Get Out is a monthly column in Bangor Metro magazine featuring a different destination each time that’s easily accessible from Bangor. This month, we look at some favorite eating destinations in the state.
Someone once told me living in Maine is like being on vacation all year. When you stop and think about all the state has to offer in the way of natural beauty, culture, history, art, food, festivals and music it’s hard to disagree with that statement.
Did I mention the food? When it comes to dining out in Maine, the state is a foodie’s dream come true. Whether you are looking for a family-friendly place to take the kids, a Maine-centric restaurant for your out-of-town guests, a romantic hideaway for a special dinner or a place you can run in, grab a bite and be on your way, Maine has you covered.
I will admit to hunting out eating destinations with a Grail-like quest intensity. I encourage you to blaze your own Maine foodies trail, and to get you started these are my six picks for where to eat and what to have this summer.
The Family Dog
6 Mill Street, Orono, 207-866-2808; thefamilydogorono.com
Distance from Bangor: 9 miles, about 15 minutes.
Family friendly meets dog friendly at this casual eatery in Orono’s downtown. The menu is, in a word, eclectic. It features a dizzying array of options and combinations to build your own grilled all-beef burger, grilled chicken breast, grilled portabella burger, grilled black bean burger or grilled hot dog. With topping choices that include standards such as mustard, pickles and onions to the more adventurous items such as creole relish, spicy Thai slaw and avocado salsa spread you could eat there every day all summer and never have the same thing twice.
Signature item: The Xolo [pronounced Sholo], a combination of the house avocado salsa spread, chopped lettuce, pepper jack cheese and Cajun mayo. You can order it as a burger, dog, chicken sandwich or veggie burger.
My pick: When it comes to burgers and dogs, I’m surprisingly a simple gal. When I stop in at the The Family Dog, I usually leave after enjoying the Deli Dog — a grilled hotdog topped with sauerkraut and mustard.
What’s cool: Four-footed dogs are welcome at the Family Dog which supplies drinking bowls and fresh water out on the terrace and picnic area adjacent to the restaurant. On a Maine summer afternoon, what’s better than enjoying a ‘dog with your doggy best friend?
Hours: Monday to Saturday 7:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m., Sunday 9:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m.
The Family Dog also serves a full breakfast Monday through Friday from 7 a.m. to 11 a.m., Saturdays from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. and on Sundays from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.
13 Rockwood Road (Route 15), Greenville Junction, 207-695-4438; kellysatmoosehead.com
Distance from Bangor: 70 miles, about 1.5 hours.
You know a place is a true destination when it’s accessible by land, air and water. Smack on the shores of the west cove on Moosehead Lake, Kelly’s Landing welcomes people who come from far and near all year round by seaplane, skiplane, 4-wheelers, snowmobiles, motorcycles and cars.
With breakfast, lunch and dinner menus full of what the owners call “family fare,” there is really something for everyone. For breakfast you can build your own omelette with your choice of cheeses, meats and veggies or go for the Belgian waffles with wild Maine blueberry sauce. Lunch features everything from burgers and sandwiches to the “From Downeast lunch” with your choice of fresh haddock fillet, fried shrimp, scallops or Maine clams.
The dinner menu includes everything from meal-sized Caesar salads to pesto shrimp scampi to hickory smoked ribs — two pounds of pork ribs slow smoked with Kelly’s own bourbon and onion sauce — for the meat lovers in your group.
Signature item: Kelly’s seafood chowder is something people travel for miles to order. And who wouldn’t log some serious miles to enjoy a buttery, creamy chowder full of haddock, shrimp, scallops and lobster? Add a side of Maine lobster cakes topped with sundried tomato and rosemary butter and it’s a Maine-centric meal that’s hard to beat.
My pick: I’m a fan of a good Reuben sandwich and the Reuben at Kelly’s ranks among the best I’ve had outside a New York City deli. It’s made with Kelly’s cooked-in-house corned beef, sauerkraut, thousand island dressing with swiss cheese served — of course — on good rye bread.
