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
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookA delicious collection of 50 meaty main courses
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.

SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Personal Tax Senior

    £28000 - £37000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

    Recruitment Genius: Customer and Markets Development Executive

    £22000 - £29000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company's mission is to ma...

    Recruitment Genius: Guest Services Assistant

    £13832 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This 5 star leisure destination on the w...

    Recruitment Genius: Sales Account Manager

    £20000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Sales Account Manager is requ...

    Day In a Page

    A nap a day could save your life - and here's why

    A nap a day could save your life

    A midday nap is 'associated with reduced blood pressure'
    If men are so obsessed by sex, why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?

    If men are so obsessed by sex...

    ...why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?
    The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3

    Jon Thoday and Richard Allen-Turner

    The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3
    The bathing machine is back... but with a difference

    Rolling in the deep

    The bathing machine is back but with a difference
    Part-privatised tests, new age limits, driverless cars: Tories plot motoring revolution

    Conservatives plot a motoring revolution

    Draft report reveals biggest reform to regulations since driving test introduced in 1935
    The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

    The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

    Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
    House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

    The honours that shame Britain

    Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
    When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

    'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

    Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
    International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

    International Tap Festival comes to the UK

    Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
    War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

    Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

    Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
    Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

    'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

    Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
    Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

    BBC heads to the Californian coast

    The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
    Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

    Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

    Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
    Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

    Car hacking scandal

    Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
    10 best placemats

    Take your seat: 10 best placemats

    Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory