Old Orchard Beach, Maine in Autumn

Last November we made a surprise trip home to Maine for my mum’s 70th birthday.  We decided since we were staying so close to Old Orchard Beach that we would go take a walk on the seashore.  Normally I’m not a fan of Old Orchard Beach.  Well, I’ve been known on an occasion to get a hankering for hand-cut pier fries, a good slice and maybe a bumper car ride peak season, but it’s not my first choice for soaking up the sun.  I know, I’m in the minority with that, but it’s generally overrun with tourists and locals.  I prefer quiet beaches, where I can just chill and snooze in the sun.

This proved to be the perfect time to visit in my opinion.  I had forgotten that everything pretty much closes down post Labor Day.  All of the  folks who flock to O.O.B. from all over the world,  go back home.

It was eerily still and almost like a ghost town.  Buildings boarded up.  Not a soul around. We were literally the only four people on the beach.

I thought it made for a great opportunity to take photos of the deconstructed amusement park, Palace Playland, the pier and the seven mile stretch of deserted beach.

It’s worth noting that Old Orchard, which opened in 1902, is the last remaining beachfront amusement park in New England.

Silly’s ~ Fun, Funky, Fabulous Food! Real Maine

Portland, Maine is an awesome city.  It’s filled with artists and musicians and yeah… super duper good eats! I’ve read that there are more restaurants, per capita in Portland, than any other U.S. city.  Not sure if it’s true, but it’s kinda interesting!

A lot of folks who travel (myself included) want to hang where the real folks are.  I find it very anticlimactic to get to a new town and go to Chili’s or Applebees.  Yuck.

Why anybody would want to spend their hard earned cash on nasty pre~ frozen food, MSG and nitrates is beyond me.

Then there is Silly’s.

Glorious, ‘Fast Abdulla’s’ and falafel that is to die for! Crazy jerk chicken, insanely good milk shakes and mega huge burgers. Oh and all of their sauces, dressings, cakes, pies, breads and rolls etc.  It’s all homemade.

I could spend a day talking about how incredible Silly’s is, but suffice it to say… it’s freaking fantastic! Their menu has grown and grown over the years, but their quality is never, ever lacking.  If you’re vegan, vegetarian, can’t do gluten, want a burger or a huge piece of homemade cake; Silly’s has it all covered.  And the coolest thing (well, one of many) is that they keep it as fresh and local as they can.  They source as many of their items from small, local businesses and they are huge recyclers… including their fryolator oil, which is used to power bio~diesel cars.   That’s pretty cool to me.

It’s got probably the best atmosphere of any restaurant I’ve ever been in and you can tell the staff really love their work.  It’s quite family friendly and there are even games to play while you wait for your food!

If that is not enough reasons to go to Silly’s.  Check out their Elvis shrine.  Yeah, I knew that would get cha’!

Silly’s Restaurant

40 Washington Avenue
Portland, Maine

207-772-0360

Winter Hours:
Monday closed
tuesday 11-9
wednesday 11-9
thursday 11-10
friday  11-10
saturday 9am-10 pm
sunday 9 am -9 pm

Homesick for Harmon’s Hamburgers ~ Real Maine

Harmon’s Hamburgers = God.

Plain and simple.

Don’t even think about asking for a Harmon’s Hamburger prepared any other way than how they do it.  Some sort of neon red relish, amazing grilled onions on a buttered and steamed bun. No lettuce, no tomato… no way, no how!

Since 1960 a sign behind the counter at Harmon’s Lunch lovingly states (as only a New Englander could put it). “This is not Burger king. You don’t get it your way. You take it my way, or you don’t get the damn thing.”

The thing I think is so cool about Harmon’s is that they have stayed true to their original vision.  They have not tried to fancify the ingredients by adding extra wank to the menu.  I know I can go in ten years from now and it will be the same good food, served on paper plates, I’ve always had from there.

So friends, if you’re up in Maine and want to get off the beaten path and have a totally amazing burger, check out Harmon’s in Falmouth.

Harmon’s Lunch                                                                                                                                                                                                                                 144 Gray Rd., Falmouth, ME – (207) 797-9857

Closed Sundays

Portland, Maine ~ Enter Through the Back Door

View from Portland's Ferry's in Harbor Overlooking South Portland, ME.

