Restaurants on Mount Desert Island

Restaurants on Mount Dessrt Island

Maine is the state of fishermen and farmers.  So, in recent years when restaurateurs have become increasingly committed to seasonal menus and local production, Mount Desert Island has emerged as a magnet for foodies.

Yet, as contemporary as the Mount Desert food scene is, tradition still has its place.  When I asked the owner of the ever-popular Trenton Bridge Lobster Pound why she serves lobster salad as a sandwich, not a roll, she explained, "Because it's how my grandmother did it."

That's the dichotomously wonderful, old-and-new appeal of restaurants on Mount Desert Island.

Regardless, it all starts with the seafood.  And that, first and foremost, is Maine lobster - since nearly 90 percent of the nation's lobster comes from the cold waters off the coast of Maine. 

On Mount Desert Island and its gateway community of Trenton, go in search of the perfect lobster roll.  Better still, enjoy the subtle superiority of soft-shell lobster in August.  Because of their fragility, these new-shell lobsters can't be shipped.  They are truly a local advantage.

And it's not only lobster.  Mount Desert Island's clams, mussels, Maine shrimp, crab, scallops, and haddock are all so fresh that you've never tasted a chowder, bisque, roll, or even fried preparation quite this wonderful.

Maine also produces 99 percent of all the blueberries in the U.S., so experience their freshness from the carton at a roadside stand or in pies, cakes, or compotes offered by local restaurants.  This flavor alone makes the trip worthwhile.

The sophistication of the Maine food scene also lies in the local artisans who bring the restaurants and storefront shops the best in cheese, bread, ice cream, sausage, and meat and poultry.  On Mount Desert Island menus you'll regularly see "credits" to local producers. 

And I wouldn't be surprised if the restaurateurs themselves aren't going back to their grandmothers for their secrets of pickling and smoking.  It tastes that way.  Mount Desert Island's restaurant scene is, after all, an exciting contemporary restatement of New England's traditional best.

The Burning Tree
69 Otter Creek Drive, Otter Creek, 207-288-9331

In an unassuming rural cottage surrounded by vegetable and herb gardens is a sophisticated restaurant that gets praise from the most worldly palates.  Specializing in seafood and vegetarian dishes, The Burning Tree has been focusing on fresh and healthy food and supporting local producers since 1987.  You won’t find beef, lamb, or pork here.  Instead there are 10-12 seafood, three vegetarian, and two chicken entrees daily, with flavors that are dazzling. A spicy coconut broth bathes mussels . A roasted jalapeno sauce enlivens crab cakes made with local crab.  Last night I had monkfish with escarole and white beans.  Next visit I’ll choose swiss chard leaves stuffed with scallop mousse, lobster, and shrimp served with sorrel cream sauce over noodles.  I hate waiting until next summer.

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Cafe This Way
14-1/2 Mount Desert Street, Bar Harbor, 207-288-4483

Follow the painted foot steps just behind Mount Desert Street to the special-occasion breakfast destination of many locals.  The menu includes specialty omelets, a smoked salmon bagel plate, Eggs Benedict, pancakes with blueberries, and a burrito with scrambled eggs, cheddar, sausage, and guacamole.  In the evening the lights dim in the modern, cavernous space and creative cooking bursts forth in an adventurous array of appetizers, salads, and entrees.  Even though entrees are $5 to $10 lower than some of the most popular dinner spots, there’s no trade-off when it comes to flavor.  Café This Way may be off the beaten path, but it’s no secret, so be sure to make reservations.

Eat-A-Pita and Cafe 2
326 Main Street, Southwest Harbor, 207-244-4344

Since my daughter is a vegetarian, it’s not a surprise that I found myself eating here in the picket-fenced garden along Main Street, Southwest Harbor. Luisa was very happy with the healthy fare and chose a Greek salad with feta and hummus stuffed into a whole wheat pita and served in a basket. (“Would you like a smoothie with that?”) My lobster bisque was enhanced lightly with sherry and a nice chunk of lobster, and I also had an outstanding crab cake sandwich with a very tasty remoulade sauce that put the prior night’s crab cakes in Bar Harbor to shame. They also offer beer and wine and everything from a mojito to a martini! These may put you in a good enough mood so that the slow and sometimes confused service is not going to bother you, and you can enjoy a surprisingly fresh and delicious lunch watching the goings-on on Main Street. They’re also open for breakfast and dinner.

Havana Restaurant
318 Main Street, Bar Harbor, 207-288-CUBA

Havana just may be my favorite restaurant in the whole world, or at least that’s what I think every time I begin sipping a mojita in their warmly lit, tomato-colored dining room overlooking Main Street in Bar Harbor. But this, of course, is because my palate favors highly flavored food. For example, an amuse bouche that brought an immediate grin to my lips was their tiny take on bruschetta – tomatillo, Kalamata olives, and goat cheese served on a bite-sized tortilla. The entrees include fish, chicken, pork, beef, and vegetarian dishes, all with highly integrated accompaniments. While the service isn’t always as friendly as at other spots, it is professional and expert, including special wine guidance. I love the black and white photograph of young lovers in Havana in the ladies’ room.

