With cookbooks, I usually start with one quick flip through the pages and land on a recipe or two that catches my eye. I know I should start from the top - and eventually, I do work my way back through, but it usually takes me a good amount of time and honestly, I end up passing over a lot of recipes because of their complexity and as a result, neglect to take the time to read more about the dishes.
However, my quick flip method with Kate Shaffer's book, The Maine Farm Table Cookbook, was quickly tossed to the side. Her thoughtful collection of recipes, stories and reflections about the people and places behind the featured diverse dishes was immediately intriguing and something beautifully different than any other "cookbook" I have read. My first flip landed on Erin French's "Fried Green Tomatoes with Buttermilk & Chives" and I found myself moving from standing at my kitchen counter to snuggling up on the couch to read more about Erin's journey with her infamous restaurant, The Lost Kitchen. Because what Kate does so brilliantly in this book (because really, it is more than a cookbook) is not only showcase the incredible bounty that we are spoiled by from Maine's hardworking farmers (and brewers, artisans, etc,) but she digs deep into each of the chef's connections with their local farms and their passion to truly highlight the ingredients.
What I loved most of all was Kate's commitment to showcase a diverse group of people and experiences - from fine dining establishments, to family run farms, to small bakeries. One of my favorite features was reading about "Eat At Joe's" - a food truck run by a wife & husband duo that is permanently parked at Fogtown Brewing Company in Ellsworth. Everything on their menu is less than $20 and their menu board lists the farms customers can choose from for the beef in their burger. Joe, the owner, is quoted in the book: "We don't really make much money but I'm proud that we have the ability to source everything we serve from local farms. And I'm really proud of that." I mean, how lucky are we? We get to live in a place with this much respect, this much dedication to one's community, this much divine, inspired food at our fingertips with hard working, kind Mainers at the helm. This cookbook made me proud to live in Maine.
There are over 100 recipes in this cookbook, and since I had essentially bookmarked 30+ pages, it was a tough decision deciding what to cook first. I decided to lean into the gloriousness that is a Maine summer and make a dish for lunch that felt light, airy and inspired - one that I might make for friends after a salty ocean kissed day at a Maine beach. The recipe for Erin French's Spring Bread Salad with Asparagus, Radishes, Peas & Mint was straightforward, unpretentious and truly just focused on making the ingredients the star of the show:
Next up, for dinner, I embraced the rain falling outside and started to dream about Fall. I thought about what I might make on the first really crisp night this Fall for my family - so, next up for dinner was Kate Shaffer's Roasted Acorn Squash with Brown Sugar & Butter and Corn Soup with Parsley:
Again, straightforward but wonderfully nuanced. And just totally freaking delicious and crave worthy.
If you are a Mainer, a lover of Maine, or someone that just appreciates a home cooked meal that was inspired by real people and real ingredients, get your hands on a copy of this cookbook.
A daytime spot on Washington Ave, from the team behind the incredible Drifter's Wife, that's super airy, bright and where it is expected + celebrated to stuff a burger in your face with a classy glass of rosé all before 6PM? Sign me up!
On my last visit, I tried the french onion soup (a soup that I actively search for on menus), french fries, the mussels and the burger. Oh, the burger. That's a 3-4 napkin burger and I'd recommend you eat this in front of someone you feel comfortable making a total mess in front of. I was licking my fingers, audibly saying OMG after most bites and just sort of entered my own messy & content little world (even though my husband was seated next to me at the bar.) I asked the bartender if he had ever seen someone eat this gracefully to which he replied only one - because they used a fork and knife - oh puhhhlease. Grab that thing and dig in!
But the thing that I appreciate most about this place is entirely separate from their phenomenal food. The pivot they decided to take after closing Drifter's Wife because of COVID is something that I sat with for a bit. I had really fond memories of dinners at Drifter's Wife, and this newly imagined version with only daytime hours was, obviously, different. I think some might look at the hours and be worried they won't be able to take full advantage of this spot if they work a 9-5, but my two thoughts on this worry are as follows: go on Saturday and good for them. Seriously, good for them. I imagine many people on the team have kids (or at least this is the idea I've spun up in my head - I tend to do that with restaurants and restauranteurs that I admire) and I bet with these hours, many people on staff are able to make it home for bedtime. After a year like 2020, a year where family and friends that are basically family, meant literally everything - I love this decision (you know, the decision I made up in my head.) Do what you love, let the community be able to relish in your ridiculously amazing food and then, maybe, on good nights, get home for the last bedtime story or at least the chance to watch a couple Netflix series you are behind on.
Regardless of the reason (or not the reason) they committed to hours of 12PM-6PM, they are the first place I think of when I have friends in town and want to treat them to a boozy lunch and the place I rush to when I finish my day when I could use a reallllllly good glass of wine. I look forward to visiting Pigeons and it feels like a treat whenever I am able to work it into my week. There's an excitement to getting there before the kitchen closes at 6PM & getting to partake in their all day happy hour that hasn't let up for me since they opened.
So, if you see me at the bar looking contemplative - I'm likely spinning up romanticized stories about the people around me. And if you see me with a burger in hand and stains on my shirt, just know I am very happy.
Location: Portland, Maine
Parking: Complimentary Valet Parking
Family Friendly: Yes - but recommend this for date night. No dedicated kid's menu.
Dog Friendly: No
If you are coming to Portland, chances are you are wondering where to get the best seafood. And honestly, that question is just so hard since you really can't go wrong with most places in Maine. Every restaurant, pub, hole-in-the-wall has their own spin on Maine seafood classics - each delicious and unique in their own right.
But there is just something about Scales. It sits on the Maine Wharf of Portland's historic waterfront and even though I have been there more times than I can even count at this point, it still takes my breath away when I walk inside. It's spacious, the lighting is completely stunning and you just know you are going to have one of the best meals of your life. Consistently, no matter what I get - I announce that it's "the best (fill in the blank)" that I've ever had.
While I would recommend getting one of their from the sea dishes (their halibut is my favorite), I recently had steak on my last visit and that too was one of the best meals I've had in the city. If it's ramp season, GET THE RAMP ROLLS. Just trust me on this one. And the tuna crudo is smooth, silky and not to be missed.
And if you are unable to get a reservation (which, is likely, depending on the time of year) - I recommend grabbing a spot at the bar if you can snag seats. You'll be sitting next to the raw bar, and will watch the incredible waitstaff shuck away. I've enjoyed countless awesome conversations with whoever is behind the bar on any given night.
This is fine dining in Portland that is completely worthy of the price tag.
Location: Cape Elizabeth, Maine
Parking: Dedicated parking lot with a good amount of spots.
Dogs: Permitted on leash.
Family Friendly: Yes
You can smell the ocean from this wooded walk. This preserve has over 145 acres of contiguous woodlands and over 3 miles of beautiful walking trails. There are some hills to climb, lots of woodpeckers to spot, and white pine, red oak and hemlock trees to admire.
This walk truly encompasses what makes Maine magical: you get a forested walk but just across the street from the Shore Road trailhead sits Pond Cove - a sweet little rocky beach with incredible ocean views. The walk is also moderate, making it accessible for kids + it is dog friendly (leashed.) So, you really can make everyone happy with this gorgeous hike.
Get your steps in on the hike and then clear your head by the beach. Perfection.
Location: Portland, Maine
Parking: Limited parking, handful of spots in front of the restaurant
Family Friendly: Yes
Dog Friendly: Yes! On their outside patio
Meet the ultimate purveyors of smoked meats and good times.
Do you see the size of 1. that Buffalo Chicken Sandwich and 2. this massive Peak's Island Iced Tea? They don't mess around at Noble BBQ. You'll leave with a full belly and most likely a solid buzz.
Everything I have ever had has been perfectly prepared and just simply irresistible. I'm always like, okay, I don't need to finish this ENTIRE plate of buttermilk fried chicken and french fries - but yet - yes, yes I do. It's some of the best BBQ I have ever had. Ever. While I have tried pretty much everything on their menu at this point (melt in your mouth brisket, yummy pork, corn muffins....) I seem to always consistently come back to their Buffalo Chicken Sandwich. It's a perfect crunch and so satisfying.
The other incredible thing about Noble BBQ is it's location. If you are new to visiting the Portland area, it might seem off the beaten path to you. But it happens to sit 2 minutes away from some of the best breweries in town: Allagash, Foundation & Definitive Brewing. Having a couple beers and then scooting over to Noble BBQ for dinner makes for the perfect Saturday.
Before COVID, I loved cozying up inside and devouring my meal amongst some pals. But now, it's almost even better with their new patio setup. It feels like an outdoor BBQ with friends - complete with corn hole and plenty of space for pups + kids to roam.