Portland, Maine ~ Enter Through the Back Door

Oh, Sweet, sweet,  Portland, Maine.   Why do you hold my heart so?

Beautiful harbors, the salty air on a cool, gray, foggy, coastal morning and the distant sound of fishing boats leaving the dock for their long day at sea.  The pungent scent of hundreds of years of the tides hitting the pilings, weaving it with barnacles and kelp. Tiny waterfront diners neon lights, piercing the thick, chilly air, enticing the hard working class folks in for a hot cuppa joe and a hearty breakfast.  And the gulls, hovering  above.  Waiting for their taste of fresh fish, straight off the boat.

    
Behind Custom House Wharf                                         Marcy’s Diner

This is IT!!!  The perfect storm of lavish and poverty, working class and elite.  A symmetry of people that are worlds apart yet seamlessly  come together with one primary common passion, their love of Maine.

But, there is so, so much more.

I cannot think of anywhere and I do mean anywhere, that makes my heart soar as much as Portland, Maine.  I’ve spent a total of about 30 years in Maine over my life and I never, ever grow tired of it.  Every time I return home  it seems like rediscovering a long lost and cherished childhood friend.

So, respectfully… let’s clear one thing up…

Having lived away from Maine over the years, I came to realize that Mainers, or rather New Englanders in general, sometimes get a bad wrap. While a lot of people seen intrigued and fascinated by my coming from Maine to whatever town I’ve resided in over the years, there are a lot of folks that  assume all New Englanders are “mean.”  I have to say, in the beginning I found this so, so strange,  probably because my fellow Mainers ways were all I ever knew, prior to moving away.  I was pretty used to the candor of the local folk.  They are a pretty straightforward bunch of people and don’t always mask their being, shall I say… uncomfortable or wary, with anyone who is not from Maine.   I suppose, they can be a bit cold toward non-natives.  Don’t take it personally, they are shut in’s for quite a few months of the year and that tends to make one a bit stand-offish.  Also, many of the older natives don’t travel a lot.  They seem quite content staying in the state, because as they say “Why would I want to go anywhere else, when I’ve got everything I need here?”

 
                     Midwinter                                                                      Peaceful Quiet

Yes, they are a very pragmatic bunch of folks.

I’ve had friends say to me that they were surprised I came from New England because their experiences with natives apparently were not good.  They’ve said to me,  “They seem to be  kind of nasty!”   And yeah…  I guess I can say that, like anywhere I’ve traveled or resided, there are some who are a bit gruff… okay, maybe even a bit… intimidating.   You know the adage,” One bad apple can spoil the whole barrel!”  Well, even being a born and raised Mainer I can say I’ve experienced the same discord from true “Downeasterners.”  By the way, people from Portland are NOT considered true Mainers, true Downeasters.  We’re “city folk”  to the locals,   : )

So I get it.  Really I do.

But honestly, in their defense Mainers are a tough bunch of folks. The winters last a good half the year and you must be resourceful and sturdy to withstand them, or you’ll wither.  That’s enough to make anyone tough… don’t cha’ think?
 

So what is it exactly that keeps those folks up they’a, staying up they’a?!

The winters pretty much suck and it’s a damned expensive to call home.  High heating bills, high cost of living, high unemployment.  So really, what is it that holds them, or  has them coming back after leaving?

All I can say is the same thing my daddy told me when I moved away in 94′, “Once a New Englander, always a New Englander.”

I guess that sums it up and for the majority of folks there. They simply cannot bear the thought of having it any other way.

While I could tell you of 100 places in Maine that are amazing, wonderful, and yes…magical, I will tell you of my P-town.
The place I dug my toes in the sand, sipped really good coffee, hung out at dive bars and watched tides so powerful it would blow your mind.  Not the overpriced, touristy parts that you read about in travel guides, Portland.

No.

  

Geno’s Club, Portland                                                   Coffee By Design, Portland

I will give you insight on the real Portland.  Art, grit, sustenance, introverts, extroverts, Birkenstocks, Dr. Martens,  vegetarians and cannibals.