Jeannie's Great Maine Breakfast
15 Cottage Street Bar Harbor, 207-288-4166

If “Great Maine Breakfast” is in the restaurant’s name, then that menu item certainly deserves serious consideration.  My husband went for it – three eggs, homemade baked beans, grilled ham, home fries, homemade toast, and one buttermilk pancake.  Jeannie’s signature strawberry rhubarb fruit spread, which is a great item to take back home as a gift or memento, was so good it ended up on both the toast and pancake.  If you’re not a lumberjack and only plan to hike off your breakfast, then you may opt for Very Berry Pancakes, the Island Tofu Scramble, or Frenchman Bay Benedict, an herb biscuit topped with spinach, tomatoes, and two poached eggs with cheese sauce.  Big and basic or flavorful and creative…this small, popular breakfast destination has something for everyone, and there’s likely to be a line to prove it.

Jordan Pond House
On Jordan Pond, Bar Harbor, 207-276-3316

Jordan Pond House sits high on a lawn overlooking Acadia’s 100-foot-deep, emerald green Jordan Pond and the two round mountains known as The Bubbles. It’s a hub for many carriage roads and hiking trails, but also for tourists who come for the restaurant’s renowned popovers and the gift shop. Parking is awful and you’re given a beeper to help manage the long waits for a table. So why bother? Well, since the late 1800s that view from the lawn has enchanted visitors. We like to go to Jordan Pond House “for tea” after a hike up Jordan Cliffs Trail, one of our favorites, and have a cup of lobster or seafood stew, lemonade, popovers, and homemade strawberry ice cream. Tea is also served, of course, and you’re graciously welcomed in your hiking boots. The food is all delicious, but especially if your table is out on the lawn where, on my first visit, L.L. Bean was doing a photo shoot. Believe me, those guys from Freeport know their Maine scenery.

Knox Road Grill
15 Knox Road, Bar Harbor, 207-288-2337

We emerged from the woods after a 5-hour bike/hike, with no energy to prepare either food or ourelves for dinner.  The idea to drive directly here for BBQ and beer was just what we needed: a flexible dress code that ranges from Red Sox to Patagonia T-shirts and satisfying portions.  Dinners, served with coleslaw, potato salad, and delicious baked beans, feature a choice of pulled pork, ribs, hot Italian sausage, chicken, or a combination.  And that’s just the beginning.  The Grill is in Atlantic Brewing Company’s backyard (you can see their stainless steel fermentation tanks from your picnic table), so the choices extend to an array of handcrafted ales (Bar Harbor Real Ale is a favorite), specialty and seasonal ales (try the Summer Ale), and blueberry soda and root beer.  Enjoy.  And trust Atlantic Brewing’s ability to defy the notion that the first beer is always the best.

Lompoc Cafe
36 Rodick Street, Bar Harbor, 207-288-9392

Lompoc Café has live entertainment, a shaded patio with a Japanese urn, a bocce court, and a pedigree (Atlantic Brewery was founded on this site, a noteworthy fact for us fans).  But what impresses me is the food, which is equally eclectic.  Many dishes are created with extra flavor.  Our favorite first course is mussels in a Dijon mustard cream, served with grilled bread that we put to good use.  There is a wide variety of soups, salads, sandwiches, and pizzas.  With its decidely casual vibe, Lompoc is a favorite with students of College of the Atlantic year-round and equally popular with vacationers, so make reservations.

Mache Bistro
321 Main Street, Bar Harbor, 207-288-0447

Chef Kyle Yarborough offers up his fresh approach to French bistro cuisine in a subdued setting that puts the food center stage.  Local produce, seafood, and cheese all get a special hit of flavor from this veteran chef of Havana and Jordan Pond House.  The crab and lobster cake appetizer are served with an olive and tomato drizzle; the scallop entrée is richly flavored with rosemary and pepper.  Dishes can be paired with wine flights or well-priced bottles from a good wine list.  And, when it’s time for dessert, I lose all control because of the aptly named “Pain Perdu,” a substantive sweet not unlike bread pudding.  Some locals frequent this Bar Harbor bistro’s bar for wine and the wonderful things Kyle Yarborough does with grilled flat bread.  But, I say, why not drop in for port and the chocolate flourless cake?