Clear your schedule for a nap post visit & have no shame in your stuff-your-face game.
Open Year Round for Takeout, no Dine-In
Location: South Portland, Maine
Parking: Free street parking
Family Friendly: Yes
Scratch Bakery is one of the reasons we decided to move to Maine. I'm not trying to be funny or cute, it's just the truth.
We had rented an AirBnB that was next door to Scratch on a vacation we took during the fall to visit Maine. We had been toying with the idea of moving to Maine, pretty much as long as I can remember, but it was that visit that sealed the deal.
When we walked into Scratch the first morning of our vacation, it was like a scene out of a romantic comedy. You know, the corner bakery where everyone seems to be - sharing inside jokes, asking how the family is, regulars grabbing their regular. There was a line out the door (this was pre-Covid, of course) but no one seemed phased or deterred by it. We went back every single morning of our vacation and I remember longing to be one of the regulars.
When you first walk in, you are met to the right with piles and piles of their incredible bagels. These things do not (and in my humble opinion, should not) be toasted. They are fresh out of the oven and my preferred method of eating them is tearing them a part, piece by piece, and dunking the pieces in herbed cream cheese. The Maine Sea Salt Bagel has my heart.
I'm an East Coast gal and lived in NYC for many years. Scratch, along with the rest of our bagel scene in Maine, not only rivals, but I think trumps the many bagels I have devoured in NYC (shoutout to Tal Bagels where I spent pretty much every morning on the UES - no disrespect, you are my New York Bagel one and only!)
If you can manage to make it past the bagels without grabbing a dozen, you make your way to the pastry counter. It's stocked high with daily specials, pastries and treats for later in the day - don't even get me started on their Coconut Cake. We are a family of three but I usually leave with enough goodies for a family of thirteen. I just can't help myself.
During the pandemic, they kept our family well fed and operated like a well oiled machine. Their online ordering system is easy and the turnaround is quick. In the early days of the pandemic, it was a lifeline for our family. It gave us a sense of normalcy to be able to get breakfast from Scratch and walk around the corner to Willard Beach.
If you are coming to visit Portland any time soon, make sure you put Scratch on your itinerary. And who knows, you just might find yourself to be one of the regulars making small talk by the coffee.
When I posted Gadabout Maine’s first greeting card (the delicious Red’s Ice Cream) April Cohen was my very first customer. Not only was she the first one to buy it, she was also the first person to share it on her instagram. We had never met before, and I’ll never forget getting that first purchase and “share” from someone that I didn’t know. And since then, she has continued to champion everything I put out into the world, without expecting anything in return.
April is one of Maine’s unofficial cheerleaders. She celebrates the people, the makers and the small businesses that make our community vibrant, whole, remarkable. Almost always when I meet someone new, the first connection we have is because we both know April Cohen. When I’m wondering what is going to go into a building that proudly proclaims a new “Under Contract” sign, I message April to get the deets. And she always knows.
Cut to a short weekend getaway I took with my family to Carrabassett Valley. We booked an AirBnB totally last minute and I didn’t pay attention to much of the details in my hurried haste. As we checked into our cute condo minutes from Sugarloaf, I noticed a magnet on the fridge with April’s face. Without knowing, I had booked her rental and our paths crossed yet again.
We finally met in real life - something pretty novel these days - when I asked her if she’d be willing to appraise our house before we went forward with putting on an addition. She put aside her busy schedule that week, popped over, gave us her advice, and despite my begging, she refused to let us compensate her for her time.
A Real Estate Agent should be a people’s person and out and about in their community, of course. Making connections, building the trust of the community. And April is no exception to this, she’s a pro. But what I think separates her from others I have met or worked with, is that everything she does comes from a place of total, complete genuineness. In the past, I’ve sometimes left meetings with real estate agents that often had me questioning if their advice was to ultimately benefit and support me...or them. Advice from April will be the advice she’d give herself in your situation. It’s honest, valuable and pure.
And about her job - she loves it. There is always something just totally refreshing talking to someone who absolutely loves what they do. Selling Maine isn’t hard for April.
This year the real estate world went totally bonkers. What was this year like for you? Do you see this changing much in 2021?
I do feel like a switch went off all of a sudden. My company had to lay off this girl because, you know, they didn’t know what was going to happen with COVID and when I found out and I was like, I'm on my way to the office, we'll talk about this. I literally said to her: give me two weeks. I’ll have this figured out. Clearly, we didn’t and then within the next week and a half, our clients didn’t want anyone in their homes and they didn’t feel comfortable going into other people’s homes.
And I was like we're toast, you know. I don't know what to do. We have to stay home. So we spent a good month working from home. There wasn't a lot of property to be shown because our buyers were backing out so much. So, I remember sending my buyer’s agents books to read to prepare them because you know, this won’t last forever. So I needed them to still keep up with things. But honestly, that really only lasted about a month. When May hit we were off and running again.
People were like, okay, I think I'm more comfortable going outside again. We then started to wear masks as they were starting to roll out some new protocols. And we were like, okay, people need homes, so we need to sell them. So it went from being totally freaked out to let’s dip our toes back in again.
We made “Sani Packs” - we bottled sanitizer from Maine Craft Distilling and put a mask with a happy note in it. And we gave those out to a bunch of neighborhoods and our clients. We wanted to try to continue as “normal” but prepare our clients for what we thought they needed to do to be protected. Then we started putting booties, gloves and masks in bags at our listings - we just wanted to make people feel as comfortable as possible going into our listings.
But yes, I feel like the market is going to stay the same over the next year. Our inventory is going to be even lower. There’s this pandemic vibe out there, and it's not a good one. Emotions are high and it's like a full moon 24/7 out there. We try to calm people down, but it’s hard. They get hurt when they can't find housing but people don't want to make moves right now, you know, they're refinancing because rates are still low and since they’ve been home, I think they have found a new appreciation for their homes. If it’s the right size for them to live and work, they're staying. And if it's not they are either renovating or they're thinking of making the move - but making the move is not the first choice anymore.
What’s your best advice for people looking to buy in this market?
All I can say is just be patient. A lot of people’s first question when they don’t get a house is what did I do wrong in my offer? I try to say to them, it's going to happen when it's meant to happen for you, and this house for some reason is not your house. And I have to remind people that inventory is low. So there's 50 buyers out there and now there's only four houses to look at - so all of those buyers are going for that one house. Don't let that outside pressure get to you. In 2021, patience is the word.
What are the top three things that you believe make Maine the best place to live?
The people, the ocean and the views. The people that live here are kind and down to earth, it’s just the Maine way. And then, of course, the ocean. Like, hello! You can get different views of it every day. And it’s not just the views of the ocean that are amazing. It's just so gorgeous here.
On a different topic, your Instagram is essentially a giant celebration of shopping small and supporting local businesses. You always share your great finds and truly celebrate the makers and people of Maine. What is the last thing you bought from a local business that totally blew you away?
I fell down the rabbit hole of a hashtag last week and stumbled upon Conture Designs by Holly Kelley and she makes these cute masks - and I find masks to be like jeans, you have to find the right one to fit your face or it's going to fall down below your nose or it's going to be too small. So, I messaged this woman because she had this bag with these little lobsters on it - and was like can you make me a mask? And she said sure! So I had her make four. And when they arrived, I was like gah! Story time! I’ve got to let everybody know about her.
I used to be the president of the Buy Local in South Portland. And I learned what it's like to own a small business and how important it is to shop small.
Okay, it’s a beautiful Saturday in the summer. What does your day look like?
I'm probably training for something. The previous three years I was training for a triathlon - a half Ironman or an Ironman. So, I was on my bike or on a run - or both - in the morning and then I'd go to Scarborough Beach and I would house a burger from the Mainly Burger Truck because by the time I’m done I'm famished. So I would get my classic burger from the truck and then just sit on the beach - sometimes fall asleep, sometimes try to read but just try to zone out. And then I’d head home to walk my dog Lucy - we’d go to Bug Light a lot. So, yeah, running, biking, Scarborough Beach, Burger. I’m going to probably sign up for the MDI Marathon, so this summer will probably be the same thing!
What would your last meal on earth be?
I'll say what I miss the most and if somebody was like, April, you can have anything you want it would be from Joe's Boathouse, which is no longer here. They had a Peaks Island French toast on Sunday mornings and it was delicious. And also the French Toast from The Front Room as well!
If you are a parent who survived 2020 and are still navigating the rocky waters of 2021, I have a present for you. And that present is waiting for you at the Harraseeket Inn in Freeport in the form of their Pool & Pizza Family Package. The package includes, on top of a one night's stay, the following:
I mean: a parent's dream amirite?! And the best part of all - the entire stay with all of this included (I mean, two full meals, people!) was only $179. I honestly think it's the deal of the century and for any of you who could realllllllly use a staycation or just simply a change of scenery for the night - I really couldn't recommend it any more.
