Spotlight on Travel – Mike Cohen

KENNEBUNKPORT- I first heard about Kennebunkport, Maine, like most others I know, as the place where former US President George Bush Sr. had a summer home known as the Bush Compound. This is an astoundingly picturesque town in York County, with a population of less than 4,000.

The town center is located along the Kennebunk River, approximately 1 mile (1.6 km) from the mouth of the river on the ocean. Historically a shipbuilding and fishing village, for well over a century the town has been a popular seaside tourist destination. Kennebunkport has a small district of souvenir shops, art galleries, seafood restaurants, and bed and breakfasts. Its reputation as an upscale community comes from the numerous large seaside estates along Ocean Avenue and other coastal thoroughfares. During the fall, Kennebunkport is a frequent stop for tour buses showing visitors the famous New England fall colors.

Kennebunkport’s Dock Square is the commercial centre of town and is certainly worth an afternoon shopping adventure. Maine has more than 5,000 miles of coast and some of the most beautiful beaches in the entire state can be found here in the Kennebunks. The ocean water is cold, but my family and I had no trouble wading in and jumping the waves. It was relaxing and a lot of fun.

The Kennebunkport Inn is a charming intimate hotel, with 49 guest rooms. We had a Wharfside family suite, which is large enough to fit at least six people. I cannot remember when I last felt this comfortable away from home.

It features standard rental style furnishings, three bedrooms, a large living room with sleeper sofas, kitchen facilities and a private bath. The Wharfside is a short walk across the street from the main building, which contains the One Dock Restaurant, the piano bar, patio dining, an outdoor pool, spa services and a guest library. There is a delicious complimentary deluxe continental breakfast served each morning and private off-street parking. www.kennebunkportinn.com

With a metro population of 230,000, the Greater Portland area is home to almost one quarter of Maine’s total population. The city itself has 64,000 residents. In the Old Port, great brick buildings, once warehouses for local merchants, now hold a myriad of original shops, galleries and restaurants.

The Inn is owned by the husband and wife team of Debbie Lennon and Tom Nill. Debbie’s parents have a home nearby. The couple got married here in 2000 and had their rehearsal dinner at the Inn. They immediately fell in love with the property and a few months later they approached the then owners and began negotiations to purchase..

As we prepared for our trip, the names of two restaurants in Kennebunkport kept coming up: Bartley’s Dockside Dining (www.bartleysdining.com), located right by the bridge at 4 Western Avenue and Mabel’s Lobster Claw at 124 Ocean Road.

For over a quarter century, three generations of the Bartley family has been serving great food. There are so many photos of President Bush on the wall you’re sure he’s just around the corner, chomping on a lobster roll! There is a new photo, personally autographed to the Bartley family, from Bush of his latest skydiving experience in the area. Since we were staying at the Kennebunkport Inn, we had a barely five minute walk.

The baked stuffed lobster here is superb. This house specialty involves the chef first splitting and cracking open the lobster. After breading is added to the inside it is cooked for 20 minutes in the oven and served so easy to enjoy. The lazy man’s lobster is another favourite. Here all the work has done before you, with the lobster meat taken out of the shell and served on a casserole dish with butter. It is so beautifully prepared, even the kids will enjoy it.

Other choices include the caramelized salmon, haddock ala Dockside and steaks. For an appetizer try the fresh native crabmeat cocktail or the fried whole clams with tartar sauce. I would strongly recommend their famous Blueberry pie, which was a staple on Air Force One.

Mabel’s is legendary in Kennenbunkport. In the summer season, with its terrace, about 70 people can be seated at a time. The place is always packed, so be sure to make reservations (207-967-2562) in advance. Owners Robert and Stephanie Fischer bought the place 12 years ago and take a real hands on approach.

The menu here is pretty comprehensive, with everything from lobster and a variety of fish selections to chicken, beef and pasta. There is a special children’s menu of chicken, fish, burgers, spaghetti and even hot dogs. The lazy lobster is a favourite. I sampled the sword fish and it was absolutely out of this world. Their homemade clam chowder is superb as are the fried scallops. For dessert, try one of their pies (made fresh daily) or the chocolate cake topped with hot fudge sauce.

Mike Cohen’s email address is info@mikecohen.ca.
Log on to his travel advice column at www.sandboxworld.com/travel

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