48 Hours in…Machias + Eastport
June 2011 | By Jennifer Hazard | Illustration by Josh Brill
48 hours of our favorite places to eat, rejuvenate, shop, and visit
When traveling to Washington County, home to the historical downeast towns of Machias and Eastport, the landscape unravels before you—blueberry barrens, endless sky, and solitary roads that hug untamed coastline. With all of this wild beauty, one thought prevails: this is not a place for wimps. In fact, the first naval battle of the American Revolution was fought in Machias Bay in 1775, when the region was dependent on trade for food and supplies. The British had closed the port of Boston, and the settlers in far eastern Maine suffered, with the exception of Ichabod Jones, a businessman who traded with the British for personal gain. Jones was already unpopular with the locals, but when he returned to town with the protection of a British war ship, the Margaretta, it was the last straw. After a botched attempt to catch Jones on land, a brave group of Machias residents commandeered his trading ships and used them to capture the Margaretta. This community spirit is still alive in Machias and Eastport today. There’s a pride that comes with living in Maine’s easternmost county, and it is evident every place you go. Here are a few favorites.
The cafe at the Whole Life Natural Market is a perfect spot for lunch. There are a few tables near a window that overlooks Main Street in Machias. Try the cafe’s delicious egg-salad sandwich made with Eastport’s own Raye’s mustard, or for heartier fare, dive into a rich spinach pie made with feta and cottage cheese. If you’re renting a house nearby, you can stop by Joe’s Sausage for provisions. Owner Joe Parisi, who used to run a New Jersey deli before relocating to Maine, makes sweet and hot sausages in his home kitchen. (His flavorful cheese, garlic, and parsley sausage is my favorite.) In his shop, which is located in a screened-in porch between his house and garage, you’ll also find imported Italian cheeses, seasoned pork roasts, mixed olives, and locally sourced Cinqueterre Farm breads. It’s hard to resist Parisi’s enthusiasm or his sweet, grandfatherly demeanor.
For dinner, bustling Helen’s Restaurant is the place to be. Helen’s has been a beloved Machias establishment since 1950. While the wood-paneled walls and vinyl booths give it the look and feel of an old-school diner, Helen’s menu is anything but. The restaurant serves hearty meals made with local ingredients. You’ll find downeast fare—boiled lobster, fish chowder, coleslaw— and more surprising options, including a decadent butternut-squash ravioli with sage brown butter and ricotta from Tide Mill Organic Farm. As locals will tell you, the highlight of any trip to Helen’s is dessert. Everyone from Martha Stewart to Rachael Ray has given Helen’s pie the thumbs up. I devoured a chocolate coconut pie with a thick graham-cracker crust, which shall be known henceforth as the “Pie of the Gods.”
For breakfast, we were tempted to return to Helen’s, but instead we tried Machias’s other long-standing eating establishment, the Blue Bird Ranch Family Restaurant. Like Helen’s, the Blue Bird is the epitome of a classic Maine diner. We ordered homemade cinnamon-blueberry bread, plus a Fisherman’s Breakfast, which included pancakes, eggs, bacon, and a side of Marfax baked beans—a medium-sized, light-brown bean grown in Maine.
For a quick bite in Eastport, locals swear by Rosie’s Hot Dogs, where owners William and Paula Bouchard have served sought- after franks for nearly 40 years. Quoddy Bay Lobster is another good choice. Their quarter-pound lobster roll comes in a New England–style bun, and can be enjoyed with your choice of Miracle Whip, mayo, or drawn butter. There’s no better place to enjoy a lobster roll than on a working pier.
Bank Square Pizza and Deli is one of the most surprising eateries in Eastport. From the outside, it looks like any other pizza joint. But inside, you’ll soon find out that Bank Square offers some of the best Mexican food in Maine. Owner Marilu Scott, who was born in Mexico City, cooks many of her mother’s recipes. I had a delicious enchilada suiza—a corn tortilla filled with pork and topped with green salsa and a creamy white sauce.
For dinner, locals agree that the Pickled Herring is one of the best restaurants in Eastport. Located in a building constructed in 1887, the renovated space is gorgeous, with exposed brick walls, columns, wood floors, and large windows that overlook Main Street. There’s a lot to enjoy, including wood- fire-grilled seafood, steaks, and chicken, but locals often opt for the rustic pizzas.
For Sunday brunch, visit the Blue Iris Bistro. Eggs Benedict with spicy hollandaise sauce is popular. And the buttermilk pancakes with berries, chocolate chips, or pecans are worth the indulgence.
If the weather is right, and you don’t mind the refreshingly cold water of Englishman’s Bay, spend the day at Roque Bluffs State Park. Set up chairs on the beach, explore the trails, or rent kayaks for a paddle on Simpson Pond. Bring a picnic to Fort O’Brien in Machiasport, on the Machias Bay, where the battle of the Margaretta took place. Find a spot under the apple trees and rest on the high bluffs that once protected the Machias River. Down the road, you’ll also find Jasper Beach, made up of polished, multicolored volcanic rocks. It’s not unusual to find visitors collecting stones in canvas totes, or just listening to the sound of the waves. Adventurous spirits will also want to visit Sunrise Canoe and Kayak. Co-owner Rob Scribner is an experienced Maine guide who leads tours for paddlers of all levels.
