries at Duckfat in Portland, where Maine potatoes are hand-cut and fried to perfection in duck fat.
Lobster isn't the only delicious seafood harvested from the cold waters off the coast of Maine. Fish lovers will want to try fresh-caught species they know well, such as mild-tasting haddock, as well as some lesser-known native species chefs are introducing to diners. Put these stops on your fish wish list: Fisherman's Catch in Wells for haddock tacos; Anglers in Newport, Searsport, or Hampden for fried or broiled haddock; Bet's Fish Fry in Boothbay for piled-high haddock sandwiches; and Sea Glass at Inn by the Sea in Cape Elizabeth (near Portland) for fine oceanview dining featuring underutilized Maine fish like pollock and dogfish.
Lobstermen who found rock or sand crabs in their traps used to toss them back or take them home for snacks. Then, these little guys got a cutesy rebranding, and now peekytoe crab is found on fine dining menus far beyond Maine's borders. Try them in the jumbo crab cakes at Portland Lobster Company or foot-long local crab rolls at Peekytoe Provisions in Bar Harbor.
Fiddleheads Foraged in Maine
Fiddleheads are a Maine spring delicacy that appear on menus and at farmers' markets from about May through early July. What exactly are these deep green, coiled vegetables? Fiddleheads are actually young fern fronds from the ostrich fern that have not yet opened up. They must be picked during a two-week window before the fern unfurls. Fiddleheads are named for their appearance, which resembles the scroll at the head or top of a fiddle, and have a unique texture but taste a bit like asparagus or okra. You can bet you'll find them as a side dish and even in main courses served at The Fiddlehead Restaurant in Bangor while they're in season. They're often on spring menus at farm-to-table and fine dining restaurants like The White Barn Inn in Kennebunk, too.