Mother's Kitchen
Route 102, Town Hill, 207-288-4403

It may be worth a trip off island to stock up on supplies in Ellsworth at Hannaford supermarket or Wal-Mart. Town Hill is a convenient place to stop for lunch as you're coming or going. If you're tired of lobster rolls (is that possible?), our friend Emy who's been coming to Mount Desert Island since the 1960s recommends Mother's Kitchen for their creative, delicious sandwiches. How about farm fresh egg salad with capers and lettuce on anadama bread? Or homemade chicken salad with walnuts and tarragon, cranberry sauce and lettuce on onion walnut dill bread? One of my favorites is barbeque pulled chicken with coleslaw on a roll. They have great salads and children's choices for $3.25-$3.50. You can take home baked goods and specialty desserts, assorted salads, and box lunches. They also do catering and, acknowledging the cramped space of their cozy little shingled shack, they encourage you to call ahead to save time: 288-4403.

Mount Desert Island Ice Cream
7 Firefly Lane, Bar Harbor, 207-460-5515

When the First Family spent their summer vacation in Bar Harbor, MDI Ice Cream was on the presidential agenda.  Whether it’s the White House, Yankee Magazine, or Food and Wine, this artisanal ice cream gets high marks.  In fact, Mount Desert’s best restaurants showcase it on their dessert menus with their bread puddings and pies.  But you can get a cone or take home a pint (salt caramel has a permanent place in my refrigerator) by visiting the shop on the Village Green in Bar Harbor.  You’ll have a hard time selecting a flavor from the seasonal array of creamy, high-butter-fat ice creams and naturally flavored sorbets.  But you’re sure to smile – first, at the names of the “fearless flavors,” including Girl Scouts Gone Wild, Bay of Figs, and Moscow Mule, and then with your first lick.

Pat's Pizza
51 Rodick Street, Bar Harbor, 207-288-5117

Mount Desert Island vacationers and locals alike are happy because Pat’s Pizza has opened a location  in Bar Harbor.  Founded in Orono in 1931, Pat’s has a long history in Maine and a genuine following.  Their pizza, which comes in 9- and 14-inch sizes, is known for its deliciously crispy thin crust, although they do offer a “double dough” style.  The menu has something for everyone, ranging from very fresh salads (iceburg lettuce) to traditional dinners (baked ziti, lasagna, chicken parmesan) to nachos and burgers.  Beer signs adorn the walls (there are lots of local brews), but this is a family restaurant, the type that offers sippy cups for the kids.  If you want to take out, there’s on-site parking.  (Click here to get more tips on the best places to eat with kids when you visit Acadia.)

The Quiet Side Cafe and Ice Cream Shop
360 Main Street, Southwest Harbor, 207-244-9444

The Quiet Side is a terrific little family-run spot with a few tables, some stools at a counter, and a case of some of the most delicious ice cream anywhere. There are 24 flavors of soft serve and over 20 choices of hard ice cream and yogurt, including Wicked Good Chocolate, Maine Maple Walnut, and Maine Wild Blueberry. But save room for lunch because the Quiet Side's pizzas, sandwiches, lobster rolls, fried clams, and chowders are great. And when you see the blueberry and apple pies sitting on the counter (they must be over 3 inches thick), you'll undoubtedly decide to have pie with your ice cream. It's no wonder Mount Desert is pronounced like dessert.

Red Sky
14 Clark Point Road, Southwest Harbor, 207-244-0476

As I looked across the intimate, yellow-gold dining room toward the fireplace, I noticed an attractive woman in a bandeau and hiking boots, and I thought Red Sky is such a perfect spot because it is so utterly elegant and casual at the same time. A favorite of both locals and visitors to Mount Desert Island, it draws guests not only from Southwest Harbor and other communities on the “quietside,” but also regulars from Seal Harbor and Northeast Harbor. Balancing warmth with culinary expertise, the owners James and Elizabeth Lindquist set a white table cloth for an excellent menu that features local products and seasonal produce. Breast of duck with a port wine demi-glace and grilled lamb marinated in Dijon, garlic, and rosemary have been among my favorites, as is Elizabeth’s martini. If you’re alone, don’t hesitate. Go and sit at the bar and try the house-made duck and pork sausage or mussels steamed in white wine. Good food and good conversation are almost inevitable, any time of year. Red Sky at night is a sailor’s delight, and everyone else’s, too.

4 Clark Point Road, Southwest Harbor, 207-244-4550

Come in hiking boots or heels, with the kids or not, but definitely come to Sips. Their goal is to offer interesting wines at reasonable prices by the sip (2 oz.), glass (5 oz.), or bottle (25 oz). Sips from a selection of forty sparkling, rose, white, red, and sweet wines run from $2.50 to $15. But what is a sip without a taste? If you decide to accompany your wine with an olive mix or bruschetta of tomato and cilantro with manchego, then you risk staying, oh, well, why not, for dinner, too, and you won't be disappointed with the seafood crepes, a lobster eclair, polenta with calamari and garbanzo beans, or lemon risotto with Maine shrimp. Although Sips decor seems undecided about whether or not this is a cafe or a wine bar, there's no doubt about it when you begin to sip and taste.