Portland, Maine, for those of you who do not know,  is a sizable city of about 60,000 culturally diverse people, within one and a half hours north of Boston. While it’s not the most lucrative town, it has become a bedroom community for Bostonian’s wishing to live a more simple and affordable lifestyle. In other words, they get more bang for their buck.   And truly, you can still find a cool, 3 bedroom pad, for around 150K.  And the commute, it’s not so bad.  Now, all that being said, it’s commonly known by the locals as not “The Vacation State” but as the “Taxation State.”  So, make no bones about it, your property taxes will hit you in the face… HARD.  Some good friends of ours who owned property downtown Portland used to pay 7 grand per year in taxes for a postage stamp sized lot.  (Hmmm… our primary reason for not residing there still)  But, I digress…. High taxes, low wages and super big heating costs… Let’s put on the blinders and  get back to the uber coolio part of Portland and

Why it’s awesome to be there!

The Arts District ~

Portland has an amazing arts district and the community support for its artists, poets, writers and musicians is nothing short of gorgeous!  Artists are happily encouraged to do the work that they were put on the earth to do.

 

HH Hayes Building…aka~ Starbucks                                     Congress Square

The Arts District resides generally speaking from about Joe’s Smoke Shop (located on Congress and State Street) to just about the art school, MECA (located in the old Porteous building on Congress Street).  By the way, Congress Street…or The Congo as it’s known locally, is the main vein of Portland.  It runs straight through the heart of the downtown from the West End to the East End.  But…first things first.  Let’s grab a good cup of coffee downtown!

Coffee By Design

“He used to make the best hazelnut latte.  He was like a chemist in there working. ”  Ari to Josh Weinstein ~ Entourage

We adore coffee.  Good coffee that is, and Portland has some of the BEST coffee houses I’ve ever been to.  The locals favorite is a dive shop called Coffee By Design.  It’s a funky, eclectic blend of local artists work, fliers for various goings on around town, hobos, hipsters and some really killer mega cupcakes!  Oh yeah, and there is the coffee.  Oh CBD I adore you!

I’ll have a large hazelnut, cinnamon latte please with some space on the top!  Thank you!!

 

Coffee By Design
620 Congress Street
Portland, ME 04101
207-772-5533

Hours:
Monday – Thursday: 6:30am – 8:00pm / Friday – Saturday: 7:00am – 9:00pm / Sunday: 7:00am – 7:00pm

Portland Museum of Art

“O great creator of being grant us one more hour to perform our art and perfect our lives.”  Jim Morrison

At the heart of the Arts District is the Portland Museum of Art.  It’s a beautiful modern building housing a surprising amount of famous artists work.  Many locals like Andrew Wyeth, N.C. Wyeth and a few of the European masters; Claude Monet, Pablo Picasso, and Pierre-Auguste Renoir.  Don’t get swept away by the galleries and miss out on the rotunda which houses my absolute favorite sculpture,  Akers-“The Dead Pearl Diver.”  It’s breathtaking and makes me tear up everytime.

Enough said.

 

Portland Museum of Art                                             The Dead Pearl Diver

As you keep walking through the rotunda you’ll find a set of doors which lead you into the historic McLellan House and L. D. M. Sweat Memorial Galleries.  It’s a strange juxtaposition of styles, going from the smooth, sensual, white walls of the museum into a highly decorative and colorful 18th century home and gallery.  It took me years to figure out this was part of the museum!

Hours: Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Saturday, Sunday, 10 am – 5 pm; Friday, 10 am – 9 pm; Memorial Day through Columbus Day, Mondays, 10 am – 5 pm

Admission: $12 for adults; $10 for seniors and students with I.D.; $6 for youth ages 13 to 17; and children ages 12 and under are free; free on Friday evenings from 5 pm – 9 pm

Fridays are FREE!!!  YAY!  Free= GOOD!

Portland Museum of Art
Seven Congress Square
Portland, Maine 04101
207 775-6148

Marcy’s Diner
“The diner is everybody’s kitchen.” Richard Gutman

If you keep walking down the street that the Portland Museum of Art is on (Oak Street) you’ll find a super, duper  little diner with a Harley theme, called Marcy’s Diner.  Mmm, mmm, good!

