I’m in a bit of a travel lull and have reported on most of the old vacations for which I have digital photographic records. Unfortunately, I was a little late in getting on board with digital photography and don’t have anything easily accessible for the first five or so years my wife and I traveled together, not to mention my earlier vacations. We recently bought a new printer with scanning capability, and I intend to go through my hard copy photos and scan any from vacations worth writing about. But in the meantime, I did manage to pull up one last set of digital photos, incomplete though they may be, from several road-trips we took to Connecticut and Maine between 2010 and 2015.
Connecticut in particular was a frequent travel destination during our first decade together, as we have close friends who used to live in the central part of the state, but are now in northern CT, a little south of Springfield, Massachusetts. For the benefit of those who didn’t read my report on last year’s weekender to Connecticut, the state is one of the best for roadfood lovers. It has an abundance of great ice cream, burgers, hot dogs, fried seafood and warm lobster rolls, with the seafood being mainly along the coast. It’s also arguably second to none when it comes to pizza.
Our destination for the first trip I’m going to get into was southern Maine – in the late spring of 2010. But we still had to drive through Connecticut to get there.
Just as we usually start out road-trips to Pittsburgh or the Midwest with a stop at the Summit Diner, our ventures to Connecticut and Maine, including the already-mentioned jaunt to CT a few months ago, have often kicked-off with a bite to eat at Denmo’s, which has been in business in Southbury, CT since 1978. They are only a mile or two from the Southbury exit of I-84 in the south-central part of the state. While Denmo’s has a fairly big menu that includes most of the above-mentioned foods, I almost always get fried clams, scallops or both.
I went for the scallops this time and also tried a burger, which I don’t recall well enough to comment on. I can tell from the photo that the scallops were very good, as they usually are.
We still weren’t even half way to our final destination in southern Maine, but I’m sure we felt well-fortified for the rest of the drive.
Crossing the Maine border, which I had done a few times before I knew my wife, is always a great feeling. There is a tall tower near the border that is white with a big red lobster on it. It looks like I tried to photograph it from the car, but a tree got in the way.
While we ventured out to other parts of southern Maine during our time in the state, Old Orchard Beach, where our Connecticut friends owned a house that they rented out to vacationers, served as our home base for most of the trip. In fact, for Phillies fans, we were in that house when Roy Halladay pitched his perfect game. I had to get updates on the phone from someone back in Philadelphia, as I didn’t yet have a smartphone and the game wasn’t nationally televised.
Our friends drove up from Connecticut and spent a day or two with us at the start of the trip. Lunch the day after we arrived was our first meal out, and we didn’t have far to go to get to one of my favorite areas in southern Maine; Cape Elizabeth, which is just north of Old Orchard Beach. The Cape is known for its lighthouses and scenic coastal views. It’s also home to The Lobster Shack at Two Lights, which I had been to once or twice before. The combination of its location, with a back patio right next to the ocean, and a wonderful menu of New England style seafood treats makes the place irresistible to me.
The Lobster Shack’s lobster roll, which comes with a dab of mayo on top, is not one of my favorites. I prefer butter or just a little mayo blended in to make a light lobster salad. But they have very good fried whole-belly clams and I was also able to resume my love affair with Maine lobster stew. I discovered the dish during my earlier visits to Maine, before I was married, and fell hard for it, eating it twice a day on one or two trips.
Lobster stew is somewhat similar to bisque, but less thick and with a lot more lobster meat mixed in.
New England is one of the most ice-cream obsessed parts of the country. You never have far to go during the warm weather months to locate a seasonal stand. And we didn’t have to leave Cape Elizabeth to find one after lunch at The Lobster Shack. Kettle Cove Ice Cream and Shack was just an ice cream stand at that point, but they were in the process of rehabbing what was then the unused half of the building, which is now a restaurant. The photos I’ve seen of their lobster rolls are extremely enticing. If we get back to Maine, they will almost certainly be on my list of places to eat at. But I didn’t leave disappointed during that 2010 stop because their ice cream was fantastic. Although I don’t have a photo of it, I went with maple-nut soft-serve.
