Lighthouses, lobster sliders and an old fort are just three of the attractions visitors can find during a visit to Kittery, Maine’s southernmost city.
Just north of the New Hampshire border and about an hour’s drive from downtown Boston, Maine’s oldest settlement is an oceanside enclave whose original settlers fished, hunted and trapped along the coastal waters and nearby forests. Today’s hunters look for bounty too as they make the trek to feast on Kittery’s ocean fresh seafood, its succulent lobsters and crisp fried clams, while enjoying retail therapy in the famed Kittery discount outlet stores that dot Route One, the town’s main artery.
I especially like to visit during the late fall, when the summer crowds have retreated south. With Indian summer at its peak, Kittery can be leisurely explored, taking in its beautiful offshore vistas, its tidal marshes, colorful remnants of fall foliage and stunning lighthouse views.
Off Route One, a splendid drive along Route 103 to Kittery Point leads to Fort Foster at the end of Pocahontas Road near the mouth of the Piscataqua River. (Love those Indian names) Once a fortress operated during World War II, it is now a public recreation and beach facility. While traversing easily trod trails above the headlands and along the shoreline, photo opportunities abound. Far off in the distance, Cape Ann and the Isles of Shoals frame the horizon. Nearer to shore, Wood Island, Horn Island, Fort Constitution, Whaleback Lighthouse, and Portsmouth Harbor Lighthouse cry out for more candid shots.
The old fort with its watch towers standing guard and concrete bunkers peering out of the ground give visitors a sense of the coastal defenses needed during war times. Only one building is open to the public and here you can peek through a narrow slit inside a concrete lookout tower just as sentries did decades ago
While old town Kittery treasures its historic cobblestone streets, vintage pubs and antique shops, more than 120 discount stores comprise the Kittery Outlets scattered along coastal Route One. From fine china to outdoor essentials, shoppers can find marked down, high quality bargains on this mile-long strip.
Where to Eat: Right on Route One, Robert’s Maine Grill tops my list as the one eatery that unfailingly provides the perfect accompaniment to a Southern Maine outing. Outside, a kitschy lighthouse flanked by a gangplank-like walkway greets diners. Once inside, the décor becomes classically “Maine-like” with its open, airy cottage interior, all white and ocean colored with views of the marsh and river out the back windows. Artful Maine-themed paintings of villages, fishing boats and local produce line the walls. Take one of the cozy window tables overlooking the lagoon where you’ll spy water birds and an occasional kayak skimming the water.
Roberts’ menu stresses local ingredients and organic produce that celebrates and supports nearby growers and suppliers. When I asked about the wonderful creamy color of the mashed potatoes served with my swordfish, our server, Stephanie, told me they were from a farm in nearby Aroostook County. “That’s not butter;” she said. “Aroostook County potatoes are so naturally creamy they’re almost yellow.” I was wowed.
We started our meal with the house’s aptly named Lobster sliders, another first time dish. Sandwiched between crumbly house-baked buttermilk biscuits, these delectables brought my “lobstah lovin” rating higher up by several rungs I resisted the urge to stop right there and order a second round.
Because I was sharing dishes with my husband, we were also able to sample Chef Brandon Blethen’s signature dish, lobster fried in a light beer batter with a smoke-infused orange tomato and lobster reduction over Yukon mashed potatoes with Swiss chard and micro greens. While the lobster sliders literally melt in your mouth, this dish was more festive and nuanced, each ingredient complementing the others.
At the end of the meal when you’re just about topped up, Robert’s dessert menu offers little devils called “two-bite desserts.” Aw come on; just two bites? The Blueberry Crumble a la mode uses Allen’s Wild Maine Blueberries from Blue Hill, Maine. It’s topped off with Mount Dessert Island Ice Cream in the flavor of your choice. Enough said.
Want to try your hand at cooking some of these goodies at home? Just ask your server and you will have a copy of the recipe.
Where to Stay: For an over night or weekend saturation in Maine heaven, drive north to Rockland where you can take in the Wyeth art collection at the Farnsworth Museum and rest your bones in an ocean front room at the Samoset Lodge and Resort. Out Samoset’s back door, walk the mile-long breakwater to the Rockland Breakwater Lighthouse. Watch the weather though; you do not want to start out when a high tide is approaching.
Robert’s Maine Grill and Market, 226 Route 1, Kittery, Maine. Tel: 207-439-0300 www.robertsmainegrill.com.
Samoset Resort on the beach, 220 Warrenton Street, Rockport, Maine. Tel: 800-341-1650. www.samoset.com.
Kittery Outlets, Route One, Kittery, Maine. www.thekitteryoutlets.com
Farnsworth Art Museum, 16 Museum Street, Rockland, Maine. Tel: 207-596-6457. www.farnsworthmuseum.org.
Article and Photos: © Lee Daley