Maine's Autumnal Splendor

Share This:     I arrived into Boston‘s Logan Airport just after dawn, and managed to locate my boat of a rental car, its radio station set to Harvard University’s ‘Hillbilly at Harvard’ program.  I was looking forward to finding some East Coast treasures for my shop, Heritage Culinary Artifacts in Napa Valley, but first needed a boost.  At the first sign of its familiar orange and pink sign, I cruised into Dunkin’ Donuts, ordering a tall regular (still made with real cream), and a cruller for… well… for dunkin’.  I then meandered the back roads of the northern coast of Massachusetts, into lower New Hampshire, and then into southern Maine.  Good Lord, the colors of autumnal New England, the pervasive sea air, the colonial architecture - complete with pumpkin-laden front stone steps - are almost too beautiful to bear.
  I explored quintessentially East Coast antique shops, smelling of must and potpourri, and chock full of dark wood, lace runners, and early American glass.  I even found a shop selling pieces from Casper Weinberger’s Maine estate.
  I was now ravenous.  The rush from a sack of Cumberland apples from an Ipswich farm stand had long since worn off.  I spied a restaurant jutting into Maine’s Kennebunkport harbor, home to the Bush clan (which tourists still flock to see?!).  I took a seat on the porch in the warm fall sun.  By the time my late lunch was over, I was covered in clam and lobster juice and slick with sweet butter.

  I watched the old school Maine schooners navigate the tiny harbor, as I finished my dark local ale.  My seafood stupor didn’t inhibit me from finding a few treasures.

  This sensational honey pot, dating to the early 1950s, was created by Frankoma Pottery, started in Oklahoma in 1933 by the world-renowned sculptor, craftsman, educator, and humanitarian, John Frank. He designed pieces to be functional as well as artistic and to reflect the beauty of the American Southwest.  I coupled it with an olive wood honey dripper from Italy (pair $85).
  A hammered sterling silver cake server with an intricate handle was my next purchase.  Measuring 8.5" long, this is a highly unusual and unique piece hailing from the turn-of-the-century Connecticut silversmiths ($265).  
  Created by Bennington Pottery of Vermont (est. 1948) in the early 1960s, these two teapots are exceptionally well made and in wonderful condition.  The larger one has a raised depiction of a girl at the well with great decorative flourishes ($210).  The smaller teapot is lighter in coloring and boasts delicate scroll work ($185).
  Which came first:  the chicken or the egg snippers??  Produced in the mid-century in Germany, they are designed to cut the top of the shell off a soft boiled egg - allowing easy spooning or perhaps the ability to add a dollop of caviar or crème fraiche. ($78)  

  I was thrilled to find this immaculate, rare three piece coffee set.  Made by and marked Ironstone China in England, this particular wheat pattern is further marked Wm. Adams and Sons and was made between 1890-1910. ($285)  

  My last find of the day was a heavy, covered copper roasting pan.  Measuring 15" long from handle to handle, and 9" wide, it is perfect for roasting vegetables and loins.  Unlike much of the copper I come across, the interior is in great condition and ready for roasting - and the weaving on the pan’s bottom dates it to the mid-1800s. ($310)  
    It was late afternoon and I was tired; my red-eye-piece-of-shit-totally-crammed-turbulence-tossed-too-small plane not having left until almost 1am.  Still, I opted to drive further north to Orchard Beach, strangely reminiscent of a rather forlorn Atlantic City.  Now in its off-season, I was able to score a very pretty, end room right on the beach at the Edgwater and share the beachfront with only a few older, well-traveled couples. Limitless Wi-Fi and chocolate bars from the nerdy dude at front desk ensure a couple of days ahead of reading, writing and walking on the long stretch of deserted beach.  I watched the moon rise over the Atlantic and sipped a 1992 Torre Muga Rioja Reserva schlepped along for just such an occasion.  I fell asleep with my door open, listening to the endless surf.  Awoke early to a soak in a deep, lavender-strewn tub and an unmistakably EAST COAST everything bagel with cream cheese.   Rested and revived, I forged on.    