To make up for the lack of an ice cream shot at Kettle Cove, here is one from a parlor called the Downeast Ice Cream Factory in Boothbay Harbor, where we stopped a day or two later. It appears to be more Maple-Walnut. I order that a lot when in New England.
I had wanted to go on a whale-watching boat excursion during those earlier visits to Maine, but bad weather and rough seas always got in the way. So we were determined to fit that in on this vacation. The boats left from Portland, which was also a relatively short ride from where we were staying. We picked what appeared to be a reasonably nice day and bought our tickets.
Near the dock where we caught the boat, we spotted this beautiful Cold War relic – an actual chunk of the Berlin Wall.
It was a fairly bright day when we arrived in Portland. While the sky turned partly cloudy by the time we left the dock, there were some great views to photograph from the boat.
Unfortunately, the weather started getting rough after a while. Thankfully, we fared better than the crew on the Minow, but only marginally so. The sea got progressively more choppy and I eventually discovered what it felt like to be sea-sick.
I enjoyed much of the rest of our Whale-watching tour from the boat’s restroom. I guess there is a good reason I’ve never taken a cruise.
And to top things off, we didn’t come across a single whale.
Thankfully, with the help of staying on land, the following day went a lot better.
There are a lot of opinions as to which establishment serves the best lobster roll in Maine. But Red’s Eats, of Wiscasset, is always part of the conversation and probably serves the best known lobster roll in the state. Red’s is just a seasonal sidewalk stand. I’ve seen photos of their line of customers stretching well up the street, but we were there on a cloudy weekday in late May, before the schools had been let out, and had no wait at all to place our order.
My wife rejected convention again and ordered a crab salad roll. But I wasn’t about to pass up an opportunity to try a sandwich I had been reading about for years on the old roadfood message board. The amount of fresh lobster meat stuffed onto that grilled New England style hot dog bun was staggering. It comes unadorned with customers having a choice of mayo or melted butter on the side. I opted for the latter. This was one memorable sandwich!
After visiting an antique and used book shop next to Red’s Eats – and enjoying the company of the shop-owner’s cat – we were back on the ice cream trail. Our destination was inland, about 30 miles west of Wiscasset.
Hodgman’s Frozen Custard, of New Gloucester, Maine, is another seasonal stand I had known about for years and was excited to try. They serve genuine frozen custard, which is denser than soft-serve, has eggs in it and is scooped, rather than dumped right into a cup or cone from the machine in which it’s made.
I ordered a scoop of vanilla custard topped with caramel sauce and chopped peanuts and loved every bite of it.
I only have one other photo to share from Maine. My wife and I visited a chocolates shop and posed in front of a giant chocolate moose named Lenny.
We ate and did more than I’ve shown while in Maine, but I don’t have the photographs to prove it. I do recall there was a meal at a very classic old-school Chinese restaurant south of where we stayed. We also visited the wonderful Main Diner on US-1 in Wells, where I enjoyed their Jim Nance Special, which is a choice of a warm or cold lobster roll – I went with warm – and a cup of their award-winning seafood chowder.
On our way home, we stopped to eat in Connecticut at another roadfood classic – Dottie’s Diner in Woodbury.
Dottie’s is known in part for their fresh baked donuts, and I grabbed a couple on our way out.
For lunch, I ordered a cheeseburger with onion rings, while my wife went with a classic Thanksgiving turkey meal.
Maine is unquestionably one of my favorite states to visit. I suspect we’ll return there at some point in the next few years. It’s been too long already.
But we headed back to Connecticut in 2013 for a weekend trip. Unfortunately, I only have a limited number of photos for this one.
We skipped Denmo’s this time around and instead tried a classic New England diner for our first meal in the state. Like Denmo’s, the Blue Colony Diner, in Newtown, CT, is right off I-84 in the southern part of the state.
We both ordered breakfast; pancakes and eggs for me, and what appear to be blueberry blintzes with eggs and potatoes for my wife.
Our friends still lived in central Connecticut at this point, and this beauty of a roadside giant wasn’t that far from their home. Here I am with their two children, both of whom are now stellar young adults.
