Thursday, April 30, 2009

In Search of the Perfect Lobster Roll... Again!

If you’re foodies as we are, we often structure our vacations around mealtime, with each meal becoming an event unto itself rather than a quick means to satisfy hunger. Each summer camp visiting day pushes us to search for the perfect New England lunch: a succulent lobster roll with a side of cole slaw or steamers, chased with a perfectly frosty root beer or tart lemonade.

This year’s sojourn yielded the following “best” list. Our suggestions for where to stay and what to do in the surrounding areas will help you build your own vacation around this New England favorite.


No doubt about it Kelly’s Roast Beef is king here when it comes to lobster rolls. The original Kelly’s on Revere Beach has had long lines since the day it opened in 1951, serving up some of the most delicious “fast food” by the beach. From memorable fried clams to hot dogs and oversized roast beef sandwiches drowned in a tangy barbeque sauce, everyone loves Kelly’s. But, for us, the lobster roll is what brings us back again and again. Oversized, on a delicious buttered frankfurter roll, the lobster meat in this sandwich seems to come from at least two whole lobsters (probably not, but it is huge), and the pickles and chips served with it on the paper plate only add to the appeal. Kelly’s is an easy drive from Boston, or can be reached on the Revere Beach T stop on the blue line from Government Center. There’s also one on Route 1 in Saugus that has a drive-in window and indoor seating. The original Kelly’s is only a take-out window – you’ll have to sit on the benches across the street by the beach.

Stay at the Marriott Long Wharf or Fairmont Copley Plaza for well-located hotel choices in Boston. You’ll be near the waterfront, the Aquarium, the North End (Boston’s Little Italy), and Faneuil Hall if you stay at the Marriott. The Copley Plaza puts you on part of the Freedom Trail, just behind Trinity Church, near the great shops of Newbury Street, and the gorgeous architecture and boulevards of Commonwealth Avenue, Beacon Street, and Marlborough Street.
For a lobster roll at a relatively frugal price, try Derby Fish and Lobster in historic Salem. The lobster roll needs a bit of salt to bring out the taste, the price is better than most and you can have a choice of two sizes if you’re watching your pennies. There are two ways to dine here: you can order at the counter and serve yourself at the fish market-cum-restaurant or go for full sit-down service at the café. Either way, the prices are reasonable and the lobster roll or lobster salad (a lobster roll set on greens, essentially, without bread) are quite good.

You can walk here from the Salem Waterfront Hotel on Pickering Wharf. Just under two years old, the hotel adds much-needed rooms for tourists in this city known for its place in the annals of the infamous Witch Trials. There’s also the House of Seven Gables, birthplace of Nathaniel Hawthorne, the beautiful Peabody Essex Museum which features maritime and Native American exhibits among others and is home to Yin Yu Tang, a Chinese home moved to Salem piece by piece. Just across the street from Salem Common and the Witch Museum, the Hawthorne Hotel has rooms and an inviting tavern.


If Maine didn’t invent the lobster roll, it could easily lay claim to having done so. Maine lobster is the sweetest, most succulent in the country, and the lobster rolls here compete with each other in offering the “best of the best.”

The Clam Shack in Kennebunkport doesn’t look like much, but the lines in front will tell you that something special is going on here. The shack is set next to a fish store just across the bridge from the town center (you’ll know the town as the summer home of the Bushes). There’s a stand next door where they make homemade lemonade, step by step, and it’s the perfect complement to this sandwich. You can select to have your lobster roll plain, with butter, or with mayonnaise – others usually come with mayonnaise already mixed in – and it’s served right from the pot and is just a bit warm. Homemade dill pickles can be ordered to go with it. There are no seats but most people take the rolls and eat standing on the walkway around the corner while they watch the ducks and seagulls waiting for scraps of bread.