We privately swam (and laughed) for an hour, let our daughter eat pizza in bed, ate too much popcorn snuggled up watching a movie and created family memories that I know will stick with our daughter forever. We stayed up late, slept in (well, by sleep in I mean 7AM, because, you know, 4 year olds) and then enjoyed a full breakfast - pancakes and bacon, for the win!
While we mostly hung at the hotel to kick back and relax, we also walked into Freeport and window shopped for awhile. No car needed while staying at the Harraseeket Inn - downtown Freeport is less than a 5 minute walk.
The hotel itself has a timeless charm and they have done an excellent job of keeping things safe and clean during COVID. They've got their systems down, and we felt completely at ease and comfortable the entire trip. Room is spotless, beds are comfy.
I don't know if this package will remain forever - so, my fellow tired/out of ideas to keep them busy/let it be summer soon parents - treat yourself and your family. I promise you'll be glad you did.
I'll admit that lately I have been feeling the Zoom fatigue pretty hard. I spend a good portion of my week on Zoom calls in some form or another, and while jumping on a call for happy hour with friends in the beginning of the pandemic was the best possible way to maintain sanity - it's certainly lost some of it's charm for me.
However, it was my 10th anniversary with my husband and I was determined to do something special (and delicious.) I'm no stranger to Wine Wise and if you haven't done one of their wine sails you can thank me later for pointing you in their direction. What I had never done, however, was one of their Virtual Wine Dinners that they have been offering throughout the pandemic.
So, with a bit of reluctancy to add another Zoom meeting to my cluttered calendar, I signed my husband and I up for the "Spain in Maine" with Chef Damian Sansonetti from Chaval and Erica Archer, founder of Wine Wise and Sommelier extraordinaire.
Erica delivers. And I mean this both literally and figuratively. She literally drives to every attendee's house and drops off the food and wine a couple hours before the event and most dishes come ready to be plated or they provide the minimal instructions needed to heat or prepare a dish or two.
We got our table setup as instructed by Erica and joined the call. I was delighted to see a couple faces I recognized and a whole crowd of people I didn't. I expected to be lead through the wine pairings and walked through Chef Damian's approach to our magnificent food we got to eat, but what I didn't expect was the sense of community within the Zoom Room. In the beginning, while taking our first sips of wine, we were all asked to go around and introduce ourselves.
It was one gentleman's birthday, and he thanked us all for coming to his party. There was the couple who were frontline workers that got their vaccines recently. We cheered and celebrated the milestone with them. One woman expressed how much she missed hugs, especially ones from her grandkids - which was met with nods and deep breaths of agreement. There was one couple who had gifted this dinner to their neighbors - all four on the call, drinking, laughing and enjoying each other's company - virtually, for now. We got to hear about Chef Damian's fight for his restaurant and this industry during the pandemic and his deep love of his incredible wife, Chef Ilma Lopez. There were repeat customers who came back not just for another dose of great food and wine, but for another dose of the atmosphere. I held my husband's hand under the table, just like I would on any other date night at one of our favorite spots. Besides there being 20+ other people on our date, I forgot I was on a Zoom call altogether.
Chef Damian talked us through his process on crafting each dish and Erica guided us through what to look for in each of the wine pairings. If you've ever eaten at Chaval, I don't need to tell you how inventive the dishes are. This food during this virtual dinner was no exception. And the wine! Both wines came from some of the most well regarded wine producers in Spain. They were something that I wouldn't normally pick out for myself, but now I will actively seek them out. For the food, my personal favorite was the first dish: a Tortilla Española de Langosta. This dish would have taken me 4 years to make. My husband's favorite, pictured below, was the Maine Turnips & Radishes, Boquerones, and Maine Bluefin Tuna "Mojama de Corazón." And I'm embarrassed to say how quickly we ate the surprise treat from Ilma Lopez at the end of the meal: a beautifully intricate, delicate Crema Catalana with Maine Wild Blueberries. Learning that their daughter helped make the sugar crystals we sprinkled on top made it that much sweeter.
And I'm not sure if Erica knows it, but she's not just a sommelier - she's really a skilled performer. She helped seamlessly weave the conversation all night, welcomed and invited everyone to contribute thoughts or ask questions while also managing to keep us on track. As an actress myself, let me tell you: it's a skill to keep your audience actively engaged for two hours. She had no problem doing so.
When I closed my computer at the end of the night, I looked at my husband and said "I loved that." Besides the dinner, I was captivated by listening to Erica and Chef Damien talk about their respective areas for the evening. Though you can taste the love and thoughtfulness that goes into one of these dishes, it's a different experience when you get to actually hear about it from the Chef. The conversation flowed so effortlessly the whole evening, but I guess that's what happens when you witness someone talk about what fuels them. It's their whole world, and I was just grateful to share in a moment of it.
If you're like me and feel like a Zoombie at this point in the year - make the exception for one of these Virtual Dinners. Because it's more than the food and wine that will make you one of the regulars - it's the feeling of finally being a part of something again. Unmute yourself and join the fun.
Carla Tracy is everywhere. Well, more specifically, she’s everywhere that I want to be.
Whenever I sit down to plan an adventure in Maine, as I start digging into the details of our trip and figuring out the logistics of our stay, where we’ll eat and the dreamy adventures to be had - there’s almost always a common thread when I look at our itinerary. And that’s Carla Tracy.
Carla Tracy serves as the PR person for some of the most celebrated spots in Maine and the ones that sit at the top of my must do list. And it’s not a coincidence that these places are my most saved instagram posts or serve as the next getaway of your dreams - it’s because she’s really good at her job. She’s good at her job because Carla understands that behind all of these establishments are hard working, conscientious Mainers that all have their own story that are deserving of their own spotlight. Getting to know these people - their personal triumphs, goals, worries - is what informs the type of awareness she creates for her clients. It’s individualized, it’s personal and it’s so very Maine.
And when I say she is everywhere, I don’t just mean listed on her clients websites as the PR contact. She’s actually out experiencing and immersing herself in Maine, not just pitching about it. She’s probably sitting next to you at that new restaurant opening and she definitely has tickets to that event that sold out months ago.
I had asked her if we could do a 15 minute interview and we ended up chatting for an hour. She’s incredibly easy to talk to and it’s no surprise to me why someone would be drawn to working with her. She lights up talking about her love of Maine, the adventures with her husband and two boys, and of course, her clients.
From my perspective, this isn’t just her job, this is just her. She loves Maine, and she wants you to love Maine too.
How did you get started in the PR world? What was the transition like to become your own boss?
CARLA: So, I got started in PR in 2003 in New York City. I was an intern at what would become the only place I've ever worked - Laura Davidson Public Relations. It was a luxury travel PR Company that I discovered when I was sitting in a communications class at Marist College. I was trying to figure out whether to major in PR or Journalism and one of the students in front of me raised her hand and kept talking about her internship and how she was writing a press release for this private island and working on something for Australia. And so after class, I remember this so vividly, I grabbed her and I said: “Can I just ask you where you're interning? This sounds really fabulous.” Long story short is I got the next internship after her. I started there in January 2003 and was hired as the president's assistant right after graduation in May 2003. And so I worked there for 13 years and left as the Vice President.
The transition to working for myself really was born when I decided to move to Maine while still working in New York. I decided to try the work part-time in New York/work part-time from Maine thing and was out to prove to my boss: I can do this. I can do two weeks in Maine and two weeks in New York. I'll fly in for client meetings if I have to. I was doing that for a while but then once we decided to have kids, I was like, okay, this isn't going to work anymore. And when you're with a company for that long, you start to write your own Exit Plan.
When I was working in Maine, but still with LDPR, I had heard a rumor that a hotel was going to open at the top of Exchange Street and Congress. I said to my boss, I know we don't ever cold call or anything like that but if I could find out who's responsible for this - would you let me just dig around a little bit on it? And the next thing I know I find myself in Jim Brady's office giving him a PowerPoint presentation about why he should hire LDPR because we're a New York agency but I live right here in Portland and I understand everything local. We won the business. I remember it was December 5th. We started January 1st and the hotel opened May 2015. A year later in July 2016, Laura Davidson was incredibly generous and suggested to the Press Hotel team that they go with me when I leave LDPR and start freelancing on my own - so it was the push I really needed and I’ve been their PR partner ever since.
And also I realized that I really like specializing in New England. I found that there was definitely a need for smaller businesses that can't afford the often expensive monthly retainer of agencies - but that have a really cool story to tell. And so I started taking more of these smaller clients and it's just been great. I love it.
