Sometimes, you just need to throw some things in a bag, find somewhere within easy driving distance, and get away for a mini-vacation. It’s a rare weekend during the summer that both Meredith and my schedules allow it, but with a little bit of flexibility and just the right location, we were able to enjoy a short getaway to Chebeague Island, one Sunday night a couple of weeks ago. Looking back now, I’m so glad we did.
Chebeague Island is just a few miles up the road from Portland (and still part of the Casco Bay), but after riding over to the bridge-less, secluded island on the small passenger ferry from Cousins Island, we might as well have been in another world. As you approach the island, the Chebeague Island Inn (our residence for the night) sits perched atop a manicured hill that rises from the boat dock. The bay was peppered with moorings, and sailboats were taking advantage of the cooling breeze. Vacation state of mind… check!
The island is small enough that a good bike and enough time will let you cover most of the must-see spots. Luckily for us, the inn had bikes, and we had the entire afternoon. I’d be remise if I didn’t mention that that evening, on our way back from dinner, and at the foot of the inn’s lawn, Meredith and I witnessed quite possibly the most amazing sunset we’ve ever seen. It seemed to grow out of the tree-line of the mainland, and within minutes had filled the sky with the most spectacular oranges, reds, blues, and purples. People were literally pulling over on the street to watch it, and if I were to never see another sunset again, I’d probably be ok having witnessed this one.
In our overnight getaway, the following is just a sampling of what we were able to see and do, and after such a wonderful time, I can’t imagine it’ll take us another 3 years to visit again.
The view from the wrap-around porch of this historical inn is an attraction in and of itself. Comfortable rooms are decorated by local artists and our breakfast the following morning definitely ranks among the best we’ve had on our travels.View pictures and read more about the Chebeague Island Inn here.
Bike the Island
If you’re staying at the inn, grab a bike and spend a few hours exploring the island. We’d recommend the panoramic views of Deer Point, the quiet Bennett’s Cove, or the sandy and sunny Willow Street Beach.
Calder’s Clam Shack
After an afternoon of biking, we were looking for a snack when Meredith remembered Calder’s Clam Shack, a local walk-up staple with picnic tables in the yard. Although the clams are supposed to be tasty, we went for one of our Maine favorites – Gifford’s ice cream.
Slow Bell Cafe
We had plans that kept us from eating at the inn, where the in-house restaurant is supposed to be amazing, but loved our meal just down the road at the Slow Bell Cafe. My burger and fries were just right, and I more than gladly helped clean Meredith’s plate of fresh fish tacos.
You might have noticed Chebeague Island Inn on our list of ‘Hopeful Reservations’ in the Map & Menu sidebar – we’ve been wanting to stay at the inn for ages! As soon as I saw it come on sale via Jetsetter earlier this summer, I decided to book a night on the island as a reward after a particularly busy week (shooting four weddings and a rehearsal dinner in 8 days!) I knew it would be the perfect quick getaway, and it really turned out to be just that.
At the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th centuries, hundreds of similar inns spotted the islands of Maine, but in the time since, most of them have been destroyed. Fortunately for us, the Chebeague Island Inn (formerly the Hillcrest Hotel) has been well preserved and maintained since it was rebuilt in 1920, and we were able to take full advantage of its sweeping views and classic decor.
We got to the island before our room was ready, and we were kindly invited to enjoy either the inn’s wraparound porch or the bicycles. Given that we were in full-on relaxation mode, we opted for the porch for a bit with our picnic lunches (from one of our favorite sandwich shops, Leavitt & Sons) and almost found ourselves lulled to sleep with the ocean breeze and comfortable wicker chairs. Somehow, we managed to escape the comfort of our seats and decided to take a leisurely bike ride around the immediate area. True to form, we ended up finding and enjoying some cups of Gifford’s ice cream at Calder’s Clam Shack – quite possibly the only place to get ice cream on the island. We eventually made our way back to the hotel, where our room was ready.
I had a feeling that I was going to be smitten with our room, and my intuition was spot-on. It was absolutely darling and I simply couldn’t stop saying so the whole time we were there! I’m not sure what I loved most – the bright white walls, floor, and bedding, or the pops of cheerful, colorful accents. Of the inn’s 21 rooms, no two are alike – they’ve all been uniquely decorated by local artists. The attention to detail and thought put into each room really shows, and it’s a somewhat secret goal of mine to one day see them all . . .
Our breakfast the next morning was incredible – Michael had a plate of eggs, bacon, and grits, while I had a breakfast scramble that left me oh so happy with life. Afterwards we took our final stroll around the property and paid one last visit to our favorite comfy porch chairs. Having just eaten a scrumptious breakfast, we could have stayed right there for hours watching life go by on the water. If we hadn’t had to get back to the mainland for work, who knows – we might still be sitting on that beautiful, restful porch!
