Brunswick, Harpswell + Bailey Island
48HRS – April 2014
Photographs + stories by Maine magazine staff:
Katy Kelleher, Managing Editor
Katy Kelleher, Managing Editor
Brunswick is a short 30-minute drive from my home, but I don’t often venture this way, despite the many restaurants and shops that line the college town’s main streets. I’ve never even seen the ragged coastline of Harpswell, or driven the winding routes that allow cars to play hopscotch from island to island. So it goes without saying that Bailey Island is a place I’ve only seen on a map, where it looks like nothing more than a needy finger grasping at the ocean. But while I only have a scant 48 hours, this weekend I plan to see it all.
4:00 p.m. @ Bowdoin College Museum of Art
I arrive at the campus an hour before the museum closes, but I still take a moment to revel in the stunning architecture on my walk across the Main Quad (the chapel is particularly striking, as is the Peary-MacMillan Arctic Museum). I’m just in time to catch curator Joachim Homann, who is kind enough to give me a tour of the collections. I’m wowed by all the contemporary artists they have on view—I’m particularly excited to see paintings by Yayoi Kusama—but my favorite piece is Olafur Eliasson’s Little Sun Solar Light. Created to help people in developing countries extend their days, this smart little device is also special to Homann because, as he explains, the Bowdoin College symbol is the sun.
6:30 p.m. @ The Captain Lawrence E. Johnson House
Driving down Route 24 at sunset is rather dangerous, simply because I can’t stop getting distracted by the views of water, pine, sea, and sky. Brett Johnson’s rental property is similarly bewitching; between the art on the walls and the views from the windows, I just don’t know where to rest my eyes. The home, which has been in his family for generations and is available for weekly rentals, is impeccably outfitted and almost intimidatingly stylish.
7:15 p.m. @ Tao Yuan
The aesthetic stimulation continues at Tao Yuan, where every dish is prettier (and tastier) than the last. I meet my friend Sophie Nelson at the restaurant, and we decide to risk it all with a five-course chef’s menu, which features a wide range of sharable small plates. After tasting the first salty, meaty, mustardy bite of beef tartare, I’m happy to sit back and let chef Cara Stadler serve me what she will.
9:30 p.m. @ Lion’s Pride
Sophie’s partner Max Garcia Conover is a musician, and he happens to be playing tonight at this highly acclaimed brew pub (owned by the same folks behind the Lovell beer geek mecca Ebenezer’s). I order a glass of thick, dark, red sour beer—few bars can boast this kind of selection—and settle in to listen to Max’s folksy, soulful tunes.
8:00 a.m. @ Bailey Island General Store
When I pull in for breakfast at BIGS, I’m surprised to see the parking lot almost full. But even in the depths of winter, this local institution is packed with diners. After a few minutes, I meet owner Teri Pontbriand and several of her regulars. They tell me I have to visit the Giant’s Stairs and The Nubble, and bemoan the fact that the iconic Cook’s Lobster House is closed for the season.
9:30 a.m. @ The Giant’s Stairs Trail
I had been picturing a Tolkien-esque walkway with carved steps of mysterious origin, but the reality is so much better. A short walk from the trailhead, I find the rock formation know as the Giant’s Stairs. The craggy dark rock is stark and brutal in the winter light, but there is something lovely and lonely about the scene.
10:15 a.m. @ Mackerel Cove, The Nubble, and Land’s End
I stop to take pictures at Mackerel Cove, before passing the famous shack adorned with buoys affectionately known as The Nubble. While the Land’s End gift shop is closed for the season, I walk across the deck to visit The Maine Lobsterman. This sculpture, dedicated to “all Maine fishermen” is a replica of Victor Kahill’s piece of the same name, which was first exhibited at the 1939 World’s Fair (another replica sits in Portland at the intersection of Middle and Temple streets).
12:00 p.m. @ Frontier
I’ve been to Frontier for TEDxDirigo events, but never for a meal. I meet my friend Karla and we sit down at a cozy, family-style table to peruse the menu. When the waiter asks us what we would drink, there’s a momentary pause—we both know it’s early for cocktails, but I can tell Karla would like one, so I do the honorable thing and order a bloody mary, just so she’ll feel comfortable. It pairs perfectly with our veggie-heavy plate of marinated artichokes, crusty falafel, and roasted red pepper hummus.
1:00 p.m. @ Fort Andross Mill and on Maine St. Karla and I wander through Cabot Mill Antiques, where I buy a porous piece of coral and two pretty teacups, before heading down Maine Street. Our Middle Eastern lunch has spurred some sort of health kick in me, and I force Karla into Maine Running Co. and Morning Glory Natural Foods. We stop into the charming food store Local to buy coffee, and I spend nearly an hour trying to decide on rugs at Nest, which boasts a beautiful selection of home goods. We take a detour into the Tontine Mall to check out the art in the Summer Island Studio and ogle the goods at Wild Oats Bakery. Almost by accident, we end up in Gulf of Maine Books, a fantastic independent bookstore. I buy several novels by Maine authors, and convince a fellow shopper to try Cheryl Strayed’s excellent memoir, Wild. Before we know it, the light has begun to wane.
4:30 p.m. @ Black Sheep Wine and Beer Shop On our way back to the house, we stop into this cute little wine store to grab a bottle of malbec to enjoy by the fireplace. They’ve got a great selection, and I have no trouble finding a spicy, wintery red.
7:30 p.m. @ Trattoria Athena After enjoying a few lazy hours at the house, Karla and I make the drive back into Brunswick for dinner at this intimate Greek and Italian eatery. The food is sublime; I linger over my irregularly shaped bites of handmade pasta as though I’m willing the bowl to produce more spontaneously. It does not oblige, but I still enjoy my meal immensely.
9:00 p.m. @ El Camino My biggest issue with 48HRS trips is this: two days doesn’t give me enough time to eat at all the restaurants. And I want to! Especially since I heard that El Camino is another place that shouldn’t be missed. I decide I have room for an appetizer and a few perfectly mixed margaritas.
10:30 a.m. @ East of Eden Flower Farm After breakfast at the Johnson house, Karla drives home and I head to Brunswick to meet Julia Shipley on her flower farm. Julia has just started a CSA for organic cut flowers, and I’m excited to see her greenhouse. It’s early in the season for blossoms, but she shows me her new light system and we poke at the green tendrils of sweet peas and snapdragons. She tells me about Brunswick’s wealth of organic farms, and I feel a twinge of jealousy that I don’t get to reap their bounty year round.
12:20 p.m. @ Lemongrass I decide to have a solo lunch at Lemongrass to prolong my stay. Snow is beginning to swirl on the sidewalk, and I watch as Brunswick’s unique mix of students, teachers, scholars, locals, and visitors stroll by the window. A kind waitress serves me a steaming bowl of tamarind, tomato, pineapple, and jalapeno soup and tells me to take my time. It’s February on the coast, where contradictions abound—quiet, vibrant, colorful, stark—but I have plenty of time to savor it. And so, starting with a sweet, tangy, spicy bite of pineapple, that’s what I do.