Thurston's Lobster Pound
Steamboat Wharf Road, Bernard, 207-244-7600

For us it’s a rite of summer to stand in line here overlooking the postcard-perfect harbor with a beer (we really like the local micro-brew Harbor Lighthouse Ale) and begin the debate: Should we have hard shell or soft shell? How many pounds? Steamers or chowder? Standing in line heightens the anticipation of the sweetest lobsters we know anywhere. It may be in part because they’re cooked in seawater piped in from the harbor. You can opt to have your lobster alone or with a “basic dinner” of corn, coleslaw, roll, and Thurston’s blueberry spice cake (so good you’ll want to buy extra for tomorrow’s breakfast). Or you can enhance the experience with steamers, the chowder of the day, lobster stew, or crab cakes with chipotle sauce. There are lots of things for seafood-averse kids, too, ranging from grilled cheese to boca burgers. The dining area, which is screened in, but may be covered in clear plastic to protect you from the elements but preserve the view, has a sink in the corner for washing up before you order dessert at another window. Go ahead, get the T-shirt, too. It’ll make you happy when you’re gone.

Trenton Bridge Lobster Pound
1237 Bar Harbor Road, Trenton, 207-667-2977

Driving toward Mount Desert Island on Route 3 presents the best and worst of Maine’s commercial clutter – gift shops hawking blueberry jams, mini golf courses, cutesy motels, The Great Maine Lumberjack Show, and a plethora of cupola and weather vane purveyors. Scenting the air of commerce are the lobster pounds, where wood fires stoke the lobster boils and you can get everything from a full dinner to that coveted lobster roll. Trenton Lobster Pound gets the best reviews of them all. Stake out a picnic table and have lobster salad, served here as a sandwich. Then take home some twins or even try the frozen crab, which will yield an extraordinary crab cake for dinner if you use Linda and Martha Greenlaw’s recipes from Recipes from a Very Small Island. When the wait’s too long at Trenton Lobster Pound, try Lunt’s or Down East Lobster Co.

2 Cats Cafe
130 Cottage Street, Bar Harbor, 207-288-8595

Funky is the word most often used to describe this popular “destination  breakfast” spot in Bar Harbor, where happy diners congregate on the porch, as well as in the cozy, brightly painted dining rooms of the big old yellow house, which is also an inn.  Delicious, fresh, and creative are all ways I’d describe the food.  Breakfast, served from 7am until 1pm, includes many options for scrambled eggs, omelets, Eggs Benedict, granola, and smoothies.  The day we were there deciding what to order was even more difficult because of the specials: Lobster Benedict with smoked Gouda cheese and scallions; a Portobello, bacon, and Swiss cheese omelet served with spicy home fries; and apple cinnamon pancakes.  Need more convincing?  Then consider the Equal Exchange Coffee, Wi-Fi, and daily baking ritual.  The homemade biscuits with strawberry butter alone make the visit memorable.

The Claremont Hotel, 22 Claremont Road, Southwest Harbor, 800-244-5036

Xanthus, located in the Claremont Hotel at the of Clark Point Road in Southwest Harbor,  is a destination worth seeking out because, among the many excellent restaurants on Mount Desert Island, it is one of the rare finds that inspires diners equally with its cuisine and setting.  With huge windows overlooking Somes Sound and the mountains of Acadia National Park, the dining room has an elegance that recalls times past.  The food, however, is absolutely contemporary.  Chef Daniel Sweimler, who did stints as executive chef at two New York City restaurants, is well known today as one of Maine’s top chefs who feature local and organic in their foods. Among his sources for produce for Xanthus is 14 Angels Farm in Cherryfield, owned by his mother. Sweimler, who seems as popular with his staff as diners, changes the menu at Xanthus daily.(Detailed review here.)

XYZ Restaurant
End of Bennett Lane, Manset, 207-244-5221

XYZ stands for Xalapa, Yucatan, and Zacatecas – three localities of Mexico’s interior and coast – and the cuisine here is as authentically Mexican as the name suggests.  Don’t expect any of the staples of Tex-Mex chains, although just about every table (and they’re all filled) will display the stemware evidence of margaritas, many of which are the restaurant’s “especial” made with Grand Marnier instead of Triple Sec.  A changing menu featuring pork, chicken, shrimp, and sometimes even goat has kept both locals and visitors coming back since XYZ was established by Janet Strong and Bob Hoyt in 1994.  The garlic soup alone is worth the trip to Manset.  XYZ is just past Southwest Harbor’s village off Seawall Road.  Reservations are a must.

For a printer-friendly list of Favorite Restaurants, click here.  Print it out and keep it handy as you explore Mount Desert Island.


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