Two inns here provide contrasting luxury. The White Barn Inn, a member of the prestigious Relais & Châteaux group, offers gorgeous rooms, exquisite dining, a new spa, and high tea. The Captain Lord Mansion is a smaller property with each room decorated in period antiques and furnishings. After visiting the various shops in the center of town, travel East along Ocean Avenue, past the summer “cottages” and various inns to the point where you’ll see people gathered along the sidewalk or on the rocks looking out at the point. Everyone stops or slows down to gawk at the Bush compound, a sprawling home with an array of boats, three flags (Texas, US Presidency, USA), and lots of security.

You’d have a hard time missing Red’s Eats in Wiscasset, as the line in front stretches the length of the bridge. Another tiny shack that dishes out an amazing, meaty lobster roll this is a “destination” for lobster rolls – you really shouldn’t order anything else except their wonderful onion rings. Red’s fortunately has seating on an outdoor patio.

Nearby choices for traditional inn-style accommodations are the Victorian-style Blackberry Inn in Camden and the four-diamond Harraseeket Inn in Freeport. Stay in Camden and wander through one of Maine’s most scenic towns. There’s a nice selection of shops in town, and you can go out on a schooner for a day or sunset sail from the harbor. For the shopper in the group, Freeport is nirvana with its large selection of name outlets and the 24-hour L.L. Bean stores. The Harraseeket Inn also has an indoor pool and small gym to help you unwind from spending too much money.

We love Bar Harbor and Acadia National Park on Mount Desert Island. There is no shortage of “lobster in the rough” places in Downeast Maine, as it’s called, and each has its own twist on the lobster roll. Our favorite is the Trenton Bridge Lobster Pound just before the bridge before you approach the island. We were surprised to get a lobster roll served on white bread, not a roll, but combined with the perfect mayonnaise and lettuce, the bread works beautifully and doesn’t camouflage the flavor of the lobster. This is lobster at its most basic, for sure, with the steam from the lobster boilers hitting you as you sit at the outdoor picnic tables. Freshly brewed ice tea and perfect blueberry pie finish your meal.

If you’re into hiking, biking, or just enjoying nature, Acadia National Park is perfection. You can climb Cadillac Mountain (or drive) to watch the picture-perfect sunsets, choose from any number of easy-to-difficult trails, or sunbathe at Echo Lake (warm water) or Sand Beach (freezing water) and see as many or as few people as you choose. Stay at either the Ullikana Bed & Breakfast or Yellow House, just off Main Street in Bar Harbor, for a dose of amazing hospitality and comfort. Both inns are owned by the same family and each room is furnished distinctively with brass beds, claw-footed bathtubs, and colorful wallpaper or hand paintings. Afternoon wine and cheese, a gourmet breakfast, and all-day tea are included. The owners will help you pick out a hike or bike route from their own many years of experience.

And, last, but certainly not least on our list is the wonderful Tubby’s in Wayne. A short drive inland from Augusta, this ice cream stand with its wide range of unusual flavors offers two sizes of lobster rolls, made fresh on a grilled hot dog bun. We’ve never chosen the smaller version because we’ll always be gluttons for this lobster roll, one that earns our praise for being the best in Maine. Soak up some true Maine atmosphere as you eat your lobster roll on a picnic table by Lake Androscoggin. This is a good side trip before heading south to either Freeport or Portland, a historic port city with lots of nightlife and lodging options.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Family-Friendly New York: Where to Go if Your Kid Likes...

Choosing the most kid-friendly portion of a New York itinerary can be challenging. Should you go fully educational at the Met, or cave and hit FAO Schwarz? Sometimes you just need focus... and a little sensitivity to the kids-eye view. From dinos to princesses, here's our guide to what kids REALLY want to see in New York.

These thunderous prehistoric creatures still roam Manhattan in force, much to the delight of dino fanatics. Check out the dinosaur fossils at the American Museum of Natural History. Unlike other museums that display casts, the fossils here are the real bones put together as real dinosaurs. In the Discovery Room kids can actually touch some of the fossils and artifacts from the museum's vast collection. The gift shop lets you take home your own personal fossil with toys from plush Triceratops to sparks-shooting T-Rex. If that's not enough, the labyrinthine FAO Schwarz stocks various dino-theme playthings and the Times Square Toys R Us immediately conjures up Jurassic Park with a giant animatronic T. rex. For a more intimate post-prehistoric toy experience head to the toy and clothes boutique Dinosaur Hill, named after these powerful creatures but selling so much more.

