Playing tourist

Experiencing Portland like a visitor — and liking it
By LEISCHEN STELTER  |  August 17, 2011

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TWINS The Maine Lobster Dinner at Portland Lobster Company.

Last weekend, more than 2300 people stepped off cruise ships into the Old Port seeking all things Maine: lobster, anything blueberry, and a taste of the way life should be (some probably hoped to spot a moose on the corner of Fore and Exchange). Maybe you've heard the Port of Portland is expecting a record-breaking year, with more than 86,000 people scheduled to disembark from 63 ships, flooding the city and your favorite eateries.

I know that makes more than a few of you want to gag. For you out-of-towners reading this: Don't take this personally. We want you to enjoy (read: spend money in) our beautiful city and state just like we do, but understand that Mainers are curmudgeons and don't like our routines altered.

No table at my favorite restaurant? Assholes.

Instead of spending the summer in a constant state of frustration, though, I decided to ditch the attitude and embrace Maine summers — crowds and all.

Actually, that's a complete fabrication. In reality, I was forced into this attitude shift when my aunt from Ohio visited last week. She stepped off the plane and her first request was not unexpected: To eat lobster. It's like there's something in our air — people come to Maine with lobster on the brain. During her three-day visit, I ate more lobster and seafood than I have in my six years of living in Maine combined. And you know what? It was delicious.

Also, it was kind of enlightening. For instance, I thought by heading out of the city to the Lobster Shack at Two Lights in Cape Elizabeth I might avoid the crowds. Idiot. I showed up to find the parking lot packed and a line 50 people deep. And on a Wednesday night! So we ventured back to the Old Port and hit up Portland Lobster Company, hungry and anxious to tear into some crustacean. I admit I rarely go there, mostly because I consider it too touristy, but I was surprised what a great experience we had. It kind of makes you understand why people want to come to Maine: sitting at picnic tables on the pier, listening to live music, eating comforting, belly-filling foods with no regrets. While I didn't love their coleslaw, the lobster, baked potato, and corn on the cob from their "Maine Lobster Dinner" were messily satisfying and tasty. We rounded out the Maine experience with a slice of Wild Maine Blueberry Pie that gave us that homemade-by-grandma satisfaction.

Then there was my land-locked aunt's desire for all things with an ocean view. That's actually tricky in Portland; in my panic we ended up at DiMillo's, the ferry converted into a restaurant (I considered wearing sunglasses and a shawl to hide my identity, but decided against it). While she ate more lobster, I quite enjoyed the Baja Crab Melt, made with Maine crab, pepper jack cheese, and guacamole on grilled sourdough, all while sitting along the side of the boat discussing how to befriend the owners of the massive yachts docked in the adjacent marina. To finish off that evening, we stopped by Beal's Ice Cream and shared a Moose Tracks cone (auntie was disappointed to learn that Mainers rarely see actual moose).

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