I also think there's a trust factor with having a niche. Like, oh, Carla’s the person to go through for Maine things because I really do pride myself on only recommending things that I've either done or I've heard are really great - but the trust also comes because I don’t only recommend my clients. If it's not the right fit for the writer, I’ll say you should contact so and so, she’s the PR person to go through.
What does your typical work day look like?
CARLA: Generally speaking, my typical work day has a couple of conference calls with clients to do some PR updates. I use my calendar as a time management tool so, I’ll say, okay I’ve got this number of hours per week - here's what's on deck for some clients and I block out chunks of time to pitch per client. So, if I'm working with Luke's Lobster, or Vertical Harvest, Tops’l Farm - I'll plug in hours that I'm pitching those clients. And that's the most fun part of the day – the pitching, talking with the media and brainstorming with them.
That’s what I think separates people who move here from New York – they’re bringing those contacts and relationships with them. And especially in COVID – because you can't go out and have lunch and coffee with people. I still go to New York, Boston and other cities to meet with people once or twice a year normally and I had actually just done that in January of 2020 - so I had just come off this amazing media desk-side appointment week in January and then the world shut down in March. But I still had all of these fresh conversations, I knew what people were up to and that’s the only way to really build that relationship - because you can’t just do that on email. You can a little, but I wouldn't call it a relationship. So, that’s really the best part of any day.
So! A lot of pitching, a lot of planning, ideation and brainstorming.
I really appreciate your transparency, advocacy and openness on instagram. I think it’s easy, especially when you are responsible for cultivating your own client list, to try to appeal to everyone. I never get the sense that you censor yourself or remain silent on crucial, important topics - and frankly, it’s refreshing. That’s really more of a comment, but welcome your thoughts.
CARLA: I just want to say thank you. Social media is still a thing that can make me nervous because you never know how something is going to be perceived. So, I appreciate that.
I sat in on a workshop you hosted (“How to Make Your Business Media Friendly”) through CEI Maine and you were so generous with all of the practical tips you gave everyone in attendance. If you had to boil some of that great info down into one major tip or practice a business could take tomorrow to make them more media friendly - what would it be?
CARLA: I think the essential thing is to make sure you have a good website. Which doesn't always feel like a PR thing, however, let's say you didn't have a public relations person or even a communications person - anybody can find you. So when they do find you, make sure that they can get the information that they're after. You'd be surprised by how many websites do not have a clear email address to contact or someone who's not monitoring that email. It's definitely hard to boil it down to one thing because there's a lot someone could do, but like you said, if you could only do one thing: it’s make sure you have a good website.
Your client list is basically my dream collection of places to stay, eat and adventure in Maine. What would you say is the coolest part about working with these Maine gems? Favorite perks of the job?
CARLA: It’s the people. And that's the beauty of working for yourself is you can really decide is this a person I like and want to work with and are they open to learning how PR works.
A lot of times when a PR relationship doesn't work it's because people think oh, I've hired my PR person, they are a vendor, I can go away for a little bit now. And in fact when you hire a PR person you are going to spend more time on PR yourself because there are a lot of things that we need from you. Interviews, photos, to host someone. Someone who understands that is just the best. And also just the joy of seeing the results for clients where I know that PR has moved the needle in some way for them either sales-wise directly in revenue or helped change a perception of something that they wanted to change.
And then the perk of the job is I'm a traveler. So, in my agency days, I would go to Africa, China and Australia and all over the US and the Caribbean. I actually led the Caribbean team at one time for the agency - we had so many amazing clients there; some of my best travel memories are with my colleagues from those days.
But Maine travel is just amazing. And I've only just scratched the surface of it.
I imagine this is an impossible question - but, I am going to ask anyway. What would your perfect day in Maine look like? Or, what’s the last family adventure you had that was just pure perfection?
CARLA: I love all the seasons for different reasons, but summer in Maine, there’s just nothing like it. I refuse to travel outside of the state in the summer. But a perfect day for me in Maine - probably has some type of water adventure like going out on a boat to an island, having some really good food, and always, I would have my kids in tow.
One really good day was when I introduced my boys to oysters for the first time. Ben Hamilton was a new oyster grower at the time for Love Point Oysters and we were one of the first people to take his oyster tour. They had this great boat and it was just a picture perfect day. We went to The Goslings and I'm always learning something new about the geography of Maine and my kids are like slurping oysters and throwing the shells off his boat, and we’re just learning a ton about the oyster business.
I would also say we just love to go to the midcoast and do even a one or two night stay. We’re going to Tops’l Farm this weekend and we're renting one of the Cottages and doing their winter picnic. My kids talk about Tops’l Farm like it’s this faraway magical place - and really it’s like an hour and a half from Portland. That’s what I love about living here.
What would your last meal on earth be?
CARLA: The first thing that came to mind is the Spicy Night Market soup at Long Grain in Camden. I got introduced to it by Joe Ricchio and he was like, trust me on this, you’ve just gotta do it. And now my mouth is watering just even talking about.
Location: Cape Elizabeth, Maine
Parking: Extremely Limited (3-4 spots)
Dogs: Permitted October-March
Family Friendly: Yes
This. Is. My. Spot.
Great day? I head here. Annoying/frustrating day? I head here. Some of my best ideas and some of my greatest frustrations get worked out on my walk to this beach. Once I arrive, no matter if it's the summer or dead of winter, this view has a magical way of helping me sort through whatever it is that is occupying my head space.
Cliff House Beach is tucked into a residential neighborhood in Cape Elizabeth. If you didn't know it was there, you never would be able to find it. It has extremely limited parking and is a true locals beach. Unless the tide is super low, this beach is comprised of rocks - which, honestly, I love as it limits the amount of people who visit.
I've probably been to this beach well over 100 times at this point. And this is the total truth: I have never arrived and not audibly gasped or muttered something under my breath about how remarkably stunning it is.
Need some time to yourself to collect your thoughts, connect with nature and watch some boats pass by? Take my advice: grab a rock at Cliff House Beach and breathe deeply, my friend.
Mr. Tuna was on my radar well before we moved to Maine. But my first official Mr. Tuna experience was at Thompson's Point during a Lake Street Dive concert. I don't know if I was more excited to finally get to try a handroll or see my favorite band live.
These perfectly sized hand rolls make for the perfect snack or lunch. The flavor combos are spot on, it's impeccably fresh and they are constantly coming up with new offerings. My personal fav hand rolls are the Tuna Tataki, Spicy Hamachi and the Spicy Crunchy Shrimp. But wait - I also love pretty much all of their maki rolls. And the miso soup. Oh, and the Sashimi Tasting. Crap, wait, also whatever is on special. Ordering online is IMPOSSIBLE because I want EVERYTHING.
Mr. Tuna can be found all over Portland and beyond - they pop up at breweries, Thompson's Point, etc. - so it's best to always check their insta to see where they are in any given week. They have a permanent brick and mortar inside the Portland Public Market in Monument Square so you never have to go without. But chances are, you haven't scrolled through instagram without seeing the iconic Mr. Tuna Hand Roll pic at the Eastern Promenade, which is my personal favorite place to spot the truck. I have about 4.2 billion snaps on my phone holding up a handroll with the water in the background. The ultimate FOMO pic.
My perfect Summer Saturday includes: packing up the fam, loading up the car with blankets and heading straight to the Eastern Prom to setup shop to people watch all afternoon. With some Mr. Tuna hand rolls secured - that's really all you need to be one happy human.
Open Year Round for Takeout
Location: Portland, Maine
Parking: Metered parking on Washington Ave
Family Friendly: Yes
Ramonas arrived just when we needed them most. They opened during the peak of the pandemic and as soon as they did, like the bright ray of sunshine that they are, it became almost impossible to get your hands on one of their sandwiches. As soon as they would open online for ordering in any given day, they would sell out almost immediately. I was never quick enough on the draw to get my hands on one in the beginning.
But the day came when I was successful. And then I proceeded to order lunch from them 3 days in that same week. My husband is a sandwich guy - constantly on the hunt for the best of the best - and once we ate one of Ramona's Italian Hoagies, we found it. With a mouth full of meat and cheese, he said: "This is it." The dreamiest of dreamy, nap inducing, totally killer go-to lunch time sammie.
