New England: Guess what we're having for dinner

Maine is not a good place to be a lobster. But it is an extremely good place to be if you happen to enjoy eating the king of the crustaceans

As the rain began to beat thunderously on the corrugated iron roof of the restaurant, diners in thick sweaters and anoraks abandoned all pretence of a balmy July al fresco supper, grabbed their paper plates and made a hasty dash for the covered eating area. Gazing out across the grey, rain-soaked bay, it was only too apparent why the early British settlers felt so at home when they landed on the north-eastern shores of the United States, and I wondered again why we had chosen to come half-way across the world for a holiday in Maine rather than spending a week in, say, Wales. Then the food arrived, and I remembered. We had come for the lobster.

Most American states emblazon their license plates with something which they feels encap- sulates their unique identity. New York has the Statue of Liberty, Colorado has mountains. Idaho - and they're quite serious about this - is "The Potato State". And Maine? Maine has lobsters, of which they are justifiably proud. The plates also carry a logo that pronounce the state "Vacationland", but don't let that put you off. Bar a few go- cart tracks and the odd souvenir-filled fort, there are no giant amusement parks, nor the sort of tacky Gnome Worlds that one finds on the Isle of Wight.

There aren't even the usual branches of McDonald's, standard roadside fare across the US. In Maine, thankfully, there are roadside lobster shacks instead.

It was in such a place that we were sheltering from the storm. Red and white checkered tablecloths fluttered on the tables. Geraniums hung from the awnings of the wooden porch. On arrival, diners visit the "lobster pound", where they pick out their very own beast of the sea, still quite alive, which is then weighed, priced and dropped into sunken wooden barrels bubbling with boiling water. Next, shellfish appetisers and side dishes of fresh corn-on-the-cob, coleslaw and American biscuits are ordered from the kitchen hatch, where you can expect to pay the miserly sum of around $10 for the entire meal. Once the poor lobsters have turned the desired shade of red, ticket numbers are yelled loudly by the proprietor and you return to the hatch to collect the main attraction, steaming hot in a simple paper dish.

To be honest, I had never quite understood the passion for lobster before my first visit up here. Crab, it seemed me, had a more interesting flavour, whereas lobster was always a little bland, overpriced and, so I thought, overrated. But once in Maine, producer of 90 per cent of the nation's most revered crustaceans, lobster worship became suddenly, overwhelmingly, understandable.

No complicated tableware or rich French sauces - just you, your lobster and a little hot lemony butter. And paper napkins, lots of them.

For from the minute you crack open the shell, squirting juice into the unsuspecting eye of your dining companion, the carnivore inside awakes. Diners are reduced to happy children, grin- ning hopelessly, melted butter and lobster juice dribbling down their chins as they suck ferociously on the legs, and ferret out the last bits of precious white flesh from the ruined shell of the recently deceased.

It is a messy but joyous business, and a world apart from the pricey five-star restaurants that serve this delicacy at home. Lobster in Maine is not a fancy extravagance; it's just dinner. In fact, it can be tricky to find anything else.

A vegetarian friend along for the scenic - rather than seafood - attractions, became rather tired of lunches and dinners composed of coleslaw and corn. While the tourist-oriented towns by the shore offer a wide variety of restaurants, along the roadsides it's lobster all the way. Well - there are steamers, tender local clams soaked in a buttery broth, and fresh, juicy mussels, but those are seen as little more than appetisers for the star of the show. I estimate that during our trip we quite possibly ate our own weight in lobster, and can honestly say we were none the worse for our limited diet.

Of course, shellfish is not the only reason to take your holiday in Maine, though once smitten by the delicate flavour it is tempting to simply graze along the coast from one pretty little lobster pound to the next, only varying the routine at breakfast with heaped plates of fresh blueberry pancakes. The state is the largest in New England, jutting up into the interior of Canada like a lump of earth which refuses to be flattened under the heel of the international border. Though outdoors enthusiasts are attracted inland to the vast moose-filled wilderness areas of the Appalachian Mountains, most visitors are drawn to the rocky coastline and not simply by the seafood. It is remote, yet on a scale that is accessible even to the most amateur explorer; wild, yet dotted with fishing towns graced with traditional New England charm - all wooden houses and small, spired churches, porches with rocking chairs and flower-filled yards.

We based our visit on Mount Desert Island. The name may seem like a peculiar Americanism, but is actually a fairly accurate description. Connected to the mainland by a short bridge, the small landmass does have mountains - Cadillac Mountain is the highest point on the eastern seaboard - and, despite the lack of tropical climate, is rather how one would imagine the perfect desert island to be: inland ponds teeming with wildlife, lakes in which to swim and canoe, hills to climb, forests to explore, clean beaches, rocky peninsulas and lobster pounds.

