This week, our very own Editor-in-Chief’s husband, Saar Harel, takes us on the first of a three part East Coast Road Trip series. From New York City to the great state of Maine, he’s sampling some of the tastiest seafood shacks and savory chowdahs along the way. Think romantic B&B’s, seaside inns, lobster rolls, fireplaces, and… a metallic blue 2012 Porsche Cayenne Hybrid!
I’m originally from Israel, so now that I’ve moved to New York City, when vacation time came along, I suggested a romantic road trip filled with local seafood and charming bed and breakfasts. Since north of New York played host to some of the best seafood in the world, it was really a no brainer. A New England road trip filled with fried clams from New York City to Maine, here we come…
When you live in NY you rarely drive. Sometimes, you take a taxi. Me, I mainly walk. So, the last car I drove was in Hawaii where my mother-in-law drove a Toyota Prius. As an avid speed junkie, I was a bit disappointed as anything without carbon fiber is not exactly high tech for me. However, when you settle into the Aloha spirit, you’re no longer in a hurry and the added advantage of a hybrid car is that’s quiet and makes for a more relaxed, easier vacation. Simply put: hybrids don’t require you to purchase Exxon stock, invade foreign nations, or marry your daughter to Sheik Bandar.
So, when Porsche offered to hand over the keys (and such pretty little keys they are) so that my wife, the Editor of one of the best travel blogs around (no, of course I’m not biased) could test out their brand new 2012 Porsche Cayenne Hybrid, I was thrilled to try their latest offering. Having owned the Porsche Boxster a few years back, I was always pleased with the level of the car, it’s handling, and it’s quality of build. When I heard we would also have GPS navigation, that set me at ease. Hey, America’s a big country and it’s an easy place to get lost.
When the car arrived, I loaded up all 2 suitcases. To say that the Cayenne is roomy is an understatement, you can fit groceries, luggage, and have room to spare. Navigation was a nice addition as with country, state, city, and address options, you’re all set. We didn’t need a map or to pre-plan. It even calculates the traffic and tells you where to go.
Turn Left. We joked that they should also let you download different voices for the navigation (we wanted an Italian), but I guess that will happen when Apple comes up with a navigation system. Besides being overwhelmed, at first, with all the different buttons and levers, the car is easy to start and drive. If you ever wanted to a fly commercial jumbo jet yourself, then this is the car for you.
The city drive was very smooth. The hybrid part does its work, and you barely hear the car moving along. In fact, there are no spikes as it engages and disengages the engine. The roads do open up and the toll roads are well maintained so you do get to step on the pedal. To be honest, after my multiple run-ins with the police and helicopters in Israel as a youth, I don’t speed much, but you can’t have a Porsche without testing its fine ability to accelerate. The sign says 60 or 70, but the car is so solid and stable on the road that you feel like you’re not even speeding. Step on it a bit and you’re quickly at 90. I don’t think the officer will be very understanding so you can just engage the cruise control and go back to paying attention to your wife (failure to do so can be expensive). Trucks do come along and the last thing you want is to pass them slowly, so just a light touch and they’re history. Rain falls and nothing changes. The car doesn’t slide around, the wipers work perfectly, and you feel as if you are the safest driver in the world (cue luxe family road trips here – there’s even an option for TVs on the back of the front seats).
From New York City to our first destination, Kennebunkport, Maine, we got hungry, so, although my lady planned out all the seafood shacks in advance, hunger knows no timeline so we Googled some sea shack on the iPhone – The Sandbar in West Haven, Connecticut – typed the address into the navigation, and you’re set. A few fried clams and some taters later, and we were on our way.
Gas… don’t even bother… the meter has barely moved. We made to the Captain Lord Mansion’s stunning “ye olde” room by 11pm. A breezy 5 1/2 hour drive from New York City (especially when you’re in the smooth belly of the Cayenne beast). With the Captain Lord Mansion, if you wanted Kennebunkport, Maine… you got it. An old mansion converted into a neat B&B, the property was originally owned by Captain Lord himself, a shipbuilder and lover of all things seafaring.
