Of This Cove
Down a wooded lane on Deer Isle at the edge of Goose Cove is an expanded version of Aragosta, chef Devin Finigan’s restaurant that relocated here from Stonington in 2019. Let the sights, sounds, and flavors of the island begin.
We’re driving the old convertible along the Blue Hill peninsula to Deer Isle. It’s midday in mid-August, and I’m eager to get back to this island that lives in both soft and vivid memories as one of the first places in Maine I ever visited. That day and ever since, the fog-and-water island scenery has captivated me.
The route leads through causeways, quarry remnants, and tight-knit houses on hilly streets around Stonington Harbor. And there’s curve after curve of water views, the steam of the creamy haddock chowder at the Harbor Cafe, and nearshore islands topped with spiky tree lines.
Deer Isle is the kind of place that transports.
Maybe that’s why the Italian word for lobster doesn’t seem foreign here. Aragosta. Even if you surmise it’s an unfamiliar place name or, like me, initially guess that it’s a musical term, the word quickly resonates—like something that just drifted in on the currents of Penobscot Bay. Aragosta is where we’re going.
For years people have been talking about the deliciousness of Aragosta, the beauty of the restaurant’s food, and the talents of chef Devin Finigan, who cooks with locally sourced ingredients. Earlier this year, Finigan learned that she’s a semifinalist for the James Beard Foundation’s yet-to-be-announced 2020 Best Chef in the Northeast award. Aragosta’s original location opened on the harbor side of Main Street in Stonington in 2012. Somehow, my travel partner, photographer Peter Frank Edwards, and I missed having dinner there before, and have long wanted to correct that.
Plus, I’m curious to experience Aragosta’s new, expanded home on a nearly 22-acre waterfront property that has lodging options for overnight guests. On the west side of Deer Isle, about five miles from the heart of Stonington, it’s the former site of a midcentury nature-study lodge and, more recently, the Cockatoo Portuguese Restaurant, another longtime Deer Isle dinner spot we visited years ago. (The Cockatoo has since reopened on the eastern shoreline of Deer Isle, toward Oceanville.) I remember being struck then by the beauty of the secluded property, rimmed with tall spruce trees and the tranquil blue expanse of Goose Cove below.
So, across the tall bridge over Eggemoggin Reach we go, with the car’s top down to let in the sunshine and ocean air—to Deer Isle again.
With her light brown hair in a topknot and her arms tan from summertime, 36-year-old Finigan is outside cooking up lobsters when we drive in. She and her husband, artist Luke Hartmann, bought the property in January 2019, and with a team of friends, kitchen staff, and craftspeople, they repaired and renovated, painted and furnished the restaurant and cottages for a June opening last year. That’s fast work, but Finigan explains the dream had been brewing for much longer. She says she first saw Goose Cove six years earlier, when she brought her dogs—including Truffle, her beloved 165-pound French bull mastiff—to run on its beach. “I was pregnant then, and I looked around and just had this weird feeling that this was going to be our place someday.”
Finigan couldn’t stop thinking about the woods and water there. She did some research, and through mutual friends eventually had the opportunity to meet the property owner, Donald Sussman, a philanthropist and financier who previously owned a Maine newspaper group that included the Portland Press Herald. “He’d come for dinner at Aragosta twice a year, and I started pitching the idea to him that I wanted to be on that site. I’d say, ‘Can we just talk about Goose Cove?’”
Eventually, Sussman agreed to sell. Finigan and Hartmann began their move to the site with their two young daughters, and quickly learned about the location’s costs and needs, including electricity, new roofs, and fireplaces that needed to be sealed.
The seasonal restaurant, perched on a hillside with a wall of windows and a wide porch on the waterfront, looks ship-shape when we arrive. More than that, the airy, white-painted dining room frames wide views of the cove, and there are jars of fresh-cut flowers on the wooden tables. In the evening, Aragosta’s dining room is full, with candlelight glowing and conversation humming all around. Several guests arrange themselves on the upholstered seating around the large stone fireplace near the bar. A clump of moss makes a graceful base beneath the candle on our table.
Menus are printed on long sheets of heavy paper with the date atop, and the night’s offerings include squash blossoms with mascarpone and cilantro tucked inside, North Atlantic halibut with Stonington lobster and succotash, and wood-fired duck ramen in a bone broth. Glasses clink, and the smells of butter, fresh herbs, steaming seafood, and fresh tomatoes waft past with the servers as they carry plates to tables.
I notice a man making his way around the room, stopping at tables to chat and pour. Matthew Spector directs the wine program at Aragosta, and he has an open bottle in each hand. He is offering tastes of a couple of natural wines, which he says make up about 75 percent of their cellar. While tasting the surprisingly pink frizzante pinot grigio and then the light-bodied CeppaRu Vino Rosso by Ceppaiolo, both from Italy, we talk a bit. When he was a toddler, Spector says, his parents sailed up the East Coast and stopped at Deer Isle. Not wanting to leave, they ended up buying a house that he returned to through the years. After working in San Francisco restaurants, he returned to Deer Isle for the opportunity to join Finigan and the team at Aragosta.
The Stonington Lobster Casoncelli is a signature dish of Finigan’s, and we order it. Soon I’m tasting the tender lobster claws and ravioli-like pasta with herbs and microgreens drizzled in a citrusy beurre blanc sauce—a delicious, elegant take on lobster mac-and-cheese. We make dinner last, then finish with scoops of all three flavors of the house-made ice cream that night: basil, chai, and vanilla. Meanwhile, outside in the falling light I see a distant sailboat, then a lobster boat motoring in.
