Postcard from Ogunquit: Fine dining and a family-owned inn on Maine’s south coast
Story by Melissa Coleman
Normally, Ogunquit is one of those places I never think to visit. It’s just far enough from Portland (45 minutes) to make it out of the way, and close enough to Boston (1 hour) so that in summer it can feel touristy and crowded. However, with its lobster shacks, gift shops, quaint harbor on Perkins Cove, as well as charming downtown and three-mile sand beach, it makes for a great snapshot of Maine’s south-coast vacationland.
Plus, on the list of my most memorable Maine dinners, I’ll always include Ogunquit’s celebrated Arrows Restaurant and the farmhouse and organic gardens that helped launch the farm-to-table movement across the country. Though Arrows was sold in 2014, the James Beard award-winning chefs “Mark and Clark” have maintained a nearby venue, MC Perkins Cove, opened in 2005. This appealed to me as the perfect spot to bring a visiting foreigner for a taste of both Maine’s south coast and its foodie cuisine.
My Icelandic friend Arnaldur (Arnold for short) and I arrived around midday, parked and walked down Perkins Cove Road to join the pulse of people at the shops and restaurants on the narrow spit of land between the small harbor and the open Atlantic. After Arnold’s first ever Maine lobster lunch at the Perkins Cove Lobster Shack, we retreated to our lodgings at the Meadowmere Resort. The family-owned inn founded in 1983 is walking distance from both Perkins Cove and Ogunquit’s downtown area, and offers a comfortable resort atmosphere with lots of amenities.
It turns out the four-acre property with five buildings is also one of the largest resorts in the area, boasting 144 rooms and suites. We enjoyed easy access to the four indoor and outdoor pools and hot tubs, the 6,000 square-foot fitness room, and spa with saunas, steam rooms, and multiple massage options. Memorable for me was that our balcony on the second floor of East Meadow hung over abundant lilac bushes, so when we opened the doors the room was filled with the scent as we relaxed before dressing for dinner.
Instead of waiting for the local trolley service, we walked the .9 mile back to Perkins Cove in about 15 minutes, having worn comfortable shoes and given ourselves extra time to explore the Marginal Way Path, accessed from Perkins Cove Road. The trail follows the rocky coastline 1.25 miles north to Ogunquit’s downtown area and Ogunquit Beach, where we would head the next day.
We showed up at MC Perkins Cove ahead of our reservation to enjoy the views over a drink on the upstairs deck with mahogany pergola atop the tasteful New England shingled building. Sited directly over the rocky curve of Oarweed Cove, a plastic enclosure protects guests from the evening breeze. While still a little chilly at 6:30 pm in June, the Prickly Punch cocktail with local gluten free vodka, prickly pear, orange, and fresh sour mix warmed me right up.
A visit from co-owner Clark Frasier, with his hip shock of blond hair, brought with it the rush of a celebrity chef siting. Not only have he and Mark Gaier won the James Beard award for best chefs in the Northwest, they’ve been contestants on Top Chef Masters, and authored two cookbooks.
We celebrated our luck when we were shown to the front corner table of the glassed in downstairs dining room. The view was, if possible, even better than the deck because it felt like we were dining directly on the beach, at level with the retreating tide.
“The Bushes sit here,” our crisp-aproned waiter told us. “Senior and Barbara are regulars.” Whatever your politics, a presidential preference says something about a restaurant. We thought it was pretty cool that the trail of round marks on the copper-topped table from years of wet glasses probably included traces of the 41st.
We started with the Maine chowder for Arnold, a fire-roasted artichoke with herb vinaigrette for me, and the romaine and radicchio salad with bacon. Since Arnold doesn’t drink, we passed on a bottle of wine, but I nursed another cocktail, this time the Mayan Mule with tequila, bitters, and ginger beer. The chowder was full of haddock and corn and made Arnold’s first experience with the New England staple a very good one, and I got to pick all of the bacon out of the salad for myself, as Arnold is pescatarian.
Arnold decided on the cod and clam roast entree, which the waiter explained was grilled in a bag and best served over rice. I opted for the fish of the day, black bass with mango chutney and a mashed potato side. The plates arrived at a leisurely pace that felt just right, and the presentation was simple yet elegant, with sprigs of fresh thyme and lemon wedges on my fish, the mashers served in a Japanese iron bowl. Arnold’s fish was rich with a curry, and mine was salty and fresh.
In the end, we almost didn’t even need dessert. Though the rhubarb cake and blueberry tart sounded delicious, we had to decline as we are both gluten free. However, we couldn’t resist the trio of homemade ice creams in mango, blueberry, and coconut. The perfect finale.
By then, the 60-seat room hummed to capacity with vacationers and locals. Lights from the interior reflected on the windows, looking like candles on the beach beyond, and the sea and sky blended into one in the dusk. I felt that sway that comes with delicious food and vital conversation in a lovely setting. It brings a contentedness with the moment, and the sense of being in the right place at the right time.
Melissa Coleman has written for publications including the New York Times, O, The Oprah Magazine, and National Geographic Traveler. She is the author of This Life is In Your Hands: One Dream, Sixty Acres and a Family’s Heartbreak, a New York Times bestselling memoir and finalist for the New England Book Award, about growing up during the 1970s back-to-the-land movement. She lives in Maine and can be found at melissacoleman.com.