What’s cool: In the summer sit on the waterfront patio and watch the seasplanes land or take off from Moosehead Lake or enjoy the calls of the loons, geese and merganser that call the lake’s west cove area their home.
Hours: Daily 8 a.m. to 9 p.m.
111 Main Street, Machias, 207-255-8423; helensrestaurantmachias.com.
Distance from Bangor: 85 miles, about 1.5 hours
People have been having breakfast, lunch or dinner seven days a week at Helen’s for nearly seven decades. This Down East landmark was closed for almost a year after a fire destroyed the restaurant building in 2014.
But owners Julie and David Barker were not about to abandon their patrons. In May 2019, 10 months after the fire, they were up and running again in a brand new building built at their original location. Right away they were serving sandwiches and in-house specials featuring ingredients sourced directly from local Washington County farmers, fishermen and specialty food producers.
And those local ingredients find their way into everything from crab meat cannelloni to goat cheese salad to perhaps the ultimate in comfort food — Helen’s classic pot roast with potatoes and gravy.
That’s all well and good, but a lot of people come to Helen’s for one thing and one thing only: Pie. Helen’s makes pies from scratch daily using seasonal Maine fillings such as blueberries, apples, rhubarb or pumpkin. The folks at Helen’s promise a slice of their pie will be remembered for life.
Signature item: The fish chowder at Helen’s is fresh, simple and probably the most popular thing on the menu — after pie, of course. The chowder is made fresh daily from scratch with haddock, potatoes, onions, butter, dill and cream.
My pick: In a word, pie. In two words, blueberry pie. Want more words? A la mode. I’m not alone in this. Helen’s baked wild blueberry pie has received praise by food writers in Life Magazine, National Geographic Traveler, Parade Magazine, Yankee Magazine and by celebrity chef Rachael Ray.
What’s cool: There are few places that can boast the longevity and customer dedication of Helen’s. To me, it is among the quintessential Maine dining experiences with amazing food, friendly people and enough local color to get a true picture of the Down East Maine culture.
Hours: Monday to Saturday, 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. and Sundays 7 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Old Mill Pub
39 Water Street, Skowhegan, 207-474-6627; oldmillpub.net.
Distance from Bangor: 55 miles, about 1 hour
Housed in a former grain mill and perched on the banks of the Kennebec River, the Old Mill Pub is everything a great pub restaurant should be, and more.
I love pub-style food and at Old Mill I found a menu packed with enough choices to keep anyone coming back again and again. And like so many great Maine restaurants that menu skews heavily toward locally sourced ingredients
Like the soft-baked pub pretzels made fresh daily at nearby Maine Bankery, a bakery housed in a 1864 bank building. The pretzels come with a beer cheese dip made with DoorYard Ale brewed at Skowhegan’s Oak Pond Brewing Company.
Maine seafood takes center stage — or plate, if you will — in dishes such as Seafood Scampi with Maine haddock and Maine scallops; fish and chips with Maine haddock; fresh Maine haddock tacos; or the haddock sandwich served baked or fried.
To wash it all down you can choose from among a range of Maine-brewed beers, including four brewed right in Skowhegan at Oak Pond Brewery and Bigelow Brewing Company.
Signature item: The pub’s Bangers and Mash pay an edible homage to the eatery’s commitment to all things Irish. With three Irish sausages on top of garlic mashed potatoes covered in house-made Oak Pond Brewing Company nut brown gravy.
My pick: The Pub Club is a sandwich piled with sliced ham or turkey, bacon, swiss cheese locally sourced artisan greens and tomatoes.
What’s cool: On Thursday and Saturday evenings in the summer the Old Mill Pub has live entertainment featuring local talent in the upstairs dining area. Enjoy listening to bands and solo acts while you dine and drink in the restaurant or out on the deck overlooking the Kennebec River.
Hours: Open daily 11:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. and on Fridays until 10 p.m.
Miss Portland Diner
140 Marginal Way, Portland, 207-210-6673; missportlanddiner.com
Distance from Bangor: 130 miles, about 2 hours
Next to pub fare, I do love good diner food and the Miss Portland Diner is the whole package.