I’ve mentioned that Connecticut is arguably the nation’s best pizza state, and the dining highlight of this trip was a stop at one of its best pizzerias; Zuppardi’s Apizza of West Haven.
While there is very good pizza to be found all over Connecticut, the New Haven region, which includes nearby West Haven, is the state’s pizza hub. They call the style of pizza unique to that region appiza. I don’t know why that’s the case, but it’s so good that I don’t really care. And Zuppardi’s has its share of backers that will tell you it is the best of the best.
White clam pizza is a trademark of the region. Mozzarella cheese is optional, but most purists skip it, as did we. The tremendous crust, that somehow manages to be simultaneously very crispy and also chewy, is topped with fresh-shucked clams, olive oil, garlic, grated Parmesan and lemon wedges. We also had a plain pizza, but I don’t have any photos of it.
I’ve been to a few of that area’s best known pizzerias, but if forced to choose a favorite, I’d probably go with Zuppardi’s.
The only other photograph I have from this trip is one of my fried whole-belly clams and scallops platter at Lenny & Joe’s Fish Tale in Madison, CT. This is what a classic coastal New England fried seafood platter looks like. They are available at stands and restaurants near the coast in Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Maine.
I didn’t order the salad.
Two years later, in 2015, we returned to Connecticut for another weekend to visit our friends at their new home in the north-central part of the state.
We started this trip with another stop at Denmo’s, where I had both fried clams and scallops, and they were as good as ever. It’s not easy to find New England style seafood this good that is as far from the coast as Denmo’s.
It turned out our friend’s new home was on a large chunk of land that included a chicken coup. There were also goats on the adjoining property.
Saturday afternoon was devoted to eating, and that was all done in Manchester, which is a little ways south of where our friends live. There is a Pepe’s Pizza outlet in Manchester that I included in the report on last year’s Connecticut jaunt. When I said I would probably pick Zuppardi’s as my favorite Connecticut pizzeria, the reason for my qualification was that Pepe’s is also tough to beat, and the Manchester location is as good as the original in New Haven.
We ordered another white clam appiza, and I also have a blurry photo of our plain pie this time around. Again, I was amazed that pizza crust could be both this crispy and chewy. It’s usually one or the other. Their special pizza ovens are probably the difference-makers.
From Pepe’s, we took the short ride over to Shady Glen Restaurant and Ice Cream Parlor, which has been around since 1948 and still looks like it is right out of that era. It’s got an abundance of old-school roadfood charm.
Shady Glen is known for two things: ice cream and their unique style of cheeseburgers. The latter are topped with a huge amount of cheese, which extends well beyond the circumference of the burger and roll, and is hardened on the kitchen’s grill until it can be bent into various shapes. This makes for a fairly spectacular presentation when your server drops it off.
When it came time to order ice cream, we decided on a couple classic New England flavors; maple-walnut and Grape Nut, which is basically just vanilla ice cream with Grape Nut cereal rolled into it. My wife and I both love it.
A few hours later, after having dinner at our friends’ house, we headed back out for more ice cream, this time at the Collins Creamery in Enfield, CT. We only had a day and a half up there, so there was no point in holding back!
I tried more Grape Nut ice cream, which I didn’t like as much as the version at Shady Glen, and also a scoop of spectacularly good toasted almond.
It was time to head home the next morning, but not without stops along the way. First, we made a pit stop in Hartford to take a photo of the state capitol, something we try to do whenever we travel and are anywhere near capital cities.
Then it was on to Middletown, to eat at one of the more classic-looking diners I’ve ever seen; O’Rourke’s.
It looks like we started off with coffee cake or something similar to that, which may have been something they give to every table, on the house, before moving on to breakfast plates. Mine was homemade corned beef hash, which I rarely pass up when I see it on the road. My wife also had sweet potato home fries.
Given how often we visited Connecticut during our first decade together, it’s hard to believe we didn’t return to the state after this trip until just a few months ago. I doubt we’ll wait that long to go back again. I’ve had my appetite for seafood, pizza and ice cream kindled and I don’t see it tampering down anytime soon.
I wish I could find the rest of the photos I took on these trips, but that will have to do for now.