You know what I haven’t done in a long time? Taken an impromptu roadtrip. Being the king of planning and all, I can’t even remember the last time I just packed a bag with no plans, reservations, and just hit the road, so I was pretty pumped this past 4th of July weekend, when my buddy Alex texted me the Wednesday before,and asked if I had any plans. I have an annual family party, but other then that I did have a four day weekend at my disposal and had been trying to figure out what to do with the other days. He had a three day weekend as well and wanted to take advantage, suggesting maybe we go to Philly, Baltimore, or Pittsburgh. I suggested Portland, Maine, as both the city, and state have been on my list of places to go for a while now.
Thursday night we stayed in Boston, and I’ll detail those shenanigans in another post. Short story: we got there late because driving in Connecticut is what I imagine hell to be like. We woke up impressively early Friday for the amount we drank there, and got on the road.
Portland’s about an hour and twenty minute drive from Boston, if you drive straight up 95. However, just a few weeks earlier my dad had been telling me about a great roadtrip he’d taken with my mom and uncle, sometime in the 80’s, where they drove from Hampton Beach, New Hampshire, to Kennebunkport, Maine. He said there was a scenic drive that hugged the coast, and there were a ton of small seafood restaurants one could stop at for a “sandwich and a beer.” Sidenote: my dad is always telling stories about when he stopped someplace to get a “sandwich and a beer.” I’ve been out with the man many times. I’ve seen him consume a lot of beer. I’ve seen him consume a few sandwiches. Something doesn’t add up here. Anyway, our initial plan was to do that in the morning, get to Portland in the afternoon, do some kayaking or paddleboarding, and then spend Saturday brewery hopping, as Portland is renowned for it’s craft beer scene.
I also planned on eating my weight in lobster rolls. Here’s the thing: I like lobster, but I do tend to think that as far as seafood goes, it is a little overrated. Most of the time I’ll pick shrimp, scallops, or even clam over lobster, served traditionally that is. However, when you add a bit of mayo, and throw it on some toasted bread? Can’t beat it. I love lobster rolls and while it’s easy to find decent lobster in PA, it’s not easy to find good lobster rolls out of New England. That’s a fact.
The traffic from Boston to Portland rivaled the traffic from NYC to Boston. By the time we got to Portsmouth, NH (somewhere, I think I’d like to spend some time in the future), and got off 95, it was close to lunch and I was starving. We crossed the bridge into Kittery, Maine and started on the scenic route. What I was expecting was rugged coastline, lighthouses, and lobster shacks. What I got, unfortunately, were mini golf courses, fudge shops (why do people on vacation love fudge?), over crowded ice cream stands, tons more traffic, and people who must have never seen the ocean before as they were crawling at 10mpt to take pictures of it. This section of Maine to me seemed very familiar, because there was no real difference between it and the Jersey shore. Disappointed, we stopped at the Shore Road Restaurant in York Beach, ME to grab something to eat before I had a fit of road rage.
The Shore Road Restaurant was an unassuming place, that could’ve been mistaken for a gas station. There were picnic tables outside, a small general store, and a counter where you ordered your food. They also had free popcorn which almost immediately elevates a place to 4 stars in my book AND had the best lobster roll I had on this trip. The bun was good, there was a ton of lobster meat, and at $9.99, it was a steal.
Feeling satisfied, we got back on the road and soon gave up on the scenic route, hopping back onto 95. At this point, we knew kayaking wouldn’t happen that day, so while I sat behind the wheel and stewed at the drivers around me, Alex found a morning excursion for Saturday and booked it. We decided then that Friday would be beer day, and called several beer tour companies to see if they had any availability. They seemed like really great deals: 4 breweries in one afternoon, with a driver. Unfortunately, they were all booked, so we just set our GPS for Allagash, ostensibly the most well known Portland brewery. Stung that the beer tours wouldn’t allow us to sneak in at the last minute, we also vowed that we’d make it to at least 5 breweries-just to show them up (I bet they care a lot).
It turns out that we didn’t have to try too hard. Allagash is located on One Industrial Way, and industrial park that’s home to six breweries and a distillery, all within walking distance to each other. It was a gorgeous day, and all the breweries we visited had outdoor seating, food trucks, games (bean bags step cousin corn hole) and a generally lively atmosphere. I also thought it was cool how the breweries seemed to feed off of each other, rather then compete. Allagash actually offered a free flight to visitors, which I thought was cool. Their tour was booked, but looked like it’d be interesting.