They are massive. We always order one and split it and even then I am deliriously, happily full. The bread is what truly makes these our favorite sandwiches in Portland - but then again, any hoagie connoisseur knows that without killer bread, you really don't have anything at all. I also find their online ordering really seamless - it's quick, easy, efficient and it's also ready exactly when they say it will be. Picking up through their takeout window is a cinch and everyone is always super friendly and upbeat. We also frequent Ramona's for their breakfast sandwiches. Exhibit A:
While they are new to town, they have already made an indelible mark on Portland's food scene. I love them so much, we dedicated a card to them:
When I mentioned to some friends that I was interviewing the woman behind SoPo Cottage, I was unanimously met with: “Ugh, that’s my dream job!” But, let’s just say, none of them are in the business of renovating and restoring old homes in South Portland and if I am being honest, probably won’t ever be. And I’d be lying if I said I don’t bookmark and ogle over Sopo Cottage’s instagram page and think... what if?
On paper, HOW FUN! In reality, I imagine, holy smokes. Because what Laurel LaBauve does isn’t flipper-style, cheap, flimsy makeovers. She’s going ground up and transforming these homes by fixing deep, major issues. She focuses on making the homes more energy efficient by finding better solutions for the insulation, heating, plumbing, electrical, etc. And then, of course, she decorates them and enhances them to make them completely and utterly stunning. But a lot of the work is what we don’t see and that’s the work that keeps the dreamers like myself at bay.
On top of the renovation of these homes, Laurel updates and maintains a very detailed blog and social media. Her blog is chocked full of before and after pics, but also insightful, truly in depth information on how she actually completed the renovations step by step. It’s obvious to me that she cares not just about the finished project, but also transparency. Her blog reads like a diary entry and you feel the blood, sweat and tears that goes into her projects. She has (rightfully) created this sensational buzz that follows every project she works on.
I live diagonal from one of her recent homes. Watching the work unfold from my backyard felt like I was getting the show of a lifetime. I’d silently cheer once they completed siding or when the landscaping went in. The completed home is remarkable but somehow, miraculously, feels like it’s always been there in a way. Which is ultimately the real beauty of what Laurel does: she seamlessly adds updated refinement to our neighborhood without sacrificing any of the charm.
She’s also kind and super funny to boot.
Of course, this is easy for me to say since I live in SoPo, but as I know you’d probably agree, there’s just nothing better than living in this area. What made you originally make the decision to purposely and dutifully only renovate in the SoPo area?
LAUREL: Years ago now our realtor told us - not so subtlety - that you know, we really should only consider Falmouth or Cape Elizabeth. And we’re driving around, looking at areas and we just loved South Portland. We loved the proximity to the beach, we loved the style of housing that was there - these cute old houses - and, ultimately, we said no, we want to live in South Portland. And this is before places like Scratch Bakery was here - but I think, you know, it was inevitable for it to become what it is today because of it’s fabulous location, it’s great vibe.
I know they are all probably like your children - but if you had to choose a home, or a room, a kitchen, entryway, etc. - that still frequently enters your thoughts/made you super duper proud, what would it be?
LAUREL: It really is the children thing - I don’t think there is one that I can say I like the best! What I will say is what I think I found that I like are these ranchers - a 1960 or a 1950 rancher which is like the dullest, most architecturally boring thing you could find - you knock out some walls, you raise some ceilings and they become pretty amazing. So, that was kind of a surprise for me when we did the first one - it was like, wow! This is a really cool house! We just finished another one and I had the same type of experience.
Do you offer private design services? I ask this, of course, mostly selfishly. I bookmarked your “mudroom” from Romancing the Ranch and casually leave my phone open to that picture in the hopes my husband will take the hint.
LAUREL: I did a little bit of that at the beginning and I found it took me away from the focus I had on my own projects. I’ve done things for friends and my children are constantly bugging me to help them - but for the most part, I don’t see going down that road. Now again, the realities of the real estate market is I may still not be able to do this forever because the costs could get too crazy. And part of it is...me. The house I am getting ready to start work with - I’ve already been bugging the South Portland Historical Society, I’ve already been in touch with Portland Landmarks to try to find more information about this house and bungalows in general, doing the deed search for this house and we can’t quite figure out when it was built - I am doing all of this research and it’s probably not normal! This is not what normal people do! But I just love delving into that.
Do you have a go to group of craftspeople that you use for each project or does it vary?
LAUREL: My plumber, whom I dearly love, we’ve worked on 17 houses together, has announced that he’s retiring. So I’m now searching for a new plumber which is, you know, a tough thing to do. Because my projects aren’t simple, run of the mill kind of projects. I need someone who can be creative and help solve problems with me. Finding somebody that I really enjoy working with is always a challenge - but in general, I try to work with the same folks as much as possible. And once I develop a relationship I like to keep it for long term.
When you are not renovating, what is your favorite date night spot or activity in Maine?
LAUREL: I’ll tell you, COVID has really highlighted this for me. We love to go to restaurants. We love to have dinners just the two of us, my husband and I, and we love going and meeting friends for dinner. And the fact that we really haven’t been able to do that is something that just makes me really sad. It is probably the thing I will look forward to most when we reopen. We really love - and they opened right before the pandemic - Judy Gibson. They have just absolutely amazing, creative food. We order takeout from them and I’m hoping we’ll get to eat in there again sometime in the not too distant future.
And my favorite question for any and everyone: what would your last meal on earth be?
LAUREL: My husband is an amazing cook. I’m very lucky. He makes a cajun shepherd’s pie. He was born and raised in New Orleans and has a great appreciation for all New Orleans cuisine. And this shepherd’s pie - it takes hours to make. He has to julienne all of these vegetables, he’ll use ground pork and beef, I don’t know what else goes into it - but it is my favorite. He’ll make it a lot for my birthday because it really is a special thing.
Did I mention that after each renovation she hosts a fabulous open house? See you at the Bungalow when it's ready!
Location: Freeport, Maine
Parking; Large parking lot, plenty of spots.
Dogs: Permitted at Outside Seating areas.
Family Friendly: Yes
I debated which category to place this post under - drinks or eats. As the name suggests, Maine Beer Co is celebrated for their craft brews, but I often choose to head there for their wood fired pizzas. Give me one of their Lunch IPA's and a Bacon Sprout pie and... leave me alone to enjoy.
Their brewery and tasting room in Freeport is...massive. Truly, it's so spacious, but somehow remains extremely welcoming. They upped their game as well in their patio seating during COVID and the flow indoors and outdoors is top notch.
I also usually leave muttering to my husband about how kind and awesome the waitstaff was. Seriously, every time. They are unwaveringly friendly and helpful, even during the most trying year of them all (peace out, 2020!) It's easy to make an online reservation and the speed at which they get your food/beer on your table after ordering is some sort of magic. Speedy magicians, I tell ya.
Location: Portland, Maine
Parking: Metered parking, plenty of spots in their parking lots
Dogs: Depends on event, mostly permitted
Family Friendly: Depends on event, but mostly family friendly
To me, Thompson's Point is an experience. On any given day, it's pretty much guaranteed that there will be something creative, delicious or downright fun on their event calendar. Not to mention, the new Children's Museum & Theatre is currently being built there and it just so happens to be across from Bissell Brothers. These people know what they are doing for weary parents.
While it's hard to narrow down my favorite events that I have attended at Thompson's Point, I am going to try to highlight just three. But I encourage you to bookmark their event calendar and make it to as many things as possible!
I've been to a handful of these pre-COVID and a bunch during COVID outdoors. No matter the season, the space, etc. I look forward to these events so much. I put them on my calendar months in advance and most of the presents I give to people come from a Marker's Market made by local Maine Makers. And duh, of course, I always end up with some goodies for myself. Last time I walked away with some incredible macrame plant hangers, hot pepper jelly and so much more! And a double bonus of the markets: there are always delicious food trucks and a bar. Score.
The best concert I have ever attended was Lake Street Dive at Thompson's Point. It was a glorious summer evening, I stuffed my face with Mr. Tuna hand rolls and danced the night away. During COVID times, Thompson's Point quickly adapted and rolled out a Summer Concert Series with immense safety measures put into place.
If I have to choose just one experience that I have had at Thompson's Point to be the winner of all winners, this would be it. To my family, Thursday nights in the summer means Summer Sunsets at the Point. We've told pretty much everyone we know about it because it's that much fun. Live music, food trucks lining the perimeter, a bar and fun activities for the kiddos (pre-COVID included balloon animals, face painting, etc.) It's dog friendly and uber kid friendly. Bring a blanket, an appetite and snuggle up to watch an incredible sunset with your favorite people.
See you at The Point!
Location: Portland, Maine
Parking; Metered Parking in Old Port
Dogs: Permitted in Dog Friendly designated areas
Family Friendly: Yes
There are only a couple places in the Old Port that I find myself continually tucking into for beers. Obviously, there are lots of options for drinks and eats in the Old Port, but chances are, you'll only find me at the same few. And one of those is The Thirsty Pig.