The décor is fitting a man of station – preferably of a naval station – and the fireplace is a button away. Imagine staying at a cozy mansion complete with paintings and trimmings and curtains and towels and books on Impressionism. Each room is also named and styled after a different ship vessel to complete the seaside theme. This is rated one of the most romantic B&B’s in Maine and there’s good reason. Attention to detail is supreme. Right down to the hammock, flowers, and fountain in the front yard with a sweet boy and girl chatting under an umbrella.
Morning came, the sun was shining, and my wife even powered through breakfast (she’s not a morning person). Their breakfast was quite hearty and delicious and it’s interesting to get extensive conversation with other guests of the establishment as you’re seated at a large dining room table. As it’s always difficult to chat up new people since they always say to avoid politics and religion (and we’re not very good with that), we still managed to have a lovely time and hear the assorted stories of each person and what brought them to Kennebunkport. After all, with a little nice sun, a lovely breeze, and a warm meal, people don’t really care too much if you don’t believe in their god.
Kennebunkport is definitely charming. The crowd was older as it was autumn, and, in general, we were told summer months bring more of a family crowd. There’s a nice walk with lovely shops in rustic little cottages. My wife loved the shop, Pink Tangerine, with colorful Lilly Pulitzer dresses and accessories, but I went straight for the lobster. Yes, apparently Bush has their lobster and considers it the best. That’s why he got a vacation house there. My wife had the fresh lobster (and by fresh I mean 3 hours old), while I tried the mussels in tomato sauce at Mabel’s Lobster Claw. Both were so fresh and tasty that you suddenly realize that New York restaurants aren’t always as great as everyone claims.
The town is nice enough to have paths for you to walk around and enjoy the view of wooden ships sailing the ocean, marinas with lovely boats, old style houses of wood, and beautiful gardening with the perfect weather to stroll, leaving you relaxed and refreshed.
Night comes early, but a short drive away you can take it some of the non-shack style restaurants. One of my wife’s contacts suggested Academe at the Kennebunk Inn (not to be confused with the Kennebunkport Inn). The Kennebunk Inn is about a 10 minute drive from the Captain Lord Mansion and a small restaurant managed by Shanna and Brain O’Heas, a married couple who make it a point to leave the place and fly on occasion to other countries so that other influences can come into their food and change their culinary perspective.
The star chefs met at CIA and their professional skills have been finely honed through assignments in Boston, Connecticut, Florida, London and New York in settings ranging from The Four Seasons to luxurious clubs and resorts (Grand Floridian, Ocean Reef and Greenwich Country Club), as well as private homes and estates. The O’Heas’ mentors include some of the most talented and celebrated figures in the culinary world: Madeleine Kamman, author and PBS series host of “Madeleine Cooks” and Michel Boulard, former chef to the King of Belgium and one of New York’s finest private French chefs.
They draw on their culinary and artistic backgrounds to create imaginative and enticing soups (check out this Haddock Chowder), salads, and entrees served in an informal setting. Menu highlights include the Lobster Pot Pie, selected by celebrity chef, Cat Cora, to be featured on the Food Network’s “Best Thing I Ever Ate.” An Academe exclusive, it sounds a lot heavier than it actually is – with poached lobster including tail, knuckle and claw meat, peas, corn, potatoes and Shanna’s hand rolled puff pastry.
Their travels are evident in their cooking and the different tasty combinations deserve nothing less than that fabulous word “fusion cooking.” Some of their fantastic combinations included a Maine Crab Cake and Citrus Salad with fresh local crab panko crusted and fried over jicama, cucumber and citrus supremes with a white balsamic lemon vinaigrette. Next time, my wife and I are dying to try the Steak and Blue Salad with grilled coullotte steak, crumbled blue cheese, roasted beets, sherry vinaigrette and sea-salt vinegar beet chips, along with the Personal Meatloaf wrapped in bacon with mustard mashed potatoes haricot verts and truffle ginger BBQ sauce. I ate one of their specials – a fried clam pizza made with whole wheat dough topped with capers, mozzarella, and basil.
And as for the conclusion – a selection of amazing homemade sorbets (mint chocolate chip, blueberry crumble) and tasty tawny port (courtesy of the Portuguese).
Part II of Saar and Layla’s Seafood Shack Roadtrip to Maine…