Chebeague Island, Maine 04017
Earlier this spring when Michael and I shared our fantastic experience at Palmetto Bluff on Map & Menu, we were floored when Todd Phillips, the outlet manager, sommelier, and the creator of the cocktails we raved about in this post, reached out to us! He kindly offered his expertise on cocktail creation or pairings if we ever needed any advice. Of course, this got us thinking about beginning a Q&A series with all of the inspiring people with whom we’ve connected since beginning Map & Menu. We’re thrilled to introduce this new series for the blog with Todd Phillips, the very person who prompted the idea for such a feature.
Describe what you do.
First and foremost, my job is all about guest service. Everything we do, from creating cocktails, our wine dinner series, food and wine pairings, talking with guests in the dining room is centered on making the moment for our guests. Creating specialty cocktails is one outlet that allows us to make that moment.
How did you get into your career?
When I was a child, my parents would have wine with dinner. I was always curious as to what it was and why it was always drank with dinner. When I was in college, I worked in restaurants putting myself through music school. I had several mentors along the way that were sommeliers and the thought that food and wine are symbiotic eventually became a mantra for me. When I was 23 I became the manager of a 4 Diamond restaurant and bar. One of my responsibilities was to maintain the bar menu. I was tired of seeing the same cocktails or variations of them in restaurants. I wanted to approach cocktails from the same stand point a chef would approach creating a dish.
What do you like the most about working at Palmetto Bluff?
The most fulfilling part of my job is the guests. Working at such a prestigious property is incredible in itself, but it really boils down to that moment when a guest shakes your hand and thanks you for making their day. That’s when I know that it’s not just dinner and that we create memories that they will tell their friends about for years.
Do you have any basic tips or pointers for creating new cocktails?
The most important thing is to have fun and not over think things. Sometimes the simplest things are the best. A simple way to start is to go to the juice isle of a grocery store. See what flavor combinations are the latest in the juice world. Raspberry-Lemonade, Green Tea and Pomegranate? Vodka is the easiest liquor to start with, since it has a very mild taste. Get a bottle of Vodka, fresh raspberries, and some fresh lemons. Try muddling up the raspberries with some lemons and sugar. Add some vodka and top with soda water. To go a step further, try to think of herbs or spices that could work. Maybe add some mint to the muddling process.
What guidelines do you follow when thinking about drink & food pairings?
Some classic ideas on pairings are if it grows together, it goes together. Take shellfish and Albariño from Spain. Albariño grows near the northeast coast of Spain and goes great with shellfish. Another great idea is to think of weight before flavors. If it is a heavy meal, get a more full bodied wine and vice versa. Once you have the weight matched up, start to match up the flavors.
How do the seasons and seasonal availabilities play into your cocktail creations?
I try to use local ingredients, so the seasons definitely dictate what we are using. Also, as we move into the warmer seasons, we tend to add lighter, more refreshing cocktails. In the winter, we switch to warmer drinks and more Bourbon driven drinks that warm you up. One of my favorites in the winter is a Lexington Avenue Latte. Either on the stove or with an espresso wand, heat Chai Tea Concentrate with Condensed milk (easy on the milk). Add a Rye Whiskey like Four Roses Small Batch Bourbon. We serve it on cool nights at our food & wine festival, Music to Your Mouth, in November. Warms the body and soul.
Where are your favorite places to eat and/or drink in the area?
Hands down, my favorite is Leoci’s in Savannah. Chef Leoci uses ultra fresh local ingredients and all his pasta and charcuterie are made in house. You can tell that there is a lot of love that goes into his food
If you could go, eat, drink, or stay anywhere in the world, where would it be?
I love humble/low key places. I think Spain would be my place of choice, probably in the Mencia region. Some of the best food in the world is coming out of Spain and there is so much wine in Spain that is up and coming.
Thank you, Todd, for not only taking the time to share a bit about yourself, but also for inspiring us to begin this series. Our time at Palmetto Bluff was certainly made up of the ‘moments’ you speak of – memories that will stay with us for a very long time – and we still to this day, rave about the cocktails we had while staying there!
In our last post about Caiola’s, where we covered their delicious Sunday brunch (hopefully, you’ve had the chance to try the Lost Bread since then), I mentioned that there are few better ways to spend a warm summer evening than on the back patio of this West End favorite, surrounded by good friends, great music, and fantastic food. Recently, we had the opportunity to do just that, and I’ll have to admit that it turned out to be an even better time than I had originally billed.
Every Thursday night, Flight of Fancy, an all-string trio (two-thirds of which are our good friends Darcy & Carolyn), wows patrons with its amazing melodies from the back patio of Caiola’s. They claim that they are merely playing background music for you to enjoy with your dinner, but it’s a rare evening when they don’t win over and silence the crowd with their songs. We took advantage of the chance to hear Flight of Fancy play over a good meal, with a couple of friends from our neighborhood, and made reservations for the patio.