They were already pandemic proof because of their killer back deck situation. Give me a sunny day, a Substance Ale in hand and one (okay, probably two, you got me) of their Pub Pretzels and they may have to ask me to leave. Honestly, it doesn't even have to be sunny, just give me a couple hours free day or night and I'll be here.
The other amazing thing about the back deck is that if you didn't know it existed you wouldn't be able to see it from Exchange Street (which is the main street in the Old Port that is usually crowded with folks looking for an exact spot - like the one I secure at The Thirsty Pig - to nosh and drink a perfectly beautiful Saturday away.) I very rarely can't find a spot. And best of all, we always roll as a family of three and we've always felt totally welcome with our kid. She happily munches on hot dogs and sings along to whatever tunes they are playing.
Find your way to The Thirsty Pig's back deck. But don't take my spot.
Before I moved to Maine, I can freely say that I unabashedly stalked The Well at Jordan's Farm. The farm, the food, the private dining gazebos, the pick your own flowers - all of it extremely stalk worthy. It was the first place I wanted to eat when we moved here and as it always goes - life gets in the way (cancelled babysitters, not able to grab a res and oh you know, a pandemic.)
But this summer, we finally made it. And during what was proving to be one of the worst/weirdest summers to date (thanks, 2020) - the dinner we had at The Well was truly one of my absolute favorite memories not just of this summer, but of our time in Maine. They are pandemic proof - the dining is already out on their beautiful farm and the gazebos and picnics table are not only more than properly distanced, they sit amongst their wild flowers grown on their property. While we snagged one of their picnic tables, booking a private gazebo it at the top of my to do list for next summer.
Chef Jason William's food is made with local ingredients, some of which you can see a short distance away in their garden. It's bright, fresh and delicious. You can tell the amount of planning, the inspiration and the deep love of the ingredients that is in every dish.
I always try to wrap up early and efficiently during COVID times so the waitstaff has plenty of time to clean up and prep if they have another seating. But this was a hard reservation to leave. It felt like a beautiful dream in an otherwise chaotic world. We felt safe, had a chance to really connect with each other and to feel, dare I say, normal.
It exceeded my stalking expectations. Thank you, thank you, thank you to the entire team.
Location: Oakdale Neighborhood in Portland, Maine. 5 Min Drive to Old Port.
Accommodations: 3 Separate Units in one colonial home.
1st Floor: 3 Bedrooms, 2 Baths
2nd Floor: 3 Bedrooms, 1.5 Baths
3rd Floor: Loft with 1 Bedroom, 1 Bath
Amenities & Perks: All 3 units come with Washer & Dryer, Strong Wifi, Televisions, Fully stocked kitchens with stove and dishwasher, Parking, Loft Unit has balcony.
If you're local to Maine and need a reliable contractor, get in line. If you're local to Maine and need a night or two away from your house after a year of quarantine, that line is also long.
...But, okay, I have a secret. I have both a reliable (and kind, knowledgable, shows-up-when-he-says-he-is-going-to) contractor who happens to own one of the best AirBnBs close to downtown Portland. We are currently putting on an addition to our house, and as it became clear we would definitely need to scoot for a few months to give them the space they need to complete the job, we started to search for some places to stay. After mentioning to our contractor that we just weren't seeing what we wanted in a rental for the period we needed, he casually mentioned he had a unit close to downtown that we were welcome to stay at if needed.
He's so nice that he doesn't even mention his unit in fear that people will feel pressured to take it when he's completing a project. And while I am hesitant to share my secret wealth of both a friendly contractor who completes jobs on schedule and who owns a gorgeous unit that he takes meticulous care of - here we are, friends.
Eleftherios ("Lefty") owns Ethos Carpentry and his AirBnB is in the beautiful, family-friendly Oakdale Neighborhood. You can drive to the Old Port in 5 Minutes, or take a pleasant 1.5 mile walk through Deering Oaks Park (and probably walk through an awesome Farmers Market) to get yourself downtown. But the best part of this neighborhood is you don't have to head downtown - some of my favorite spots in the city are not only in the Oakdale neighborhood, but about a 1 minute walk from Lefty's unit.
At the end of the street sits Rose Foods. It'd be criminal for you to visit Portland and not get a bagel and schmear from this spot. And it just so happens, my other favorite breakfast spot (when I've decided to pretend to be healthy for one full day) is Blake Orchard which is a 1/2 mile walk away. And the food mecca just goes on and on - there's Woodford Food & Beverage (get the burger), Bird & Co (any and all of the tacos) and my most favorite sandwich of all time (turkey with hots) at a true locals joint, The Local Press, is less than a mile down the road.
And you'll just need to cross Forest Ave and walk 5 minutes to be at one of the best walks in Portland - the Back Cove trail. A 4 mile loop with perfect views of the city.
And if you're not local to Maine but looking for an escape with your family or friends, but don't want to be on top of each other - this AirBnB setup is the perfect solution. Since the building is owned by one couple, it's easy and seamless to rent out the entire house. Rent out for a rehearsal dinner, wedding, family gathering, etc. Every family or group of friends gets their own floor!
We chose the second floor unit as it had everything we needed for a family of 3. Secretly, I dreamed about staying in The Loft by myself (listen, Moms need breaks, people!) but alas. And I have to say, these pictures don't really do it justice for how much space you actually get. These units are extremely spacious and gives every member of your family plenty of breathing room.
Lefty gutted and renovated these units and put a tremendous amount of love into each of them. When looking for a spot to stay, or a person to call to complete your dream home job, I'd start here.
The Loft: Unit 3
Second Floor: Unit 2
First Floor: Unit 1
I live in Laisee Holden’s old house. Laisee, a local Mainer with an impressive philanthropic resume, is married to Luke Holden of Luke’s Lobster.
The day we closed on the house, as we unbuckled our seat belts to head inside to finalize the deal, two new Mainers ready to put down roots, my husband placed his hand on my leg and lovingly asked, “Are you going to be weird?”
I’m an actress by trade. My mother ran a children’s theatre growing up, I went to Emerson College for Acting and I founded a business that was recently acquired for college audition coaching. Essentially, I love a big crowd, certainly love the spotlight and am not easily intimidated. There’s just not much that really rattles me.
But my husband knows the truth. Celebrities? Not phased. Opening night of a new show? Child’s play. Being in the same room as a restaurateur or entrepreneur? Complete buffoon.
When we toyed with the idea of moving to Maine, I thought (like most of you reading this, I imagine, at some point in your life . . . admit it): I would love to own a restaurant! C’mon, I’m a half decent cook and I know how to run a business, I can do this! But no, you guys, no, I can’t. There is a special magic that surrounds these people, an unbridled fearlessness that not everyone has. When I went to Acting school, I was often met with the phrase: “if you can do anything else with your life and be happy, you should do that.” I’m sure there is a restaurant equivalent, and I guarantee every restaurateur and Chef has heard it.
It’s that notion that resonates with me. That makes me jittery, awkward, thrilled. I know what it’s like to attempt a life in an industry that’s unforgiving and grueling. What it’s like to fight for a chance to even do your job - a job with tough hours and tricky schedules with the majority of your work done on the weekends, one that comes with an understanding you will miss friends’ weddings and kids’ milestones, no financial security and one that is done in total service to your audience.
You don’t go into the restaurant or performing arts industry for any other reason except that you have to. There’s no other way.
So why do these people - who I can rationalize in my head are normal people with similar dysfunctional, hopeful dreams - make me a total idiot when I am in their presence? I imagine it’s similar to the feeling you get when you see your first Broadway play. Losing yourself in the story as soon as the lights go up.
I get swept up in the story of a restaurant. What’s going on behind the scenes, taking in the entrances and exits of all of the major characters that make up any given Friday night 7PM reservation. I read for days about what local ingredients they are using, what dish I have to try and where the chef draws their inspiration. Why they make this food, right now, and in particular, why Maine? Is it a couple team? What does their schedule look like if they have kids? What are they running low on tonight and what do they really think I should order? My husband knows not to talk to me on the way to a new restaurant and god forbid we are running a minute late he knows he will pay for it later. And if we are somewhere that the Chef makes the rounds at the end of a meal, forget it, I usually pretend I have a mouth full of dessert to avoid the word vomit. In my husband’s words: I get weird.
When I got word of who the sellers were of the house, I was instantly transported back to the Upper East Side of NYC where my husband (then boyfriend) and I would treat ourselves to a roll at Luke’s on our limited law school and actor budget. One time, while waiting in line, a customer casually pointed to the back and explained to his buddy, “that’s Luke” - who appeared to be knee deep in prep work. It was the first time that feeling ran through me - like, right, someone made this place. The person in the back created this space - a place where I store date nights, memories, and daydreams about our future - it’s always over food, in the beautiful comfort of a place that someone else has created for us.
