Sweet Summertime in the Bunks
Artistic Boutiques, fine seaside dining, and busy mainstays in two Southern Maine water towns.
By Kathleen Pierce
Photography by Jeff Roberts
The beauty of southern coastal Maine is at its most appealing in June. All you have to do to bask in its aura is to find yourself on Ocean Avenue in Kennebunkport. Drive, bike, or saunter along the spokes of Dock Square that teem with beachy buzz and cross the bridge into neighboring Kennebunk for more. These York County coastal towns become happening hamlets that don’t let up until the last lobster roll at the Clam Shack is sold. If last winter’s icy clutch has not receded in your memory, jump start summer by touring the Bunks.
There are luxurious boutiques, eclectic shops, gourmet ice cream parlors, classic and modern art galleries, and many fine-dining establishments to sate you for weeks. Since these are water towns, most restaurants have sprawling decks with stunning river and ocean views and sidewalk cafes. The beloved Arundel Wharf and casual Hurricane restaurants feel looser, freer than their urban counterparts in Portland or Portsmouth. This is the way Vacationland should be.
To take full advantage of the scene, check into the Grand Hotel, perched on a crest above Western Avenue on Chase Hill. The nicely turned out boutique hotel is cushy quarters for restoration after a day of kayaking, paddle boarding, peddling, or browsing the fun shops like Daytrip Society and Three Dories lining the square. With its deluxe bedding, private balconies, and on-site art gallery, it’s hard to leave the premises. But splash water on your face in the elegant marbled bathroom and toss the complimentary whoopie pie in your bag. It’s time to explore.
There is no better welcome to town than a fried lobster tail on a stick. Head over to Wicked Tails. Scott and Deidre Lewis and Brendan Levin, owners of the Wayfarer in Cape Porpoise, opened this gourmet lobster counter last summer amid a busy warren of shops in Dock Square. Created originally for a food truck, the concept is minimal. The executed novelty (far from a corn dog) is flash-fried and served with sriracha dipping sauce. This particular delicacy runs out routinely. If a simple, hot, and slightly spicy taste of succulent lobster says vacation to you, make this your first stop.
In the last few years Kennebunkport and Kennebunk’s adjacent Lower Village have taken on the pulse of a mini-city. With a hearty dose of independent shops filled with artisan beauty products, jewelry, and not-your-average tacky souvenirs, the Bunks, unlike some picturesque but sleepy New England seaside towns, beg for your attention. There are so many high-impact, fun summer activities available. Should you take out a kayak? Rent a bike? Gallery hop? Grab a dozen oysters by the sea or hole up in a riverside rendezvous? We decided to knock around the shops before the beach. In the height of summer, Dock Square can be as crowded as a mall, so rise with the sun to embrace it all.
At the artistic boutique Minka, find colorful coral and turquoise jewels made by co- owner Michelle Rose-Larochelle. Painted wooden panels of birds and midshipmen crafted by her husband and business partner, Christopher Larochelle, make this emporium feel like a gift shop attached to a modern art gallery. Their growing home collection bursts with nautical nuance: whales-tail serving utensils and cutting boards carved from black walnut and rope stacking bowls are fresh updates on Maine classics. Of course you’ll want to scoop up one of Rose-Larochelle’s smartly designed bags, a denim clutch or leather hobo bag, to fill it with unique finds from this shop alone.
At Maine-ly Drizzle across the way you can sample a panoply of infused oils and vinegars in a fun and friendly shop overlooking the square. The grilling season has just begun, so grab some basil-infused olive oil for a killer chicken marinade or go exotic with oils from South Africa, Chile, and Australia—or try vinegar aged with pure maple syrup. The affable owner, Nick Maucieri, will mix you a tasty cocktail on the spot. Coconut balsamic vinegar and a Persian lime olive oil: a great dressing for a summer salad. By the time you are out the door, bags in hand, your stomach will be growling. Good thing David’s KPT is right around the corner.
Don’t bother asking the hostess for a table by the water, for that would be redundant. There is not a bad seat in this house. Anchoring the Boathouse Waterfront Hotel, the three-year-old offshoot of David’s in Portland’s Monument Square is situated on the Kennebunk River with a classy raw bar and gorgeous deck with river views. Sailboats drift by, heading out to the Atlantic Ocean as you contemplate your culinary choices.
Smoked scallop cakes and clam chowder served in a bacon cup with brown sugar are a good start. Follow them up with braised pork osso buco, a comforting signature from chef David Turin. David’s KPT fits all culinary cravings: midday tryst, Saturday night fine dining with friends, or Sunday brunch with the folks.