  With lobster on the brain (and in the belly…), I was immediately drawn to this delicate set of crab or lobster picks.  They were produced by Wallace Silversmith in Connecticut in the early 1800s. (set $165)
    Anywhere I travel, I always bring along this hunger-defying trio:  a utility knife made by Oregon blacksmith Michael Hemmer from reclaimed carbon steel (sharp as a tack) with a handle made from Oregon myrtlewood; a sauscion board I had made in Napa Valley from hard maple, which makes cutting salumi a delight (the design is based upon the sausage boards from the French countryside); and a cured, small production salumi from The Fatted Calf in Napa Valley, which is truly a pork lover’s artisanal treat!  Would this not be a wonderful holiday gift?  (three pieces $120)  

  Indeed, one of the most unusual oyster plates I have ever seen!  Produced in Valleris, France (the same town where Pablo Picasso had his pottery studio), this plate dates to the early 1920s and is in flawless condition.  The octopus’ slitty eyes made me laugh out loud!  Oysters are nestled between his tentacles.  Highly unusual.  ($265)  

  Always on the look-out for well-done horn and bone items, I was fortunate to find this substantial horn-handled corkscrew.  Dating to the turn-of-the-century and purchased from an English family, this is quite a treasure. ($195)  
  Spent the morning writing in my hotel room, the windows and doors open to the Atlantic.  By mid-afternoon, I was out of rolling papers, there were no Belgians left in the tiny fridge, and I was in need of a change of scenery.  I drove out to Cape Elizabeth, Maine, a bit of land that juts into the sea by way of a rocky coastline.  When I was much younger, my folks bought and renovated the old coast guard station on the cliff at Two Lights, situated in between two lighthouses, one of which is still relied up.   It looks so small now.  I recalled laying in bed there at night, watching the flashing beam from the lighthouse bounce off my walls until I fell asleep.  The sound of the foghorn is still ever present.   

    At the base of that cliff is The Lobster Shack, a funky old restaurant hugging the rocks above the rough surf, operating since the late 60s.  I’m quite sure not much has changed.  I had a lobster.  Actually, in truth, I had two.  Bathed in butter.  I sat outside on an old red picnic bench, the gulls greedily scanning their territory.  Nothing but the sea and the horn and the high school girl calling your number when your food is ready.  I had a couple of fried clams to start.  Their dark, gamey bellies were perfectly fried.  

  This carbon steel cleaver is from the renowned German cutlery house F. Dick, and dates back to the mid-1800s.  The house has been making some of the finest professional cutlery since 1778.  This substantial and weighty cleaver measures 15.5" in length, including the handle. I have paired it with an English sharpening steel from the same period to keep its razor edge. (pair $245)         From the esteemed English silversmith of Mappin and Webb, this fish set of eight knives and eight forks in is exceptional condition.  The set for eight dates to early 1900s and was purchased from an English family residing in Maine.  I have never found a fish set of such age in such prisitine condition as this.  (set $385)  

    I drove into Portland along Route 1, its urban blight of Chicago Dogs and cheap furniture stores reminding me of the road into the other Portland.  I tried to get a seat at the much-lauded restaurant, Fore Street.  An hour’s wait?  You must be kidding me.  I put my name in anyway and wandered this seaside city’s small streets.  Found a head shop with beautiful glass blown pipes where I bought some papers and a leather shop where I bought a pair of clogs.    I spotted The Corner Room Kitchen and Bar, literally on the corner of Federal and Exchange.  It was warm and inviting, with good lighting and lots of wood, and populated with enough people to make it feel lively, yet without the chaotic scene of the wildly popular Fore Street.  Snagged a seat at the chef’s counter, where the chef actually presided.  The top of the menu read “A casual, affordable rustic Italian inspired restaurant by Harding Lee Smith. “  Out of the gate, I ordered a plate of lardo, thinly sliced and creamy with a slight scent of animal.  It melted in my mouth.  The wine list was a long page, chock full of well-priced, food-friendly Italians.  I requested the 2007 Damilano Barolo be roughly decanted for a bit of air on the young drink.  I sent the chef a large glass to inspire him to make my supper.  I was rewarded with a dish of which I still dream:  a hunk of grilled ciabatta, slathered with their tangy house-made ricotta, layered with slices of warmed, house-cured duck proscuitto.  It was topped with a poached egg from a local farm, which was perfectly cooked (meaning barely…); the yolk incredibly rich and runny, binding together all of the wonderful flavors and textures.  Damn, it was a fine plate!  Finished with a double order of sautéed local rapini with chili flakes and garlic and the dregs of the Piedmontese, now lush with cherry and game.  
  Have I mentioned how wonderfully thick and expressive the Northeastern accent is???