But here we are at the signing for our new sweet little house. A beautiful Maine day. Like a ridiculous, picturesque day. A bald eagle literally flew over the ocean right in front of us. We’re laughing with our realtor, I’m pretending to be calm.
And in walk the Holdens. And on all accounts, they were super normal, extremely nice, and to everyone else in the room that day, just two Mainers happy to sell an old house. I was a bubbly mess.
I reached out to Laisee to see if I could steal them for an interview to further investigate if they were, in fact, just normal people and she kindly obliged. And just to make me a smidge more awkward and nervous during our Zoom session, my internet decided today was the day to take a break. The first chunk of the interview the Holdens patiently watched me scramble to switch connections and observe my face transform into 18 different shades of red.
Things on my end are delayed - are you delayed? Okay, well let’s begin - wait. Let’s - um. I think it might be - it's my internet. I can switch it really quick. Is this better? Now, I think it's.. I think it was my end. Anyway. Okay, cool. Cool. So yeah, great.
Okay! So, I won’t even ask you if I was awkward during the house signing as I already know you guys are too nice to say yes. Is there anyone or anything you guys fan over pretty hard? Or a moment of imposter syndrome or looking around at what you created in disbelief?
LAISEE: Luke and I have both been lucky to travel a lot and meet interesting people - but I think I'd say I’m mostly a homebody and I get nervous, but Luke never gets nervous except for I think before How I Built This.
LUKE: I love that podcast. It was entirely nerve-racking because we did it live and you got such a short period of time to tell 10 years worth of stories that relate back to the team and the success of the team. That night I didn't sleep at all - not before, afterwards - because I just kept replaying in my head what I thought I did or did not say and how it might relate back to the team.
Well, I love that podcast and you didn’t sound nervous at all to me! On a different note, this has obviously been a very strange and difficult time for so many people, and I have been following how quickly the Luke’s team had to pivot and adjust when COVID struck as well. At home or work, what’s an adaption or lesson you’ve taken away from COVID? Anything positive that happened that you want to continue to incorporate moving forward?
LUKE: I generally think so - like my mom is a retired teacher, one of Laisee’s sisters is a teacher, two of her sisters are nurses and it's been wonderful how this pandemic has drummed up appreciation for those professions. They’re always tough, they're always under compensated, underappreciated. It's been nice that Luke’s has been able to participate in supporting those on the front line. And I would include teachers in that same vein. We've been able to provide food, we've been able to create appreciation packs for nurses and teachers and we've definitely taken that as a drum beat that we hope to continue to make sure we don't lose momentum when we’re on the backside of this pandemic. On the home front what would you say?
LAISEE: I think it was nice at the beginning to have Luke working from home and he could have breakfast with the girls or try to sneak away to have lunch. He wasn't traveling - which beforehand he traveled to New York every two weeks. So, we've been spoiled to have him home. And we've always been appreciative to have kids in Maine - we're so lucky we can go play in the backyard or sneak to the beach. We were appreciative before but we've really taken full advantage of that now.
On that note, my daughter has lived longer in Maine than in Boston where she was born - and I know how lucky she is. As two Mainers, what’s it like growing up here? And PS: this house is still the stomping ground for the neighborhood, kids just walk in and out of our yard all day for manhunt games - as they are doing right now as you can see in the background! It’s awesome.
LAISEE: I was going to say we were so happy that you guys had moved into that house because what makes Maine so special is the people and the sense of community. It was important to us that a nice family moved in and added to the neighborhood. Our kids get to grow up around people that are hardworking, grounded, kind. Whether it's a neighbor across the street or someone supporting Luke at work, I feel like there's a community that supports each other and they root for each other. And then also just being able to connect with nature. To be outside, in the woods or at the beach - that was important to us that our kids could be outside which I think is just the best way to learn and grow.
LUKE: Poppy will have her commercial lobstering license when she’s seven years old.
Ha! Well, I can confirm everyone in this neighborhood is doing great. Okay, for a fun question: What is your perfect date night in Maine? Favorite restaurant?
LUKE: Our first date was actually lobstering. I took Laisee out on Saco River and we went lobstering down at Wood Island and we still have some traps down there. The two of us love to be on the water - especially in the summertime there’s nothing more beautiful than that. We’ll go out and catch lobsters, stripers, catch dinner - and ultimately we love going out and harvesting and then coming home and making something as simple as lobster mac and cheese.
I think our favorite place to eat - we’re such a fan of Chef Ginn over at Evo. Anytime we get an opportunity to support him and everything that he's doing, we’re kind of all in on that in addition to getting just a really good meal.
What’s your order at Scratch Bakery? Cookie Jar?
LAISEE: Our new house is right in between Scratch and Cookie Jar and people thought we bought it because of that reason. Big Cookie Jar fans. We actually had it at our wedding and it's a good way to get the kids in the strollers - like, there's a treat at the end! We get the sugar cookies at Cookie Jar and at Scratch - I think that Poppy ate a scratch muffin everyday for the last two summers.
And my last question: what would your last meals on Earth be?
LAISEE: My last meal would be blueberry pancakes. I hate to admit this but we ate them for dinner last night. But there’s only one chef in this household and it’s definitely not me.
LUKE: We heard a lot of rumblings last night while she's trying to make these blueberry pancakes. My last meal would be a surf and turf. Just steak and grilled lobster tails.
Well, that's all I have for you guys and I am super appreciate of your time. Want to see a little of what we’ve done to the house? (Awkward showing of the kitchen here.) There’s good juju in this house.
LAISEE: I was there for almost 10 years. At the beginning I was in my 20s and traveling all the time and there was just a suitcase - and by the end I was bringing Poppy home from the hospital and I was married. A lot of memories in that house.
Okay, okay. Two kind and down to earth Mainers. And after this, instead of hiding, I might even say hi to them if I see them around town.
...But this is only entry one, y’all.
Each entry in this series will be coupled with a donation to a Maine based organization. To learn more and support this entry’s donation, please visit Re Up Maine.
Location: Portland, Maine
Accommodations: 15 Rooms in a Historic Mansion
Amenities & Perks: Contact-free check-in, complimentary parking, multiple in-room package options (Tandem Breakfast in Bed, Wine, Charcuterie & more), Adventure Guides, Dog Friendly Rooms and A Spa (temporarily closed due to COVID)
I got so much work done while staying at The Francis. When I woke up after a comfy night's sleep, I made myself some coffee (thank you, Tandem Bakery and thank you to my 4 year old that has ingrained in me a 6AM wake-up no matter what day of the week it is/where I am/my desire to sleep in.) I hopped back into bed, hot joe in hand and opened my computer to knock out some emails and writing.
The hotel is the perfect place to "work from home." Or WFH (work from hotel), if you will. It's so quiet and just a dream of an atmosphere to get your creative juices flowing. Strong coffee, strong internet, great natural light beaming in, perfection.
Upon reaching inbox zero (which hasn't happened in, oh, a decade) I got a text from the front desk that said "Good morning! Your Tandem B&B is just outside your door when you are ready for it, enjoy!" But you can't ever really be ready for something of this caliber:
But let's rewind. Before I even got to the hotel, about two hours before check-in, I received a most welcomed email: "Good afternoon! This is The Francis Hotel letting you know your room is ready when you are. See you soon!" How great is that? Ever get to your destination, bags in tow, wishing you could drop everything off and get situated before heading out to explore? I love that The Francis does this. Of course, it may not always be possible on their end, but what a great way to make your guests feel welcome and give them the chance to kickstart their getaway even earlier than expected. And for this Momma, ready for a getaway night, I took full advantage and scooted over early.
The Francis is locally owned and operated and you feel that the second you step in. You get the privacy you'd expect from a hotel, but the warm, fuzzy, family feeling you get at a small Inn. With 15 rooms, it's the perfect size to blend the best parts of both a luxury hotel and cozy, charming B&B.
And the room. Oh, the room. It's spacious, flooded with great light, impeccably clean and updated with modern amenities all while keeping the charm of the historic mansion that The Francis is housed in. And check out those high ceilings.
It's easy to take a peak on google maps and see just how well situated The Francis is. But if you've never been to Portland, you may not realize just how convenient it actually is. It's a straight shoot directly to the Casco Bay Bridge which transports you - in mere minutes - to South Portland and Cape Elizabeth, home to the famous Portland Head Light, Fort Williams and incredible beaches. Not only can you walk to the Old Port from The Francis, but some of the best restaurants are a stone's throw away. I took a 5 minute walk and grabbed takeout from Empire Chinese Kitchen - and you may be thinking, on her night away she got Chinese takeout? Wow, she's wild. But if you know, you know. Empire isn't just any restaurant. For one, there's the garlic green beans, and the soup dumplings, not to mention the duck fried rice...okay, I digress. But the fact that you can just stroll over to this Portland icon and walk back to your room and your pork belly buns are still warm, that's major points in my book.