Techno Gadgets
Growing up in the age of the Internet means many kids acknowledge the entertainment value of modern technology and are fascinated with the circuitry behind the screen. The Sony Wonder Technology Lab indulges future programmers with their chance to create their own video and musical fun. A special key pass to enter the exhibits projects their picture at every stop along with their own voiceprint. As an encore, the Museum of the Moving Image allows kids to peek into the process of making movies and television shows. Interactive exhibits let kids dub their voices into film clips, tweak sound effects, or dance around in front of a green screen loaded with different moving backgrounds. When they've grown weary of playing director or with the video games in the museum's arcade, they can succumb to a dose of commercial technomania and experiment with gadgets at the city's electronic palaces: Sony Style, the Apple Stores, or Nintendo World.

The Princess Treatment
For many little girls, New York City conjures up images of Eloise, the precocious Plaza-living little lady who received the royal treatment wherever she went. For more of the same, your own princess can do high tea at Alice's Tea Cup surrounded by ephemeral butterflies or have a date with her doll at the American Girl Café where precious and cute are the name of the game. Shopping at tween girl faves like Juicy, Miss Sixty, and Paul Frank add some haute couture and ensure a well-dressed presence at cool-girl evenings watching the Radio City Music Hall Rockettes, Mamma Mia, or The Little Mermaid musicals, or the dazzling arabesques of the Nutcracker at the New York City Ballet. Older princesses can get a dose of Gossip Girl by visiting the Palace Hotel, Serena's ersatz home.

A View from Above
Soaring over Manhattan in a helicopter may be too much for most kids to deal with (and also way too expensive) but there are lots of other bird's-eye views to be had. A free walk over the Brooklyn Bridge puts you smack above the center of the East River with dazzling views of both Manhattan and neighboring Brooklyn at both ends. The highest viewing point in Manhattan, the Empire State Building, gives a thrilling look downward onto the streets and "ants" below. Top of the Rock feeds on this by adding a dramatic view of the Empire State Building itself. A less intense but equally great view can be had from the top floors of the Time Warner Building or from the lobby level of the Mandarin Oriental Hotel in Columbus Circle. Climbing to the top of Belvedere Castle or to the roof of the Metropolitan Museum of Art shows off the enormity of Central Park. For the bravest of all, trying out the trapeze next to the Hudson River may yield the Big Apple's ultimate view as you fly through the air.

The Weird & the Kooky
Manhattan has its share of fun theme-y places for kids. Restaurants of this ilk aren't known for their food but the special effects at Jekyll & Hyde or Mars 2112 will knock their socks off (if they don't terrify them). Odditoriums like Ripley's Believe It or Not or Madame Tussauds will create conversation pieces to last throughout your visit. The Whispering Gallery at Grand Central Terminal, or the crazy assortment of little people sculptures in the 14th Street subway station at 8th Avenue proves that all things weird and wonderful can be spotted all over New York City.

Bright Lights & Action
New York is a force to reckon with when it comes to color and energy. The hub, of course, is Times Square. High-definition electronic billboards hawk everything from Coca-Cola to sexy underwear. Stock market results and news flashes slither around building facades, and much larger-than-life M&Ms and Cup Noodles add blasts of color and movement everywhere. Theater marquees, stores bedecked in lights, and buildings frosted on top with changing colors or inventive light towers seem to never switch off. It's definitely worth keeping the kids up late one night.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Fancations and Fever Pitch: Baseball Travel, Stealing Allowed

I'm exhausted. 90 degree temperatures, full-day writing conferences, and a three-day endless baseball rivalry. Isn't that what makes spring and summer wondrous? In this day of the "naycation" (I hate that term) or the "staycation" (I think I hate that even more), baseball can create an easy itinerary for a "fancation." (Stay tuned for my full series of fancations throughout North America -- 30 MLB teams and 30 stadiums!) Get out of the rut of watching your team only on your home turf -- create a road trip to become a team groupie. That's what I'll be doing this summer. It's a wonderful chance to try new regional fast foods, blend with or against the fans, and feed your team ego. Take a look at this amazing birthday cake that was presented to my friend, Peter Collery, in New York last night at the renowned Red Sox hangout, Professor Thom's in Manhattan. Even Yankees fans had to be impressed.

