Portland, Maine is known as a small New England city with an abundance of good beer and food options. This is certainly true, but this extends beyond the city limits down to the smaller and extremely charming Kennebunkport and Kennebunk. Here you’ll find quiet luxury accommodations, local beer and spirits, and delicious high-end and comfort food at restaurants that utilize local seafood, vegetables, and meat.
And Portland and Kennebunkport are not just summer towns - while some businesses do close for the winter, the fall and spring are excellent times to visit as well, with less tourists and a relaxing, quieter atmosphere in which to take in the sights. Here are some of the best places to stay, eat, and drink and Portland and Kennebunkport right now.
Cape Arundel Inn
There are several different options among the Kennebunkport Resort Collection to choose from, but if you’re looking for comfortable accommodations with an unparalleled ocean view, Cape Arundel Inn is the obvious choice. The Main House has more of a traditional hotel feel, while the Rockport Bungalows offer cozy rooms with gas fireplaces and private patios overlooking the rocky coast - you can even see the sprawling Bush compound just to the north. Use the complimentary cruiser bikes to meander along the road hugging the seashore, or take a short ride up to the Clubhouse where you’ll find a heated outdoor pool, billiards table, and a daily wine and cheese hour. Best of all, it’s very quiet around here. Head to downtown Kennebunk or venture up to Portland to get your fix of food, drink, and crowds, and then retreat back to this calming oasis.
Batson River Brewing & Distilling
Portland is known for its breweries, but Kennebunk has a few local beers and spirits as well that you should try. Stop by Batson River to sample a few easy drinking brews like the Mexican Style Lager, Pearl Street Pils, and the tropical-flavored Guava IPA. There are also a few spirits to sip, including Langsford Road Bourbon, Dixie Bull Rum, Clock Farm Vodka, and Riparian Gin. Head over to the tasting room to try all of the above, on their own or in cocktails like an Old Fashioned made with garam masala and caramelized figs. There are also some seriously tasty bar snacks to sample, from griddled cornbread to curry deviled eggs.
HoneyMaker Mead Room
You’ve surely consumed your fair share of wine and beer, but what about mead? Portland-based HoneyMaker Mead has an outpost in Kennebunk, where you can try different versions of this ancient honey-based fermented beverage. The Dry Mead could easily take the place of a dry white wine at any meal, while the Blueberry brings fruitiness into the mix without going too heavy on the sweetness. Then there’s the bold Chai flavor mead, an explosion of spices that is reminiscent of alcoholic tea. Take home a couple of bottles or cans, and introduce your friends to something they may be totally unfamiliar with.
Maine Craft Distilling
There are many different spirits to try at Maine Craft Distilling. These include Fifty Stone Whiskey (an American single malt smoked using local peat and seaweed), the flavorful aged Ration Rum, and Chesuncook Spirit, which is distilled from carrot juice and flavored with juniper, basil, mint, and coriander. You can try a flight of spirits or taste one in a cocktail, and order from a menu of elevated bar food with dishes like lamb gyro, moules frites, fries, and deviled farm eggs. Check the calendar as there are usually live bands and special events taking place on the weekends.
Tandem Coffee Roasters
A good cup of coffee is essential to every city’s food and drink scene, and in Portland you will find a totally legit one at Tandem Coffee Roasters. There are two retail locations in the city, but come by the bakery on Congress St. for truly excellent espresso drinks of every type and some pastries that are just as good. Giant cinnamon rolls, huge slices of pie, and several different kinds of cookies are available here--and there’s a white chocolate molasses cookie that is so unbelievably good, it might just change the way you look at cookies forever.
If you don’t feel like driving (or taking a shuttle bus) to the town center to dine, you will not be disappointed with a meal at Ocean in the Cape Arundel Inn Main House dining room. The atmosphere is relaxed and a bit nondescript, but the food and drinks are exceptional (the view isn’t bad, either). Start off with a well-executed cocktail like The Borough, a version of a Manhattan made with rye, Carpano Antica, and chocolate bitters. Then dive into some butter poached lobster (it’s Maine, after all) served with mushrooms and a cognac emulsion. If you prefer turf over surf, the Colorado strip loin and veal filet mignon are delicious. Overall, the focus is on local ingredients when possible (a recent salad of local greens was simple and immaculate), and sourced carefully when not. The menu changes is seasonal, so dishes may vary if you decide to visit.
The Clam Shack
There’s something very comforting about an old-school seaside clam shack, especially one that’s literally called The Clam Shack. You know what you are gonna get at a place like that, and that’s a good thing. This restaurant and fish market has been around since the late ‘60s, and under the ownership of its current operator for nearly 20 years. The lobster roll is considered to be one of Maine’s finest, and the fried clams (bellies or strips), haddock, and scallops are light and not too oily. If you are walking through the busy Dock Square in Kennebunk, you’d be remiss not to stop here for a bite.
Eventide Oyster Co.
One of the best dining experiences in Portland can be found at Eventide. This place gets busy and does not take reservations, so be prepared to wait for a table. But it’s worth it when you finally get to enjoy a huge variety of freshly shucked Maine oysters, and lots of dishes with Asian flavors like the Korean BBQ squid and tuna crudo with ginger and scallions. The lobster roll here is one of the best things on the menu. It’s served warm on a thick bun, smothered with brown butter and salt. There’s a full cocktail menu as well, with updated classics and even a tiki-themed section with drinks large enough for a group of people.
The Holy Donut
Dunkin’ Donuts is big in New England, but for a taste of what a real donut can be head over to The Holy Donut in Portland’s Old Port neighborhood. These hand-cut donuts are made using an unlikely ingredient - potatoes. This helps give the donuts extra moistness, and this shines through in all the flavors, from maple bacon to vanilla glaze to Allen’s Coffee Brandy, which is made using a spirits that is a favorite of the locals and sells more than any other liquor in the state.
Duckfat is another popular Portland restaurant, located on the same block as Eventide. The name should clue you in as to what’s in store - a whole lot of food that is fried in delicious duck fat. That includes Belgian hand-cut fries, Brussels sprouts, and poutine with duck gravy. There’s even duck breast in the salad and donut holes that are fried in the fat. If the wait is too long, you can head over the smaller Duckfat Friteshack located in a local beer garden. There are no sandwiches here, just large orders of duck fat-fried Belgian fries.