According to the diner’s website, “There is nothin’ finer than a Worcester Diner,” was the slogan of the old Worcester Lunch Car Company that specialized in small, handcrafted diners with marble countertops, hardwood booths and porcelain exteriors.
The Miss Portland Diner is a genuine 1949 Worcester Lunch Car Company diner. More to the point, it’s diner car No. 818, which has served hungry Portland-goers for decades.
Breakfast is often called the most important meal of the day, so why not head to the Miss Portland for one of their specialty offerings such as steak and eggs, corned beef hash or blueberry pancakes.
Later in the day consider a burger or hotdog served with house-made potato chips or, if you are really hungry, how about an order of baked macaroni and cheese made with cavatappi pasta smothered with housemade five-cheese sauce and topped with crumbled crackers.
There’s always room for dessert, especially when it’s a whoopie pie cake with a scoop of ice cream.
Signature item: For breakfast it’s corned beef hash, as a meal in and of itself, or as the key ingredient in the diner’s Irish eggs Benedict. But it does not stop there since the folks at the Miss Portland Diner also want you to know about the lunchtime haddock reuben and the supper menu’s hot turkey plate.
My pick: My go-to is the traditional eggs Benedict with Canadian bacon and house-made hollandaise sauce. On a Sunday when combined with a great cup of coffee and some good friends, it’s pretty tough to beat.
What’s cool: The Miss Portland Diner achieved a bit of Hollywood fame when it had a cameo appearance in the 1993 Mel Gibson movie “The Man Without a Face.”
Hours: Sunday to Wednesday, 7 a.m. to 3 p.m.; Thursday to Saturday, 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Big Rick’s Burgers & Wings
284 Main Street, Madawaska, 207-728-9098
Distance from Bangor: 200 miles, about 4 hours
Yes, Big Rick’s is at the top of Maine, 200 miles and four hours of driving north from the Bangor area. And yes, it is totally worth the road trip. Trust me on this.
As the name implies they have wings. Man-oh-man do they have wings. Giant, meaty chicken wings available breaded or “naked” and drenched in one of 23 available sauces ranging from the traditional mild or hot barbeque sauces to spicy Sriracha sauce to habanero mango to garlic parmesan. Don’t forget to ask for extra napkins.
Big Rick’s also serves boneless chicken versions of their wings that are every bit as good as bone-in.
Then there is the poutine, that Quebec-inspired dish of layered French-fried potatoes, cheese curds and gravy.
On this side of the US-Canadian border they have kicked it up a notch or two at Big Rick’s with specialty poutine such as shrimp alfredo with jumbo shrimp and alfredo cheese sauce; the Steak Bomb with steak, onions and red and green peppers; Loaded Chili with chili, cheese and sour cream; or the Pizza Poutine with pepperoni, cheese and pizza sauce.
These same combinations — and more — are also available on Big Rick’s pizzas.
Simply put, Big Rick’s is a carb-lover’s dream come true, where they vow you will never leave hungry.
Signature item: Get ready to fall in love with the Sweetheart Poutine. Locally sourced fried sweet potatoes with popcorn chicken, crumbled bacon and sharp white cheddar cheese all topped with a homemade maple cream sauce.
My pick: Wings. Specifically naked wings with Big Rick’s maple-bourbon sauce. When I was placing my order and having a very difficult time narrowing down my wing sauce choice, a regular recommended the maple-bourbon sauce, telling me it would change my life. I can’t say it did change my life, but it sure made we want to go back for seconds.
What’s cool: Every August Madawaska hosts Poutine Palooza as part of the annual Acadian Festival. It’s a perfect time to check out all the poutine varieties offered by Big Rick’s. While there, check out — or join — a poutine eating contest.
Hours: Daily from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.
So there you have it, more than a trail of breadcrumbs, it’s a trail of food, drink and fun that takes you to and from all corners of Maine and back home again. Quite possibly with a doggy bag but definitely with a satisfied palette.
Watch: Fire destroys landmark restaurant in Washington County
This story was originally published in Bangor Metro’s June/July 2019 issue. To subscribe to the magazine, click here.