Except that the island in summer is anything but deserted, being home to Acadia National Park, the second busiest National Park in the US. Fortunately, most visitors stick to the largest town, Bar Harbor, and to the main road that loops through Acadia, rarely straying further afield. Those willing to abandon their vehicles and use their legs will find ample solitude for explorations of the hills and the rocky shore.

Half of the island is untouched National Park; the other half scattered with villages, luxurious B&Bs, sleepy boutiques and plenty of places to stop for lobster. There are several outlying islands accessible from Mount Desert by chartered boat or sea kayak, including the sweetly-named Cranberry Isles, perfect day-trip destinations. Deep-sea fishing, mountain biking, rock climbing and whale-watching tours are other popular ways to fill that time between lobster lunch and lobster dinner.

Suggested Topics
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Arts and Entertainment
Inner sanctum: Tove Jansson and friends in her studio in 1992
booksWhat was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?
Arts and Entertainment
Singer songwriter Bob Dylan performs on stage
films
Arts and Entertainment
booksPhotographer Richard Young has been snapping celebrities at play for 40 years - but he says it wasn’t all fun and games
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Jenna Coleman, Peter Capaldi and Nick Frost star in the Doctor Who Christmas Special, Last Christmas
TV
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Austen Lloyd: Commercial Property Lawyer - Cheshire

    Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: CHESHIRE MARKET TOWN - An exciting and rare o...

    Austen Lloyd: Residential Property Solicitor - Hampshire

    Excellent Salary : Austen Lloyd: NORTH HAMPSHIRE - SENIOR POSITION - An exciti...

    Recruitment Genius: Gas Installation Engineer

    £29000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Gas Installation Engineer is required ...

    Recruitment Genius: Domestic Gas Technical Surveyor

    £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Domestic Gas Technical Surveyor is req...

    Day In a Page

    Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Drifting and forgotten - turning lives around for ex-soldiers

    Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Turning lives around for ex-soldiers

    Our partner charities help veterans on the brink – and get them back on their feet
    Putin’s far-right ambition: Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU

    Putin’s far-right ambition

    Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU
    Tove Jansson's Moominland: What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?

    Escape to Moominland

    What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?
    Nightclubbing with Richard Young: The story behind his latest book of celebrity photographs

    24-Hour party person

    Photographer Richard Young has been snapping celebrities at play for 40 years. As his latest book is released, he reveals that it wasn’t all fun and games
    Michelle Obama's school dinners: America’s children have a message for the First Lady

    A taste for rebellion

    US children have started an online protest against Michelle Obama’s drive for healthy school meals by posting photos of their lunches
    Colouring books for adults: How the French are going crazy for Crayolas

    Colouring books for adults

    How the French are going crazy for Crayolas
    Jack Thorne's play 'Hope': What would you do as a local politician faced with an impossible choice of cuts?

    What would you do as a local politician faced with an impossible choice of cuts?

    Playwright Jack Thorne's latest work 'Hope' poses the question to audiences
    Ed Harcourt on Romeo Beckham and life as a court composer at Burberry

    Call me Ed Mozart

    Paloma Faith, Lana del Ray... Romeo Beckham. Ed Harcourt has proved that he can write for them all. But it took a personal crisis to turn him from indie star to writer-for-hire
    10 best stocking fillers for foodies

    Festive treats: 10 best stocking fillers for foodies

    From boozy milk to wasabi, give the food-lover in your life some extra-special, unusual treats to wake up to on Christmas morning
    'I have an age of attraction that starts as low as four': How do you deal with a paedophile who has never committed a crime?

    'I am a paedophile'

    Is our approach to sex offenders helping to create more victims?
    How bad do you have to be to lose a Home Office contract?

    How bad do you have to be to lose a Home Office contract?

    Serco given Yarl’s Wood immigration contract despite ‘vast failings’
    Green Party on the march in Bristol: From a lost deposit to victory

    From a lost deposit to victory

    Green Party on the march in Bristol
    Putting the grot right into Santa's grotto

    Winter blunderlands

    Putting the grot into grotto
    'It just came to us, why not do it naked?' London's first nude free runner captured in breathtaking images across capital

    'It just came to us, why not do it naked?'

    London's first nude free runner captured in breathtaking images across capital
    In a world of Saudi bullying, right-wing Israeli ministers and the twilight of Obama, Iran is looking like a possible policeman of the Gulf

    Iran is shifting from pariah to possible future policeman of the Gulf

    Robert Fisk on our crisis with Iran