By Sofia Perez
[Published by Saveur.com, August 2012]
This elegant, eco-friendly inn on the Maine coast offers suites with top-of-the-line, fully-equipped kitchens, if you want to cook for yourself (and a great restaurant serving crab-cakes Benedict and butter-poached lobster, if you don’t)
Over the years, I’ve visited countless hotels and restaurants that tout their commitment to sustainability and local purveyors, but few walk the walk as honestly as Inn by the Sea—where even the luxuries seem pragmatic. Of course, I’d expect nothing less from a resort in Maine, a state whose residents are known for thinking that one word constitutes a soliloquy. There’s an appealing naturalness about the inn that was a true balm to my frayed New Yorker nerves.
Built 27 years ago in Cape Elizabeth, just south of Portland, the property underwent a major renovation in 2008, and no detail seems to have escaped notice. From the use of sustainable building materials and solar panels to its status as the first Maine hotel to achieve both carbon neutrality and Silver LEED certification (for its spa), the inn’s environmental bona fides are intact. Guests are even encouraged to take home their half-used bars of soap in the wax-paper bag provided in each bathroom. (And take it home, I did—it was L’Occitane shea-butter soap, after all.)
The property’s 61 rooms and suites resemble an upscale furniture catalogue—elegant without being stuffy. (No Mainer worth his sea salt wants to be known for putting on airs.) And this aesthetic was reinforced by the V.I.P., or “Very Important Pets,” program. Four-legged family members are more than just tolerated; they’re welcomed with doggie spa services, a gourmet pet menu, and day care, for those days when Mom and Dad need some time away from the canine kids. Despite the idea’s veneer of extravagance, I found that the presence of well-attended dogs on the grounds only added to the warm, homey atmosphere—decidedly more Modern Family than Real Housewives of Beverly Hills.
The kitchens in the inn’s newest accommodations, the large Beach Suites, are equipped with full-sized refrigerators, ranges, and Henckels knives, but though the amenities make it easy for guests to fire up their own meal, my first dinner at Sea Glass (the in-house restaurant) convinced me to let chef Mitchell Kaldrovich do the cooking.
Considering the location, it didn’t shock me that the seafood dishes were first-rate—the appetizer of butter-poached lobster and gnocchi was simultaneously creamy and pillowy light, and the crab cake–avocado Benedict has now become one of those Platonic breakfast dishes against which I will judge others—but it was the chef’s way with meat that was a pleasant surprise. In a nod to his Argentinean roots, Kaldrovich’s umami-rich “gaucho steak,” served with roasted mushrooms, crisp fingerling potatoes and a tangy chimichurri sauce, was much more than a menu afterthought for shellfish-saturated diners.
Still, when in Maine, it’s the seafood you must taste—and not just the lobster. In keeping with the inn’s overall ethos, Kaldrovich won’t serve endangered species, and he was one of the first area chefs to collaborate with the Gulf of Maine Research Institute, helping scientists and fishermen promote undervalued and locally abundant species such as redfish, which he pan roasts and accents with a sweet-savory sauce of piquillo peppers and black olives. This delightful dish is just another example of how the Inn by the Sea manages to seamlessly combine idealism with indulgence. Or, as a local might put it, “Yup.”
Inn by the Sea: 40 Bowery Beach Road, Cape Elizabeth, Maine 04107; tel: 207/799-3134, innbythesea.com
- Yoga class on the lawn overlooking the ocean.
- The “Farm Fresh Strawberry” cocktail, made with strawberry-infused rum, lime juice, simple syrup, and local berries.
- Roasting marshmallows at the fire pit.
- Visit the small cemetery next door and pay your respects to Lydia Carver—a young bride who drowned off the coast in an 1807 shipwreck and is said to benevolently haunt the inn.
IN THE AREA:
The Lucky Catch: Spend the afternoon out on Casco Bay aboard a working lobster boat, and learn the ins and outs of lobstering from Captain Tom Martin and his crew. Bonus: Take the crustacean you caught over to the Portland Lobster Company, along the same pier as Martin’s boat, and they’ll boil it for you and serve it up with corn and potatoes. The Lucky Catch: 170 Commercial Street, Portland; tel: 207/761-0941; luckycatch.com. Portland Lobster Company: 180 Commercial Street, Portland; tel: 207-775-2112; portlandlobstercompany.com
Vervacious: Stop by this pretty little shop specializing in gourmet condiments, and pick up some of their handmade balsamic vinegars, rubs, salts, and sauces, all packaged in gorgeous glass jars. 227 Commercial Street, Portland; tel: 207/221-3590; vervacious.com
Gritty McDuff’s: Belly up to the bar at Maine’s first brew pub for an ice-cold glass of one of their refreshing microbrews. My favorite was the Red Claws ale, for its nutty, roasted flavor. 396 Fore Street, Portland; tel: 207/772-2739; grittys.com
Harvest on the Harbor Food and Wine Festival: Attend this annual October festival, where you can watch cooking competitions and enjoy tastings from some of the area’s finest food and drink purveyors. www.harvestontheharbor.com