After some brief hellos and introductions, we placed an order for drinks (sangrias, Peeper, and Geary’s HSA) and starters (the delicious Polenta Fries and the Steak Bruschetta). With Flight of Fancy in the background, we devoured the appetizers and moved on to bigger things. The four of us enjoyed the Chicken Marsala (with Roasted Shallots, Mushrooms and Tomato Tubettini), the House Made Cannelloni (with Ricotta, Sweet Peppers and Spinach in a Tomato Sauce with Parmesan), and two Caiola’s burgers. The Caiola’s burger is sometimes easy to overlook as the last item on a menu stocked with tempting choices, but once you’ve had one of these juicy creations with bacon, cheddar cheese, and a few large mashed potato tator tots (they will absolutely leave you speechless), you’ll find that your eyes begin to drop to the bottom of the menu from the get-go on subsequent visits.
Somehow, we polished our plates, relaxed with some fun conversation and sensational music, and then made room for one of Mere and my favorite desserts – the Panna Cotta. It’s hard to share such a tasty delight, but we managed to part ways with a few bites, and spent the rest of the evening laughing and listening before we crossed back over the bridge and called it a night.
Portland, Maine 04102
Even though we didn’t spend this weekend traveling to some beautiful new destination or trying out some exciting restaurant, this was the very best weekend we’ve had in a long time! This weekend was my last free weekend (completely wedding free!) until the month of November, so we decided to make the most of it, by partaking in the most ordinary, but lovely, weekend pleasures – having brunch at a favorite restaurant, visiting the farmer’s market, shopping in the Old Port, doing yard work, taking walks with Orvis, and having friends over for meals on the patio.
We really did enjoy the most splendid of weekends – thanks to all who helped make it so wonderful & relaxing!1 Comment
Meredith and I had the fantastic chance to visit Newport this month for a wedding (at the mansion from The Great Gatsby, no less), and after a weekend of frozen lemonade, beautiful boats, a dramatic coastline, stunning mansions, a spectacular sunset, and of course delicious food and a great place to stay, I’d say we covered our bases – especially given the fact that we were there for less than 36 hours!
Newport is one of those towns where American history literally surrounds you everywhere you look. Colonial areas of the downtown are rife with historical landmarks from around the time of the American Revolution, and the registry for the Bellevue Avenue Historic District reads like a who’s-who of early 20th-century American royalty. I’d have a hard time imagining that there is a better example of the history of the Gilded Age anywhere.
Everywhere you look in Newport, there are things to see and do, and 36 hours was only enough time to get a proper sampling. I think we’ll definitely be heading back to explore the rest of town and the surrounding areas (especially the fantastic village of Jamestown) in the very near future.
On your way into Newport, the first thing you need to do is visit Flo’s Clam Shack and grab one of their signature clam rolls. You won’t regret it. View pictures and read more about Flo’s Clam Shack here.
Del’s Frozen Lemonade
You might ask how a frozen beverage deserves its own callout, and I might reply that you have obviously never enjoyed the tasty slice of heaven that is Del’s Frozen Lemonade. Oddly enough, we were introduced to this delightful treat in school at North Carolina, where they serve it at the football and basketball games, but after graduating have not had it in nearly 4 years. We rectified that with two trips in less than twelve hours, and are now scheming on how to buy into a Del’s franchise for Maine.
I don’t know how she does it, but time and time again, Meredith seems to find the perfect boutique inn or hotel for us to stay at. Map & Menu would be drastically-less helpful without her excellent research skills, and in the Mill Street Inn, she did it yet again. Less than a block away from Trinity Church (and a block more to the waterfront), this converted mill, mixed style, comfort, and convenience to provide us with a spectacular jumping-off point for our brief adventure. View pictures and read more about the Mill Street Inn here.
We thought that a celebration dinner in Newport would make the trip even more special, and Fluke turned out to be the perfect setting for our festive meal! View pictures and read more about Fluke here.
The Cliff Walk
What would a trip to Newport be without the Cliff Walk? This 3.5 mile trail offers stunning views of the Newport craggy coastline… that is if you can take your eyes off of the towering mansions from some of America’s wealthiest families of the Gilded Age. Put your walking shoes on, and be prepared to be amazed.
When researching where we should go for dinner while we were in Newport, I needed to look no further than the eat.shop new england book our dear friend Chelsey gave us when we launched Map & Menu earlier this year. This was going to be a very special dinner for Michael & I, as he had just accepted a job with his dream (!) company, Automattic, the company who manages WordPress! We thought that a celebration dinner in Newport would make the trip even more special, and Fluke turned out to be the perfect setting for our festive meal!
We began our little celebration with two of our go-to cocktails – an old fashioned for Michael and a manhattan for me. While we would have been content ordering nearly anything to start, we finally decided on the chick pea crostini and the roasted shrimp for our appetizers. With good drinks and delicious apps, we were simply in heaven as we waited for our main courses to arrive! Michael seemed incredibly happy with his grilled pork belly, and my spring vegetable risotto left me in the most contented (and stuffed!) of states.
Unfortunately we didn’t quite have room for dessert after filling up on the deliciousness pictured below, but our dinner at Fluke made for the most wonderful and memorable celebration for such a special occasion!
Newport, Rhode Island 02840