By Cahmden Emmet
Of course, Portland gets all the publicity about its fabulous restaurants in national publications. It seems that a new one opens each week and of course…one closes each week.
But the Boston Globe (or what’s left of it) visited Camden (they usually only come in the summer) for a tour of its impressive new eateries. Per capita, Camden has a “higher concentration of excellent restaurants” serving year round.”
With a population of 4,800 lucky Camden residents can chose from “Latin Fusion,” whatever that is, to inventive wood fired pizza cooked by a James Beard nominee. If you are already stricken with cabin fever, “one could spend a week indulging and never repeat a restaurant visit in Camden or nearby Rockport,” according to reporter Nancy Heiser, who apparently did.
I live in Camden (ha-ha) and I never heard of Comida Latin Kitchen until I read this story. Apparently, this “shoebox size” restaurant is worth the search, since chef Tom Sigler will serve you a tower of Brussels spouts (sounds like torture) with Daikon and Manchengo cheese served with a guajillo vinaigrette and a pumpkin and lager soup with roasted hatch chilies. This sounds much too complicated for Emmet and the word “chilies” sends me sprinting for medical help. But I will take her word for it.
I have been to Seabright, since it has outdoor tables and wood-fired pizza. Award-winning Brian Hill did not rest when he created my favorite restaurant, Francine’s. The James Beard nominee then created Seabright, almost overlooking the harbor. This isn’t your normal pepperoni and sausage pizza menu. Seabright offers items like sweet corn puree, caramelized leeks and trumpet mushrooms on your slice.
Hey, it’s Camden.
Long Grain is one of the oldest restaurants in Camden which made Heiser’s list. Alert spell check. This charming sport was opened by Thai natives Razin Nakjaroen and Paula Palakawong. I have an Irish stomach and can order only Pad Thai and spring rolls and survive the night. More adventuresome diners can order stir-fried kale or collards in a pad stew, kimchi with pork bellies (yum) and tofu in a chili flecked (there they are again) broth topped with a poached egg, or tender beef curry (alert) with coconut milk.
If you are looking for a noisy, city-styled happy hour, you must visit 40Paper, an Italian Bistro located in the old MBNA building. If you can put down your glass for long enough, you could order appetizers like risotto, stuffed baby artichokes and flatbread pizza. The dinner menu offers house-made guanciale, whatever that is.
We are not done yet.
Natalie’s is located in the very posh Camden Harbour Inn (That’s the way we spell it) overlooking the harbor. Executive chefs Chris Long and Shelby Stevens renovated the 1874 Victorian inn complete with a dressy dining room unusual for Camden. The menu is a contemporary approach to Italian, Catalan, Asian and Indian. I only go there when Chief Al is buying. Be warned. The three course meal is $68 and the seven-course chef’s tasting menu is $97. Even Chief Al isn’t willing to spend that much.
The Hartstone Inn is our go-to spot for birthdays, anniversaries and other celebrations. Owners Michael Salmon and his wife Mary Jo Brink have changed the menu from a single entrée prix-fixe to a full evening menu. A sample would include hazelnut encrusted rack of lamb or Maine crab cakes with lime aioli. The repeated word here is “elegant, referring to the menu the home, the antiques or the general atmosphere. The elegant Blue Eyes finds the place acceptable and that is truly hard to do.
We’re almost done. Save some room for dessert.
We hate to give credit elsewhere but the spanking new Salt Water Farm Café and Market is located in adjoining Rockport. We think of them as our poor, but generally nice, relations. This is a renovated Union hall which overlooks the harbor (That’s the way they spell it.) The Globe recommends spelt and green soup, papardelle with lamb ragout or wild oysters. Heiser warns you that the spot carries that “hipster back-to the-land vibe” but reminds all that Maine has been doing that farm-to-table cuisine since the Pilgrims.
I’m so glad that Heiser came for her winter visit. It introduced me to places right under my nose and gave me ammunition against those Portland “Hipsters.” Per capita restaurants indeed.