Where to eat on the [working] waterfront
Ah, summer! So short and so sweet. We go outside, into the long days, and stay outside in the warm nights. We work outside, play outside, sleep outside—and eat outside.
The Maine coast abounds with patios, decks, porches, picnic tables, and other outdoor seating. We search these places out, press ourselves against the edge of the sea, and feast on its bounty. There is no shortage of waterfront seafood restaurants.
Those who are not content with merely being on the edge, who want to surround themselves with the sights, sounds, smells, and tastes of Maine’s marine economy, can shun the decorative facades and eat seafood sourced locally, surrounded by an actual working waterfront. Here’s an annotated list of seafood restaurants on the working waterfront, from North to South. Don’t see your favorite working waterfront restaurant on the list? Let us know!
Corea Wharf Gallery & Grill, Corea: the fish shack-turned-art gallery demonstrates the ingenuity and flexibility of Maine’s working water men and women.
Fish House Grill, Bar Harbor: Yes, Bar Harbor still has a working waterfront: lobster boats, windjammers, whale watch and nature tours, cruise ship tenders, and an assortment of hand-powered watercraft crowd the town pier. You can gawk at all of it if you are lucky enough to land an outside table at this Bar Harbor institution.
Beals Lobster Pier, Southwest Harbor: Many if not most “lobster pounds” and cooperatives are located on the same dock where lobstermen land their catch. But the rest of the waterfront may or may not be working. The approach to Beal’s takes you past Hamilton Marine, the MDI Community Sailing Center, and the US Coast Guard Sector Field Office. There are too many to list every lobster wharf, pier, and dock in Maine, but let us know if there’s an especially hard-working one!
Boatyard Grill, Blue Hill: Plunked down in the middle of an 80-year-old boatyard, the Grill allows diners to view boats in various stages of renovation and repair. Scenery provided by boat stands strewn about the grass, paint peeling from old wood, and Blue Hill Bay.
Fisherman’s Friend, Stonington: Lobster, obviously, but also the clanging of the Deer Isle Granite Company chipping away at the Crotch Island bedrock.
Three Tides, Belfast: This town has created a harbor walk right through the middle of a busy shipyard (Front Street), drawing you to the waterfront. Once there, you get hungry, and thirsty, and venture onto Marshall Wharf, where you’ll find this hipster shipwreck that offers a beer made with seaweed, an annual mussel festival, fresh oysters, and an up-close view of Penobscot Bay tractor tugboats.
The Rhumb Line, Camden: To get to this new offering from the owners of The Slipway in Thomaston, head for the east side of Camden Harbor and follow signs for Lyman Morse boatbuilders and Wafarer Marine. You’ll think you’ve gone the wrong way. Park in the designated area and follow the designated pathway past a hangar-like two-story corrigated metal building; the restaurant is around the corner, serving the same unique, local seafood dishes as the Thomaston location (also somewhat working). The sounds of boats being lifted out of the water, whiffs of fiberglass, the faded colors of ropes drying in the sun only make the food more vibrant and flavorful.
The Landings, Rockland: This is the closest a diner can get to the fish processing operations of the Rockland waterfront. Situated between downtown and the public landing, The Landings has a working shipyard, fancy sailboats and yachts, and views of the Fox Islands ferry.
Schooner Landing, Damariscotta: Reversing tidal falls provide a dramatic backdrop to this restaurant on a long pier jutting out from downtown Damariscotta. Damariscotta is the heart of Maine’s oyster country, where (with the help of Sea Grant) Maine’s oyster industry developed in the late twentieth century. Hang out at Schooner Landing in the afternoon and you might catch an appearance of sea farmers with Pemaquid Oyster Company, one of the state’s oldest oyster businesses, bringing in skiffloads of oysters or tending the young oysters that fill upwellers on the docks behind the restaurant. Free Oyster Friday is a good time to do such viewing. The pier serves as a marina, with tour companies offering kayaking, canoeing, and stand-up paddleboarding instruction. Damariscotta River Cruises offers tours of natural history and aquaculture operations on the river.
Becky’s Diner, Portland: Portland has plenty of waterfront restaurants along Commercial Street, where the “working” waterfront that gives Portland its character persists despite the city’s transformation into a global tourism destination. Flatbread Company has views of Casco Bay Lines ferries, which transport workers to and from the many island waterfronts of the bay. Porthole, Portland Lobster Company, and DeMillo’s all might offer a glimpse of work. But for the real salt, head to Becky’s, the closest restaurant to the Portland Fish Pier, international shipping companies, and Maine Port Authority.
Don’t see your favorite [working] waterfront restaurant on the list? Let us know!