Cape Elizabeth is a funny, beautiful hybrid of residential neighborhoods, top rated tourist attractions, a plethora of stunning beaches and secret, local favorites. All 20 minutes to downtown Portland. I could honestly plan a day in Cape Elizabeth 5 times over and not repeat anything, so narrowing it down to one day was hard!
Cape Elizabeth really is the exception to the rule when it comes to tourist attractions in Maine....like, you really should go to them. They are famous for a reason, and truly, they shouldn't be missed. I usually like to give a hard pass and avoid anything that seems too popular in any area, but after living in South Portland (the town next door to the Cape) and getting to truly immerse myself in all that the Cape offers, you've just gotta do it folks. Embrace the people (masks and six feet, guys) and play tourist here.
However! No Adventure in my book is complete without some secrets. There are a few hidden gems that I'm going to share - and risk being vilified by my neighbors, thank you very muuuuuch - with you all.
If I didn't live here, I'd be jealous of the below adventure. Enjoy!
8AM: Grab a doughnut from The Cookie Jar
Be like a local and start your day with a delicious donut and coffee from The Cookie Jar. It's pretty impossible to choose just one thing to start your day, so I won't judge, get them all. You'll need it for adventure fuel.
10AM: Walk at Two Lights Park or Secret Beach at Kettle Cove
Kick off your Cape Adventure with a breathtaking walk at Two Lights or act like a local at Kettle Cove. Really, this is like choosing the best adventure or the best adventure - you can't go wrong!
You will not be the only person at Two Lights (again, little touristy!) but once you get here, you'll believe me when I say this is one of the places that is worth it. The ocean crashes against the rocky landscape and trails loop and bend throughout the park. Little picnic benches are hidden throughout and it's a dog and kid lovers paradise.
At Kettle Cove, there is the main beach (that's fairly popular in it's own right - with limited parking!) and then there is secret Kettle Cove part two. If you take the trail through the woods, steer to the right with every turn, and eventually you'll see a beach below some cliffs. Walk the little path down the cliffs and bam - you will likely have an entire beach to yourself. Half of this beach is private and half of the beach public, and all of it is pure secret only known to some locals. I think out of the ten times I have been here, there has been another human once.
12PM: Lunch at Bite Into Maine inside Fort Williams Park
Alright, this is all pretty touristy and all pretty much a must do. Fort Williams park is sprawling, with many different beautiful walks and sites to explore. There is a children's garden, playground, gorgeous ocean views and of course, Portland Head Light is here. I'll guess that you have seen a photo of this lighthouse somewhere, at some point. It's an iconic staple of Maine, and one that, even with the hoards of people, is worth checking out. You could easily spend a few hours roaming Fort Williams and still feel like you didn't get a chance to see everything.
On to lunch. If you are reading this and planning an adventure to Maine, you are likely going to ask everyone you can where you can get the best lobster roll. It's okay, I'm not judging you, I get it. And likely, everyone will have their opinion of where their favorite roll is.
Mine is inside Fort Williams Park at a Food Truck. Bite Into Maine knows what they are doing, people. And for me, a mayo despiser, they get me. They have multiple different ways to enjoy your lobster roll, and my personal favorite is The Connecticut - warm butter poured over and ask for some chives on top as well. You can grab a roll, set up a picnic, look out at the ocean and people watch.
3PM: Low Tide at Cliff House Beach (make sure to go low tide - move this where it fits in the schedule!)
This one might get me in trouble with the locals. But I just can't keep this little beauty a secret to ourselves! If you didn't know this was here, you'd likely never find it as it's embedded in a residential neighborhood and you only see the beauty of it when you walk down the wooden stairs to the start of the small beach. At our house, we call it "Rock Beach" as until the tide heads out, there is no beach to be found as it's covered with rocks. But at low tide, a small beach reveals itself and a few locals dot the edges of the beach. It's incredibly quiet, remarkably beautiful and you feel like you have entered a secret, private Maine cove. At this beach, we've seen every type of crustacean you can possibly imagine.
4PM: Strawberry Picking at Maxwell's Farm
Depending on season, don't sleep on the strawberry picking glory at Maxwells! This is pure family fun and these delicious little beauties are not to be missed.
6PM: Dinner & Drinks Outside at Inn By The Sea
Okay, this place might not be a secret, but I'm not sure how many people realize that you can eat here without staying here. They have an expansive lawn setup - complete with every outside dining option you can think of (fire pit seating, adirondack chairs perfect for rosé sipping, elegant tables on their deck) and of course, inside options when we are not living in COVID times. For kids, it's dreamland. They don't have to stay strapped to their seats while they wait for dinner as they can run free in the grass and get their sillies out in the most gorgeous setting. It's never overcrowded, and it's a pretty impressive place to take people visiting: outside dining, overlooking the ocean that is kid & dog friendly? I mean, sign me up over and over again.
We actually have stayed here before, long before we were Maine residents. We came here for a "babymoon" and brought our dog with us - which is not only encouraged, but honestly, the norm at this hotel. We ordered room service every night (I ate my weight in ice cream) and they have an extensive doggy menu as well. Our pup was treated like a king. We woke up every morning to the ocean breeze and nothing but time to explore and hang. It was a dream - and I've been trying to convince my husband to stay here again ever since even though we live 7 minutes down the road.
7PM: Walk the beach path from Inn By The Sea down to Crescent Beach
The Inn has an idyllic path that leads down to Crescent Beach (at the far end of it) which is pretty distant from where you'll find the majority of people at the main entrance of the park. Take a seat by the waves, collect some shells and think about how you'll have to thank that blogger (me) who pointed you in this direction. :)
The Willard Beach area in South Portland is the reason we decided to move to Maine.
We rented an AirBnB in South Portland when our daughter was 6 months and invited our families to join us for a week. It was both a stone's throw to the beach and Scratch Bakery. But more on Scratch in a minute.
We left our vacation feeling like we needed to be (and somehow were already?) part of this special community. This neighborhood and these people felt like an extended part of our family.
This area of South Portland is less than 10 minutes to the Old Port and all that downtown Portland has to offer. And while it's pretty exceptional to be that close to Portland, SoPo has it's own restaurant scene and well, it has Willard Beach. It's a beach neighborhood but without any pretension.
We moved to the Willard Beach neighborhood in 2019 and every now and again, we look at each other and both silently agree it was the best decision (you know, besides having our daughter) that we have ever made. Often this look is with a coffee in hand, in the early mornings on the beach, watching our little one and dog chase each other in and out of the water.
I'm going to lay out what a perfect 1/2 day in the Willard Beach area could look like. This is one iteration of one of our perfect days, and I will continue to post others as this certainly doesn't scrape the service of what could be done here. And if the salty air and delicious treats make you a SoPo convert like us, I'll happily welcome you to our favorite neighborhood in the world.
7AM: Get your dog, kids and make your way to Scratch Bakery. Before you make your way to the delicious treats of the day, make a quick right and get yourself a Sea Salt Bagel. Grab some cream cheese out of the fridge, a coffee by the counter and head out to a picnic table out font. Nope, there are no toasters because it would be criminal to toast this thing. Savor those bites, pet a few of the dogs leashed up out front and have fun counting and reveling in the amount of people that make their way in and out while you eat your breakfast.
8AM: Take the short walk down to Willard Beach. Dogs are allowed on the beach off leash from 7AM-9AM and 7PM-9PM during beach season. If you are a dog lover, this is paradise in the early mornings. Sea Glass hunting is prime in the early AM here, and if you encounter any red or pink pieces, let me know as we severely lacking in that color department in our collection.
9AM: Put the pooch back on a leash and take a walk to Fisherman's Point. You can access this at the south side of Willard Beach by climbing some small rock stairs. Walk in the direction of the picturesque fishing shacks that dot the edge. At Fisherman's Point, you might see a yoga class, maybe a wedding and definitely views of Portland Head Light.
10AM: Head north to take a beautiful walk along the beach on a paved trail (part of Southern Maine Community College's campus) that will lead you to Spring Point Ledge Lighthouse, in operation since 1897. The walk will also wind you through Fort Preble, which was a military fort in South Portland built in 1808. Take the rocky walk out to the lighthouse and capture views of Peaks Island, Fort Gorges and more.
And there you have a glorious, half day loop around Willard Beach. If I haven't convinced you yet, I'll give it another try soon with more SoPo location and food gems.