As you begin your journey toward Eastport, visit Cobscook Bay State Park in Edmunds. The tides are fascinating—some reach 27 feet, much bigger than the typically 9-foot tides of Maine’s southern coast. It’s also a great place to camp—many of the sites are private and provide inspiring views of the inlet. Just a few miles from downtown Eastport is Shackford Head State Park, which is perfect for hiking, picnicking, and swimming. Cony Beach, near the entrance, is a curious spot to explore. In the early 1900s, five Civil War ships were burned at the beach, and the remaining metal was salvaged. If you want to get out on the water, schedule a cruise with Eastport Windjammers. The cruises are tailored to your interests: you can fish, whale watch, or view the sun setting over the harbor. You can also catch the car ferry to Deer
Island via East Coast Ferries. From Deer Island, there’s a Canadian run available to Campobello Island in New Brunswick, where you can tour President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s summer cottage. Just remember to bring your passport!
Rather than drive 45 minutes to the historical town of Lubec, take the Inn at the Wharf’s water taxi instead. It’s only a 10-minute ride, and a lovely one at that.
After you enter the Machias Hardware Co., the screen door slams behind you, and the wood floors creak as you browse the shop. One side of the store is what you’d expect: nuts, bolts, and tools. The other half is like a Williams-Sonoma without pretense, complete with bulk herbs, spices, and international foods. I picked up a bag of granola and asked the cashier if it was made locally. “No,” she replied, matter-of-factly, “but somebody made it.”
Of the several antiques shops located between Machias and Eastport, my favorite is Machias Bay Antiques and Fine Art. You’ll find painted furniture from the seventeenth through early nineteenth centuries, textiles, and more. I fell for a piece called On Monhegan by Massachusetts- based painter Eunice Agar, who summers in nearby Jonesport. On Fridays and Saturdays, enjoy the color and flavor of the Machias Valley Farmers Market (located across the street from Helen’s Restaurant), where you can shop for local food, flowers, and crafts. In Eastport, the Shop at the Commons is a gorgeous space to enjoy the work of local artisans. Nearby, you’ll also find Dancing Dogs Pottery and Art. The shop is a haven of beautiful porcelain and stoneware pieces by store owner and artist Al Erikson.
No shopping trip to Eastport is complete without a visit to Raye’s Mustard Mill. The working mill has been in operation since 1900. Before you shop, take the tour that begins with a sign that reads, “Experience the flavor modern technology left behind.” Raye’s is the only American mustard made with hand-cut millstones. To date, they make more than 25 flavors of mustard, including my favorite: the tangy Winter Garden, which is blended with garlic, dill, and celery. If you’re willing to stray farther afield, check out the 45th Parallel in Perry, which marks the halfway spot between the equator and the North Pole. The shop has home accents and decor from around the world, as well as Maine-made sea-glass jewelry and candles.
Almost everyone you meet in Machias will tell you to visit the Burnham Tavern Museum, run by the local chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution. The historic home is the oldest building in eastern Maine and opens for visitors in mid-June. Built in 1770 by Job and Mary Burnham, the tavern is known for its role in the American Revolution. The decision to capture the Margaretta took place here, and the tavern became a makeshift hospital for those injured in the battle.
As you drive toward Eastport, visit the Maine Sea Salt Company, where Stephen “The Salt Man” Cook makes eight varieties of gourmet salts. Ring the bell at the gift shop and Cook will give you a tour of his salt works—the first to open in Maine in more than 200 years. He’ll show you how the salt is made in his solar greenhouses, and take you to see salt crystals being smoked. Be prepared to leave smelling like a campfire!
Downtown Eastport is brimming with art galleries. I especially enjoyed Donald Sutherland Architectural Pottery. Sutherland’s vessels, which he calls “earth forms,” remind me of the Sand People from Star Wars. His eclectic pieces are showstoppers, and some weigh more than 200 pounds. The Eastport Gallery is another place where you can get familiar with the local arts community. Also nearby is the Tides Institute and Museum of Art. The museum’s permanent collection includes a wide range of historical and contemporary work. Beginning in late June, you can visit the Tides for lectures, exhibitions, and artist workshops. If you’re searching for evening entertainment, try the Eastport Arts Center for live music, theater, and contemporary films.
Rest your head after a long day of sightseeing at the Inn at Schoppee Farm, a renovated dairy farm that was built circa 1820. Three well-appointed guest rooms and a guesthouse above the barn overlook the Machias River. Innkeepers Julie and David Barker grew up in Machias, and they are also the owners of Helen’s Restaurant. Despite running two businesses, the Barkers are generous with their time and can provide you with useful information about their hometown.
The award-winning Riverside Inn and Restaurant in East Machias is known for its scenic location, perennial gardens, and sumptuous dinners. In season, chef Rocky Rakoczy and his wife, Ellen McLaughlin, grow many of the blueberries, vegetables, and herbs used in the restaurant’s dishes.
Located in Machiasport along the banks of the Machias River, Micmac Farm is the place to go for a serious getaway. The Gardner House, a restored eighteenth- century farmhouse, is utterly charming. For a more rustic experience, try one of the three guest cottages, where you can walk out your back door and fish from the river’s edge.
In Eastport, the Chadbourne House is a popular tourist destination. Chef David Westphal’s breakfasts will sustain you for a day of exploration. Actor Michael Richards, who played Cosmo Kramer in Seinfeld, stayed here last year.
Kendall Farm Cottages in Perry is perfect for those in search of a quiet respite. The property has been in owner Georgiana Kendall’s family for five generations. Two cozy rental cottages date back to 1930,
and each overlooks Boyden Lake—a local reservoir where you can swim, canoe, or fish.
And, finally, it’s time to head back west. But don’t fret—Machias and Eastport will be here when you return.