Becky’s Diner is where the tourists go, Marcy’s Diner is where the locals go!  I still am bummed that it took me a shameful amount of years to find this joint because it’s freaking GOOD and cheap!

 

Marcy’s is cash only.  No ATM.  Remember that, because there are not a lot of resources around to get money in this area.  Also, it should be noted that parking can be tricky.  There is one parking garage, but its hours are odd.  It’s worth noting by the by… that most of the parking in general around Portland is meters and they no longer offer lengthy time on them.  Remember to bring quarters and to feed your meter or you will get a ticket!

Ah…Marcy’s… Greasy spoon goodness.   Their homefries there are to die for.  These are not deep fried bits of potato, aka… &^%$# french fries, my gentle readers.  No way.  These are old school homefries, the way mom made them. Freshly sliced and cooked for hours on the flat top griddle.  The other thing they make is wicked good grilled raspberry and blueberry muffins.  OMG!  Some days, I’d go and just order homefries, fresh fruit and a muffin for breakfast.

They make killer omelets, the best corned beef hash, righteous french toast and pancakes with real maple syrup!  And yumm-o grilled cheese sandwiches.

 

Marcy’s Diner has only a few booths and many days you’ll have to wait outside for 1/2 hour or longer, to get a seat.   Keep this in mind if you have little ones that are hungry and maybe bring snacks for the babes.  They do offer counter service as well, which is always fun!  Sit side by side with the locals, most of which are pretty hung over from the night before, but it adds a bit of color to your morning!

The owners are a super nice couple.  They work the grill and seem to love their jobs.  There are also a few long timers who do it all.  Wait tables, bus, wash dishes.  It seems as though they know they’ve got a good thing going there.  They never appear frazzled or grumpy.  They just do their thing and do it well with a smile and a good chat!

Marcy’s Diner
47 Oak Street
Portland, Maine

Hours: Monday – Friday 6:00 a.m. – 2:00 p.m. / Saturday & Sunday – 7:00 a.m. – 2:00 p.m.

First Friday Art Walk

“All children are artists.  The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up.” Picasso

Every first Friday of the month, Portland’s Arts District opens its doors to the general public. The galleries, private art studios and such host wonderful little soirees for all to enjoy.  It’s a wonderful night of festivities all over the downtown area and it’s not limited to studios.  Outside, there are musicians playing, actors reciting impromptu Shakespearean sonnets, jugglers and a drove of talented guys and gals out and about, doing their thing.

Check out some excellent art and then grab a bite to eat at one of the many small cafe’s or pubs and you’ve got yourself quite an affordable and fun date!

 

The Green Elephant

“If slaughterhouses had glass walls, everyone would be a vegetarian.”  Paul McCartney

So you’re out and about going to First Friday and you’re smelling all the great smells from the numerous restaurants around P-town.   Now I’m hungry!

Where to go, where to go?  So many choices!

Even if you’re not a vegetarian, this place totally rocks!  It makes healthy vegetarianism taste oh, so good.  It’s a pretty little Asia modern vegetarian bistro across from the State Theater with fairly simple decor,  great old brick walls, pale floors, boxy tables and funky lighting.

 

The Green Elephant has flavorful, creative and beautiful food.  It’s artwork on your plate!

A few notable favs of ours is the roti canai.  This wonderfully crispy, yet tender Indian bread is served with the most amazing curry dip.  Absolutely get a couple of these! They are kind of pricey at about $6.00 per order but trust me… You won’t want to share it once you’ve tasted it.

 

The Mr. loves their Asian Vegetable Stew.  It’s a bright blend of various Asian veggies in a tasty broth and tofu and for just $4.50, it’s healthy and filling and totally affordable.  My go to dish is their Steamed Assorted Vegetables with Peanut Sauce. Amazing pan seared 5-grain tempeh, spicy peanut sauce, fresh steamed veggies and brown rice!  HUGE flavor, HUGE YUM and not a bad price at $9.50

Downtown Lounge

“A lot of people think that punk rock musicians don’t know what they’re doing.” Travis Barker

One of our old favs is The Downtown Lounge on Congress Street, near High Street.  While it’s not a family style place, if you’re over 21, you’re good to go.  DTL has an ever changing array of super rad bar food, hand written on their chalkboards across the length of the joint.  It’s decor is reminiscent of many of the old bars I’ve been to in Boston. Bright candy apple red walls, checkerboard floor, way cool cove ceiling in a funky yellow color,  oddly placed lou, simple… but comfy booths and old photos of Portland and Boston memorabilia from the owners personal collection. It’s the kind of place you would go to every night … well, pre-babies, that is!