BESIDE THE BAR
The cottage we’ve booked is “Elm,” a few hundred yards down the hill toward the beach. Just before dinner, from the cottage’s front porch, I’d noticed one of the staff harvesting herbs in a garden along the beach path. Food and flowers are gathered all around us. Finigan says she’s been scooping up buckets of water at high tide and setting them on the hearth for days to evaporate until all that’s left is sea salt.
The natural wood and white-painted style of the restaurant continues in the cottages. Any other colors look as if they’ve seeped in from the nature outside. I see the soft shades of seashells and weathered driftwood in the furnishings, the lightest gray of fog in the linens, and the floor is that teal shade of seawater when there’s a granite ledge below. A large stone serves as the doorstop. The cottage’s bedroom faces the cove, so you can watch the water as you fall asleep or wake in the morning. The moon is a nearly full silver ball, creating a sparkling trail of light on the water that’s dreamy, even when the foghorn signals out there somewhere.
In the morning we follow paths directly from the porch of our cottage to the shorefront trail at Barred Island Preserve. Thick with moss and tall spruce trees clad in lichens, these woods at the edge of the ocean are Maine’s version of a tropical rain forest. Along the shore path we see piping plovers, blooming rugosa roses, and tide pools so glasslike and still that the seaweed inside doesn’t even quiver. In a few minutes we’re near the broad sandbar that gives Barred Island its name—it is exposed and firm to walk across but will be submerged at high tide. On the island side, there are a few people stretched out on warm rocks after a swim. We walk out and pick our way across a rocky span to a vantage point for seeing other Penobscot Bay islands in the distance, including Isle au Haut. This protected maritime scenery is remarkable. Later I’ll be fascinated to learn that the architect of New York City’s Central Park, Frederick Law Olmsted (1822–1903), had a summer home nearby and even once owned Barred Island.
MORE FOR THE ISLE
When we return to the dining room for a breakfast of blueberry pancakes, I take a closer look at the decor and craftsmanship in the morning light. The beautiful grandfather clock at the entrance was built by Deer Isle woodworker and fine artist Bruce Bulger, Finigan explains, and his son Aaron Bulger built the saloon-style doors to the kitchen. Pieces of fine gold jewelry made by Hartmann are displayed at the counter. And there are pottery pieces by Melissa Greene of Deer Isle and Dennis Rackliffe of Rackliffe Pottery in Blue Hill.
The local connections matter to this chef and owner. Finigan, who grew up in Vermont, says she was visiting her sister at the Haystack Mountain School of Crafts on the island when she met her husband, and she and Hartmann “bought a sailboat and played on it all summer,” exploring the waters around the island. That’s when she knew Deer Isle is where she wanted to be. “The more artists on Deer Isle, the better,” she says. “The more restaurants, the better.”
Finigan is focused on the whole experience of Aragosta, but especially the food, including as much wood-fired cooking as possible. Dinner menus vary based on local sourcing for the lobsters, clams, scallops, oysters, mussels, halibut, and other fish and seafood. Land-based purveyors provide ingredients, including beef and cream (for the house-made buttermilk and butter) from Misty Brook Farm in Albion, small-batch chevre and other cheeses from Yellow Birch Farm on Deer Isle, microgreens from Fine Line Farm in Searsmont, and heirloom tomatoes, peppers, artichokes, squash, beets, salad greens, and other vegetables from Four Season Farm in the Harborside village of Brooksville.
“The farmers send a list every week of what they have, and I order before I devise a menu,” Finigan says. “Last night we had enough squash blossoms for 20 orders, so we changed the menu to add that.”
I’m so happy we are lucky enough to be here, finally, for the blossoms and all.
300 Goose Cove Rd. | Deer Isle
Perched above Goose Cove on the west side of Deer Isle, Aragosta is about a 60-mile drive south of Bangor and five miles from Stonington’s Main Street. Menus for the dining room and outside deck (expanded this summer) feature produce and seafood from local farms and fishermen, and guest lodging includes suites and cottages on nearly 22 wooded acres. Hosts are chef Devin Finigan (semifinalist, James Beard Foundation 2020 Best Chef: Northeast) and her husband, Luke Hartmann, an artist and jewelry maker with an on-site studio.
Preserve Next Door
Paths from Aragosta connect directly to the Barred Island Preserve’s maritime, boreal fog forest, with woodland trails and sand-bar access (at low tide) to Barred Island, a favorite picnic spot. The preserve is owned by the Nature Conservancy and managed by the Island Heritage Trust. Find more information at islandheritagetrust.org.
ALONG THE WAY + NEAR
Rackliffe Pottery Workshop + Showroom
132 Ellsworth Rd. | Blue Hill
Locally dug clay shaped and fired into mugs, bowls, and plates, including sought-after blue-glazed pieces.
44 North Coffee
7 Main St. | Deer Isle
70 Main St. | Stonington
Roasted-on-the-island coffees, fresh-baked breads, and pastries in comfy-stylish surroundings.
Ronald Harte Antiques
12 N. Deer Isle Rd. | Deer Isle instagram.com/ronald_harte_antiques
Fine art, craft, and furnishings in a historic waterfront firehouse that’s as interesting as the wares.
36 Main St. | Stonington
Year-round institution for local comfort food, including lobster rolls, chowders, meatloaf, and pies.