Three of the breweries, Bissel Brothers, Austin Street, and Foundation were all located in the same building across the street from Allagash. All three were very informal, and I enjoyed going back and forth between them, however if I had to pick a winner, it would hands down be Foundation. They had really good beer, particularly the Wanderlust Hoppy Farmhouse Ale.
Sufficiently buzzed up for the early afternoon, we made our way to the Clarion we’d be staying at. Normally I don’t really get into hotel reviews, just because I don’t usually spend a lot of time in the hotel, and am usually just happy for somewhere to curl up for a couple of hours, but I give the Portland Clarion a high recommendation because the staff was super friendly and it was in a great location to access both the breweries and downtown Portland. It was also reasonably priced and had some sort of deal worked out with a local cab company that made getting around without driving really convenient (Portland does have Uber btw, but because of the abundance of cabs we didn’t need to use it, we probably did legitimately save us a couple of bucks).
After a quick shower, we took one of said cabs to downtown Portland. Portland’s a decently sized city with a number of neighborhoods to explore, however we spent all of our time in the waterfront “Old Port.” Old Port is the touristy/nightlife district down along the water. What differentiates Portland from a lot of the other (read: Cape Cod) New England harbor towns I’ve spent time in, is that Portland is still very much a working port, which gave the area a much more industrial feel than say, Hyannis, or even the Boston harbor area. The Portland harbor is also filled with islands, so it has more of a bay feel, than the open ocean (not a bad thing, just pointing it out).
We wanted to check out one more brewery and happened upon Liquid Riot. I really hate to give bad reviews, but in all honesty, I didn’t love this stop. It was a little too hipstericcaly (Did I just make up a word? I think I did) stylized for my taste and the beer I had, an “albino” porter, wasn’t awful, but didn’t feel natural (I feel the same way about “golden Guinness”). We finished our drinks pretty quick and set out to find someplace to eat.
J’s Oysters did not disappoint. It was exactly the type of place I’m sure my dad and mom stopped on their roadtrip in the 80’s: small, dark, slightly grimy in the best way, no frills, decently priced, and right on the water. J’s is also just far enough off the main road, and just hidden enough that I think a lot of people pass it by. There was a small wait, so we ponied up to the bar, got some drinks, and immediately were befriended by three local middle aged guys who had probably been there for a couple of hours. They told us how they’d all been coming their since the 70’s, showed us some pictures of their boats (not a euphemism), and gave us some recommendations for bar hopping afterwards. We probably would’ve sat and chatted with them all night had an outdoor table opened up a lot sooner then we expected.
It was a great dinner. I had some great scallops as an appetizer, and the 2nd best lobster roll of the trip.
We ended up sitting, drinking, and bullshitting at J’s longer then expected, so by the time we got our check it was after 9. We headed to Wharf Street, a cobble stone, pedestrian only alley which runs parallel to Commercial Avenue (the Old Port’s main road), and tried to figure out exactly which bars to try out.
It wasn’t hard to make a choice once I saw the “drink like a patriot” sign outside of the Bonfire Pub, and heard the country music blaring inside. The Bonfire Pub is Portland’s own country music bar(we need more of them in the world)-they had porch swings for seats, a bacon happy hour, and country music videos playing. They also had a self serve beer wall, which I didn’t see in action, but looks pretty cool (via the website).
After downing a few star spangled Budweisers, we headed across the alley (literally 5 feet across) to the Oasis Nightclub, that I referenced back in my jenga post from last week. Although touted as a nightclub, the main draw here was the lifesize childhood games and outdoor space. They had connect four, jenga, and giant beer pong with a kick ball and buckets, that we played and owned until it got too crowded. We bounced back and forth between the two bars a bit more until we realized we had to get up at 7 the next day, in order to catch the ferry to our kayaking trip.
Our last stop of the night was Elevation Burger, something I believed was a Portland local’s favorite, until I looked it up and found it was a chain. Could we talk about Elevation Burger for a minute (even thought it’s a chain)? They offer “gourmet” burgers you can customize to your liking. Their trademark “elevation burger” comes with two patties, which is great for a fatass like myself, but you can also order one patty if you so desire (which is hilariously dubbed a “kid’s burger). I had a double burger with cheddar bacon, and ketchup because I am not adventurous when it comes to burger condiments (the second night-because naturally we went back, I had a grilled chicken, bacon, bbq sandwich-the grilled chicken made me feel healthy!). It was glorious. I don’t know why no one else has tried to corner the market on burgers as a post bar extravaganza. I think I’m going to write them to open in NEPA. This is my sad takeaway from a day spent in Maine.