The food at the DTL is simple, eclectic, unpretentious, flavorful goodness.  They have a great selection of local brews, fun mixed drinks and of course what self respecting Maine dive bar would not serve cheap PBR’s?  Add to this already way, awesome place,  a cool, laid back waitstaff.  It perfectly sums up, why we adore Portland!

The Downtown Lounge is a narrow, tiny place, kinda like an old silver diner,  of about six booths and a dozen or so bar stools (give or take).   So don’t be surprised if you try to slide on in there at 8:30 on a Friday night, that there won’t be a place to sit your fanny.  It gets filled up with regulars, pretty quickly.

 

I miss my dates with the Mr. at the DTL.

I miss going there early… round 5:30 or so, while it was still quiet.  Grabbing a booth, holding hands,  having a  double Jameson neat, chatting with our regular waitress, Katie and perusing their wall o’food, anticipating which gastronomic delight I could have that night.  And I miss their fajita’s.  Oh mercy, their fajita’s were divine!  There was nothing overly complicated about them; grilled chicken, onions and peppers, bathed in some sort of oil.   But there was something extraordinary about their smoky, slightly crispy tortillas that they served with the fajita’s.   Add a good douse of the table’s hot sauce and a tall, cold one, and your talking big flavor!  If i’m not mistaken often times The Mr. would get the steak sandwich.  Gods know I never got a bite of that!  But, I’m positive it was outta sight!

There were even a few nights where we’d buy dinner, drink a few and then top it off with one of their wicked good pizzas for “dessert!”  Seriously!

 

Downtown Lounge
606 Congress Street
Portland, Maine
207-773-1363

Hours: Monday – Sunday 5:00 p.m. – 1:00 a.m. / Food till 11:00 p.m.

Geno’s Rock Club

“I’m not here for your amusement.  You’re here for mine.”  Johnny Rotten ~ Sex Pistols

Ah, Geno’s.  I have a wicked soft spot in my heart for you.  Many a night I spent dragging down to Brown Street. (the old, original location) in any weather, clutching my hard earned $10.00… $4.00 for the cover and the rest for $1.00 PBR’s,  to go see one of our local bands or maybe a band from Boston or NYC, shred up Geno’s stage.  It was /is, Portland’s punk rock mecca and hang out for the mod, punk rockers and garage set, because down those stairs and into the bowels of Brown st. you were totally free to be authentically you, leather, spikes, pink hair and all.

 

Civil Disobedience show ~ 1986

Geno’s reminds me a lot of Boston’s Middle East and even more like, my old Boston fav… The Rat.

Dingy, smoke filled (well, at the time when smoking was still legal in bars), smelling of beer and perhaps a faint, faint wafting of urine.  You knew you had firmly made it in the “scene” when you walked through not the front door, but the infamous back door to Geno’s.  No waiting in line, no cover.  Very cool.

The back room in Geno’s was a portal to another world.  This is where all the bands hung out and all the punk rock madness ensued.  On any given night you could be hanging out with GG Allin, D.O.A., Violation, Zero Mentality, The Brood, Chesterfield Kings…you name it.

 

                Me and Trish~ 1985                                                                      The back room

The original owner, Geno D’Alessandro Sr. was a super cool guy.  He generally was behind the bar, pouring beers and yelling at us to stop hanging off the pipes on the very low ceiling.  “Damned punks!!”  “I’m gonna stop the fucking show!” he’d threaten over and over again. I don’t think he ever did.

In general, he did not give us too much sh&$ because he knew we kept the place open.  Even if a lot of us drank water instead of beer!  The other old standby at the bar was Barb.  When she was not at the bar she was booking shows and was pretty much a mother figure to the local bands, many of whom were transient or semi-homeless.