It's Sunny in New York. OMG! Where Can I Hide?

As any good New Yorker knows, once the mercury rises above 60 degrees, everyone bolts outside to carve his or her piece of park turf. Not me! I look for places where I can sit in relative solitude and rink in the surprising serenity that NYC offers. Here are some of my faves --
Despite the omnipresence of wedding after wedding, the Conservatory Garden at 105th Street and 5th Avenue is my top pick. Three gorgeous super-styled gardens, beautiful flowers, clean restrooms, and a zero admission tag make this NYC's most peaceful free deal. After an inspiring ferry ride from Manhattan, an intricate ride to find the Jacques Marchais Museum of Tibetan Art reveals unexpected pleasures just minutes from the mainland: watch the monks toll the bells, soak up the serenity, and marvel that you're not in Tibet. Want another spot that's more in the heart of things, try the adorable Paley Park on E. 53rd Street between Madison and 5th. The waterfall backdrop, seats, and setback space will restore your inner calm within seconds.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Creative Cocktails

I love how the cocktail world can't decide whether it should be retro a la Mad Men or contemporary a la mini-slider type menus so in recessionary vogue. I had an amazing Old Fashioned recently at the Bryant Park Grill, made with Jack Daniels and just the right amount of muddled fruit--a sweetish version that was at once satisfying and surprising. At the other end of the spectrum, SushiSamba has introduced their cocktail tree where you can choose up to 3 flights of cocktails for each of your friends from their extensive menu. And it's beautiful, too.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Shoes for all Seasons and Soirees

I love shoes. I'm always searching for the perfect shoes for travel, pairs that are stylish and hip but still allow me the comfort of sneakers so I can trek for miles. Amazingly it can happen that I actually resent having to dress up and wear high heels (although I own way too many). All it takes is the question, "Do you mind walking?" How can anyone walk over cobblestones in 4 or 5" inch heels? I was recently interviewed for an article about my obsession with shoes -- no matter what, I'll always have them in all heights. Looking forward to a spring of flip-flops and gladiator platforms.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Plus Ca Change Plus Ca Reste la Meme Chose

I recently came across this wonderful pictorial comparison of Manhattan then and now. I've lived here some 30 years and have watched the city change and then not change. In some cases, the photos show cleaned-up buildings, steamcleaned or beautified with foliage and signage; in others, everything is stet. Even the people seem pretty unchanged. I especially love the ladies of yore with the bouffant hairdos and the furcollars. What does evolve, however, is the attitude here. I'd bet that no one from 1961 would have thought that NYC'd be the go-to city for vacation or the place to live rather than the suburbs. Enjoy this time trip and please send me any more photos or comments that you have.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

A Vacation on Two Feet?

As odd at that might sound, this is one of my favorites. You can eat and drink to your heart's content and then hike all day.... no guilt, no gain! Plus you can slow down whenever you like to literally "smell the roses." Best of all, there's no touring by bus, no speeding by scenery from a distance, and no clawing your way through groups with an agenda of taking photo after photo. I've done several walking vacations, and they're a nice combination of hiking, strolling, and savoring. I absolutely loved climbing the hills in Scotland, hiking from pub to pub in Ireland, and almost touching the clouds in New Mexico. In each, I met the most amazing locals, people who were happy to say hello while showing off their homelands. I'm looking forward to my next walk, hopefully going to Europe this summer and walking from Vienna to Prague.