Steve and I celebrated my 35th birthday with a wonderful weekend in Camden, eating delicious food up and down the coast (and playing some bridge, as well).
Fat Boy Drive-In, Brunswick
When I mentioned the idea of going to Camden for the weekend, Steve’s first question was, “Can we go to Fat Boys?” It’s a classic drive-in that opened in 1955 and hasn’t changed much from what I can tell. You pull up, turn your lights on for service and a server comes out to take your order. Steve has been hearing about the BLT for years from a friend of his. What makes it so special? It’s really a CBLT, as in Canadian bacon. Apparently, Steve loves Canadian bacon. I didn’t know, but I guess I should have guessed. The first sandwich came with mayo, so he needed a replacement. He scarf down attempt #2 without offering me a bite, so I can only infer that he enjoyed it. I had a lobster roll. It was moderately sized and heavy on the mayo. I liked that the roll was top-split style, buttered and grilled. It was a perfectly serviceable roll and a bargain at $6. The frappes and onion rings were excellent. Astonishingly, the whole meal came to $20.
Primo has been on my Go To list for years – ever since I saw it on the Maine episode of No Reservations. Chef Melissa Kelly has been doing farm to table cuisine years before it became trendy for every menu to list the name of the farmer that planted the lettuce for your salad. The difference at Primo is that the produce is grown and harvested there and the animals are raised on the property.
The amuse bouche was a lobster bisque that tasted like liquid lobster gold. I could use a bowl of it right now. It came with three excellent homemade breads: sourdough, seeded baguette and an onion focaccia.
We shared the cavatelli with grilled backyard chicken to start. Although the menu does not list it, the restaurant will offer ½ portions for appetizers. I thought the chicken was good, but nothing to set it apart from chickens raised elsewhere. It was really the handrolled cavatelli and the meaty mushrooms that made this dish.
I had the pan roasted halibut, and for once they cooked the fish to my liking. I think it was because Steve told them I really wanted my fish swimming. The fish was delicious, but it paled in comparison to Steve’s pork saltimbocca. There was nothing unique or innovative about this dish; it was just so packed with flavor. I had a bite and my first thought was, “this was a happy pig. If it’s possible to taste joy in meat, I think this is it.”
I had the dark chocolate budino cake for dessert with a scoop of caramel sea salt gelato on the side. Steve enjoyed a scoop of espresso gelato with cocoa nibs.
We had a lovely table by the window and our server was attentive. It was a perfect birthday dinner.
I woke up early on Saturday morning and strolled around Camden. The town is quintessential Maine, with its small independent book stores, antique jewelry shops and stores packed with adorable, but useless tchotchkes (ceramic cocker spaniel bookends, anyone?) There was even an antique doll furniture shop. There is a farmer’s market on Wednesday afternoons and Saturday mornings. It had a good number of stands selling organic vegetables, meats, cheeses, flowers and the ilk. 40 Paper, a restaurant conveniently located between out hotel and the playing site, was giving our samples of their pea risotto topped with fiddlehead ferns. Delicious! I decided it would make a great option for dinner.
40 Paper, Camden
The restaurant describes itself as “both an intimate neighborhood bistro & a hip urban bar.” We seated ourselves at the bar and took advantage of the daily happy hour specials. There is a selection of small plates and ½ flatbreads for $5 and drinks are half off. That meant the 2 flatbreads, pea and guanciale risotto, mussels in wine, garlic and herbs, his beer and my very delicious honey lemon drop cocktail came to $32 before tip. The food was well cooked and executed. It was an excellent value. Steve enjoyed his beer enough that we returned after the bridge game at 10:15pm for another round of drinks.
The restaurant had a very different feel after the dinner hours; there was a DJ in the back room pumping out an eclectic mix of loud dance music (I guess this was ‘hip urban bar’ component). We finished talking about the hands and, in an uncharacteristic turn of events, we hit the dance floor. It was more fun than I could have anticipated – I think we should incorporate dancing in to all bridge discussions.
Pai Men Miyake, Portland
Miyake was just listed on Bon Appétit’s 10 best new sushi restaurants in America. Pai Men Miyake is a small off shoot, specializing in ramen. We were going to a Sea Dogs game at 1, so we stopped in for a quick lunch. We started with the pork buns, steamed bao filled with braised pork belly, gouchujang mayo and pepper relish. I think Momofuku’s version is better, but I still enjoyed it. Steve did not – I think he was overwhelmed by the condiments. He didn’t like the pai tan ramen either, a pork & chicken broth topped with pork belly, egg, scallion, and nori. He offered me his extra pork belly, declaring that it was, “too fatty,” If only they offered Canadian bacon ramen.
I took his pork belly and happily slurped it up with the rest of my noodles. I thought the broth had a nice depth of flavor and the noodles had the appropriate texture.
I had to try some sushi, given Bon Appétit’s pronouncement. I got a simple tuna and avocado rolled. It was topped with spicy mayo and toasted almonds. The fish was fresh, and I liked the crunch of the almonds, but they overdid it with the mayo. Steve doesn’t eat sushi; needless to say he required a bagel from Dunkin’ Donuts later in the afternoon.
One final note, which has nothing to do with food, I got a scoreboard massage during the game. If you zoom in, it reads “Happy Birthday Gloria. You rock!”