Geno’s is still rockin’ hard today, though I must admit I’ve only been to the new location once or twice, sadly.  It seems to have spawned a whole new generation of punks who have proudly taken our place.  Thankfully.

Keep watching for new posts on our four part series:  Portland, Maine~ Enter Through the Back Door. 
Next Week: 
We’ll take a 10 minute walk down The Congo, to my old haunt… The Old Port.  Good pubs, good friends… good times!  I’ll tell you the best places to hang!

A Day On the Bay~ A Trip to Peaks Island, Maine

A Day On the Bay- A Trip to Peaks Island

Last summer I had the pleasure of joining my friend from California on a trip across the water via Casco Bay Lines ferry to Peaks Island. I had not been to the island for about twenty years and had never had the opportunity to look around. It’s amazing to me how a wonderful little vintage gem of a place could be so close to such a highly urban area like Portland. Peaks Island is just fantastic and a perfect get-away for locals and tourists alike.

Peaks Island is a family friendly island with plenty to see and do for old home enthusiasts, history buffs and nature lovers. Traditional coastal Maine cottages line the streets, many of which have been lovingly restored to their original ornate Victorian styling.

When you arrive at Peaks there is a beautiful little café directly to the left as you come off the ferry. It offers wonderful locally roasted java from Portland’s favorite, Coffee By Design. They also have freshly baked pastries, delicious croissants, soups and sandwiches. A delightful little garden is adjacent to the café where you can sit and sip your coffee or tea amongst gorgeous flowers.

If you did not bring your bike over on the ferry ($6.00 fee per bike) your next stop should be at the bike rental shop, which opens around ten a.m., give or take. Brad’s Recycled Bicycle Shop, located at 115 Island Ave, (207) 766-5631, where you can rent bikes by the hour or by the day. Yes, they accept credit cards. Get there early for the best selection. They do run out quickly. The cost is somewhere around $10.00 for three hours- plenty of time to cruise around the island. If you have children, do not fear; they also have children’s bikes, helmets and tandem bikes. During off-season I found it to be self-service where you leave your information and payment in a box and help yourself to the three dozen or so bikes that they had out in the yard. Bikes seem to be the easiest way to travel around this very low-keyed island. There are very few cars on the island but do keep an eye out for the occasional driver.

It’s easy to cover the island in a fairly short amount of time on bikes even with children and it’s always an interesting time. A few of the wonderful finds we came across while exploring were the stone garden, Peaks Island honey and the private cottage art studio painted with glorious life sized flowers.

The stone garden is breathtaking. It’s a huge portion of rocky beach covered in various stone formations crafted by the previous visitors to the island. I highly recommend taking some time to build your own sculpture and watch others build theirs. It’s a beautiful and ever-changing gallery of stone. Amazing!

If you can find your way to Trefethen Avenue, located close to the ferry dock and Brad’s Bikes, you’ll no doubt come across the studio of Margaret Richards, painter and crafter of delightful pansy jewelry. The home has become an outdoor canvas for the resident artist, with the foundation painted in colorful array of flowers. It’s magical!

Not far from the studio at the end of Island Avenue we came across a quaint roadside table of honey made on the island at the Peaks Island Honey Company.

Totally self serve with an “on your honor” mason jar. Honor, isn’t that a beautiful thing? For just $4.00 you can bring home a bit of the island. I dare you to keep your fingers out of the jar on the ride home! I will mention that I’ve been told by a helpful gent that the makers of this fine honey are seasonal residents, so you’ll have to be sure to grab plenty of it in-season!

All around Peaks Island residents are a fantastic array of warm folks who all are very kind to its visitors. In my experience, they are inviting and peaceful and are more than happy to make your acquaintance and welcome you to their little island. While riding along the roads I found all of the drivers to be most courteous for those of us who don’t bike daily and may get a little off kilter every so often and the older folks seem to really love children. We did not pass one single resident who did not greet us as we went by. The island residents seemed to have tapped into a truly good life and it shows.

A great and traditional way to finish up your trip is a glass of wine and tapas at Joan’s Landing. The staff at Joan’s Landing are all so friendly and don’t mind when their guests loose track of time watching the sun set over Casco Bay. Save some time at the end of your trip for this storybook ending to your perfect day.

Safe travels to you,
Cilla
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