Diamond’s Edge Restaurant

Adventures in offshore dining

Diamond’s Edge Restaurant on Great Diamond Island is due east, about three scenic miles, from downtown Portland. If you have your own vessel, you can dock at the marina. But if you really want to be carefree, Casco Bay Lines’s ferry makes the trip from the mainland to Diamond Cove and Diamond’s Edge several times a day. Take a sweater, because it’s always cooler than you expect on the water. Settle in for the 35-minute ride and watch other boats and islands pass by. Gulls scream as they trail trawlers, hoping for a bite, and a sea breeze ruffles your hair. The ferry’s captain narrates points of interest along the way: Bug Light and Fort Gorges, Peaks Island, a glimpse of Portland Head Light, and the rock where several harbor seals are basking in the sun.

Some passengers are dropped off at Little Diamond and the western end of Great Diamond before the ferry pulls into Diamond Cove. The tiny, protected inlet is charming and serene, with a marina full of fine boats, their painted hulls color- coordinated with the sky and water. It’s just a short walk to Diamond’s Edge, past
a string of golf carts parked along the path, waiting for their owners to return from the mainland. Cars aren’t allowed on Great Diamond, so most residents keep a cart for traversing the island. Over a century ago, the island was an artistic retreat, hosting visitors such as Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and Harriet Beecher Stowe. In the 1890s, Fort McKinley was built here, designed to defend Casco Bay during the Spanish-American War. It housed more than one thousand soldiers in brick barracks and Queen Anne-style officers’ quarters surrounding expansive parade grounds. The fort was retired from active service in 1945, but the residences still stand as unique private homes, with original architectural detail. The red brick building that is now Diamond’s Edge served as the quartermaster’s storehouse. Inside, the light-colored paint and beadboard walls give the place an airy look, and al fresco dining options include the wide, covered porch or a table on the lawn just feet away from the calm water of Diamond Cove.

On an astonishingly blue-sky day, I sit at such a table with Peter McCullum and chef Josh Hambrick. McCullum, with his dry wit and no-nonsense demeanor, has been associated with Diamond’s Edge for over 20 years in different capacities. He’s seen it all, from the days when there were only two homeowners on the island to more recently, when Hart Hotels bought the property. After a brief hiatus, McCullum returned to Diamond’s Edge as a co-manager. “I came back for love of the island and the business,” he says. He commutes to Great Diamond by UB85, a gunmetal-gray retired Navy utility vessel called the Joseph S. Kennedy, operated by Casco Bay Lines. He and head chef Josh Hambrick usually make the trip together. “It’s the highlight of my day,” says McCullum. “Josh and I have one of the best work relationships going.” Hambrick adds, “It’s a gear-up and wind-down, a time to reflect. It does add an hour or so to my day, but I don’t mind it.” As we’re talking, McCullum suddenly shouts out, “Boat’s in the cove!” This lets the staff know the ferry has arrived and it’s time to get to work. Servers who had been socializing on the porch get up, ready to greet guests. “This is one of the best staffs I’ve had in all the years I’ve been here,” says McCullum proudly. Finding seasonal staff willing to take a boat to work is no easy feat. “We were very lucky the way it all came together,” he says.

Bartender Rick Marsh has been part of the staff for the past couple of years. He’s an experienced mixologist, having run restaurants and tended bar at many places in Portland. Marsh shows up at the table bearing some of his best work. A Sunset on Casco Bay cocktail captures the hues of a “red sky at night, sailor’s delight” Maine evening, with red blending seamlessly into orange. It’s a delightful mixture of flavored vodkas, citrus juices, a touch of grenadine, and soda.

As I sip my drink, Hambrick tells me about growing up in the Belgrade Lakes area. “I was practically raised at the Village Inn,” he says. “I was put to work in the kitchen, crimping pie crusts while my mother waited tables. That’s how I was babysat.” It’s no wonder then that Hambrick always felt drawn to the kitchen. He attended culinary school in Vermont and has worked in hospitality in Hawaii and back in Maine, landing at Diamond’s Edge two years ago.

This is his first season as head chef and he’s made a host of changes to the menu. While keeping the focus on the beloved summer fare of Maine, with the emphasis on fresh seafood, every dish has been elevated to a new level.

Hambrick explains, “A few of the dishes from previous years have stayed on, but I’ve even altered those. More items are made in-house now. I’m just trying to make everything better.” He brings forth two crab cakes, evidence of his refined approach. The sizeable cakes are full of fresh Maine Jonah crab, with barely a trace of any filler. There’s a creamy ginger remoulade for dipping and a deliciously tangy radish salad to complement the crab. The chef has raised the bar on several other dishes, from the Caesar salad to cioppino, a savory stew with an abundance of seafood. A generous filet mignon, long a favorite of meat lovers, is now crusted with black garlic and Danish blue cheese, bringing the flavor to new heights. The buttermilk herb mashed potatoes and mushroom demi-glace add another luscious level of rich flavor.

His new menu items shine, like the pan- seared scallops with roasted corn risotto and watercress pesto. It’s a delectable dish, beautifully prepared and plated. Thick slices of nori-crusted tuna, another newly introduced dish, are served on pickled cucumber “noodles” and lightly dressed with wasabi and yuzu. And the grilled vegetable strudel, a lighter alternative, is stuffed with seasonal produce, served with a bell pepper coulis and more of those irresistible mashed potatoes.

Several daily specials allow Hambrick to display even more of his culinary creativity. “A nice piece of local halibut came in today,” he says, presenting the perfectly seared, meaty fish atop a lobster stock risotto with peas and fava bean sprouts. You can always count on the traditional New England-style seafood chowder, but today’s soup special, a spicy Southwestern corn bisque with crab, is a tempting choice. The chef depends on a pair of sous chefs in the kitchen to help with execution and new ideas, crediting Matthew McPherson and Brendenn Tobin with the delectable halibut dish. Hambrick has also tweaked the Diamond’s Edge lunch menu, adding a grilled salmon sandwich with pineapple salsa on naan and amping up lobster, clam, and crab rolls with house-made lemon thyme aioli. “Josh has seen what people enjoy,” says general manager Gerard Kiladjian. “He knows what will work well.”

Kiladjian oversees Diamond’s Edge, as well as the Inn at Diamond Cove (and Portland Harbor Hotel). “Every time I get on the boat to come to the island it feels like a vacation, even when I’m coming to work,” he says. Before taking his current position with Hart Hotels, Kiladjian was a big fan of the restaurant. “It’s always been a must-do on my list,” he says. “My wife and I come here for our anniversary, requesting one of the honeymoon tables closest to the water. It’s a way to spend the whole evening with someone, not just in and out of a restaurant.”

The Inn at Diamond Cove is just a short distance from the restaurant. Dinner guests at Diamond’s Edge can request a tour of the luxuriously renovated barracks and enjoy a drink by the pool. But if you really want to get the whole Great Diamond Island experience, book a room and stay overnight after your dinner at Diamond’s Edge. The quiet beauty of an island morning is a Maine experience not to be missed.

Traveling to dinner by boat turns a meal into an adventure, the kind that makes you love Maine summers even more. It’s an easy trip that yields a generous return. The memory of your visit to the island, and dinner at Diamond’s Edge, can help keep you warm all winter long.