Now you are ready to make a splash. Bike or take the shuttle (free for Kennebunkport Resort Collection guests) to Goose Rocks Beach. The trolley drops you off at the Tides Beach Club and makes you feel like you’ve stepped into a scene from a 1920s movie about a timeless romance by the sea. The cheerful, yellow Victorian has been a beachgoers oasis for 105 years and was lavishly updated in 2011 by the Kennebunkport Resort Collection. After a swim in the ocean, towel off and head to the patio overlooking one of the most pristine sandy beaches in southern Maine.
Make sure your shades are securely in place to soak in the sun and the scene. There’s good people-watching here. You might rub elbows with Boston’s vacationing top chef Ken Oringer, who can be seen relaxing with friends and family over oysters on the porch. He’s likely taking a break from Earth, the nearby hotspot he oversees.
If you can’t take the alfresco heat, head inside for a seat at the bar. Around sunset this Miami-meets-Maine lounge bustles with a spirited crowd of out-of-towners vacationing in style. Join them for tantaliz- ing apps like spring rolls and tuna poke with avocado, wakame, cilantro, wasabi aioli, and crispy wontons. It is superior beach fare. Another blackberry mojito muddled in a mason jar? Why yes. That would be lovely.
After spending some time relaxing in the clubhouse—and swapping clam shack tips with your new friends at the bar—Earth at Hidden Pond awaits. This property, like the Tides, is tucked away a few miles from the hubbub. Depending on when you visit Hidden Pond, reservations for Earth, the innovative farm-to-fork fortress, or the Tree Spa, will be in order.
Earth, where Oringer is the consulting chef and Justin Walker the executive chef, features a bevy of gustatory delights from handmade pasta and seared foie gras to lobster dressed up in fresh and exciting styles. This rustic, romantic room has special occasion etched into its posts and beams, but the farm bar, decked with terracotta pots and flowing herbs, is a more casual option.
In the morning, follow the aroma down Port Road to the Coffee Roasters of the Kennebunks. Owner Sandra Duckett is finished roasting most mornings by 10 a.m. When we arrive, the continental blend—a French Roast and Columbian Supremo combo—is brewed and beautiful. “We sell it right off the roaster,” says Duckett. Her well-used Probat German roaster anchors the antique home filled with gifts, oils, and spices. Scoops, burlap sacks, and beans spilling from vats warm the cockles of a coffee lover’s heart. The dollar price for a cup of coffee is another reason locals stream in daily.
Breakfast at H.B. Provisions, a few blocks away, is an easy hop and a tasty outcome. Lox and cream cheese on bagels made by the kindly owner are served fresh and fast. When there’s no line, breakfast can be achieved in a dash.
By now you’ve got enough fuel to take in an eyeful of art. The soft whir and mesmerizing sway of wind sculptures by Lyman Whitaker set the mood for an afternoon of art viewing at Maine Art Gallery across the street. Original paintings displayed over two floors of this airy gallery showcase well-known Maine painters like realist William Hoyt and naturalistic scenes with dreamy nautical mirages from watercolorist Daniel Corey. Wrest your eyes from the walls for a minute to drink in the frameable view of the town from this perch. Then hop across the street to Gallery at the Grand for a contemporary presentation of Maine art. In this cool space off the lobby of the Grand Hotel, the sleek, haunting images of barns stand out. Oil painter Ingunn Milla Joergensen, a Norwegian who sees Maine landscapes through a fresh lens, is a regular feature.
Above the scrum of shops, calm awaits at Good Earth Pottery, located on pilings overlooking the Kennebunk River. Climb the stairs into this loft and see why the potters have attracted people here for 43 summers. On the day we visited, owner Diane Jenkins was a smiling, enlightened presence. The platters, planters, and teapots she makes with her husband are as authentic as this raw-wood-framed space above the bustle.
Shopping is hard work and a pick-me-up beckons. Jet over to Pedro’s Mexican for a margarita and a pineapple braised pork taco, best enjoyed on the Caribbean- themed deck.
As you head out of town, don’t miss the Galleries at Morning Walk. These colorful huts are a fun art colony all their own. Our favorite is Phosart Photography, the summer studio of photographer Donna M. Kabay. The Maine shutterbug spends the winter scouring the streets of Italy for the right scene. Her colorful images of the romantic doors of the Italian Riviera are new this year. Closer to home, Kabay’s keen eye captures local barns in a new light, and her lush landscapes are timeless.
Speaking of time, summer comes only once a year and the Bunks are on a roll. Are you ready to rock?