Have you been to Damariscotta lately? If your answer is: “Well, I drove by it on my way to Boothbay Harbor,”  then you need to discover the brakes on your motor vehicle! Stopping in this small town is no longer an option. It’s a necessity!

Our 24-hour mini-vacation here featured a stay at the elegant Alewives and Ales Bed & Breakfast, lunch at the Damariscotta River Grill, dinner at King Eider’s Pub, a hike on conservation lands that border the river, and — of course — shopping at the original Reny’s.
Damariscotta’s got it all!

Linda

It took owners Mimi and Ray McConnell five years to find their perfect B&B. They had a vision and were prepared to work hard to make it come true. Once they found this house, they commuted from Rhode Island every week for three and a half years to renovate the house into this wonderful B&B.

The result is extraordinary. Guests stay in one of three bedrooms in the original part of the house, built in 1847, and Mimi and Ray live in the section of the house added in the 1990’s.

We stayed in the downstairs guest-room that overlooks a welcoming patio. There are three other sitting and dining rooms downstairs that give an “at home” feel to the inn. The original pine floors are beautiful and Mimi has a gift for choosing colors and creating understated elegance. There is nice artwork — both photos and paintings — throughout.

After a wonderful night’s sleep, I took advantage of the morning. From someplace downtown I heard the sound of chimes while enjoying my first cup of coffee on the patio accessible directly from our room. The inn is in a quiet neighborhood, but within walking distance of the downtown area.

The patio includes an inviting garden and is surrounded by shrubs, trees, hedges and perennials, making it private and peaceful. A rock-lined circular herb garden sits in its center.

Mimi serves an amazing breakfast — peaches with whipped cream (she’s a cook after my own heart) and warm scones and juice, followed by crispy bacon and French toast.

There’s warm maple syrup from an antique server that required some instructions. Mimi explained that you press the top lever while the syrup pours from the bottom. The server sits in its own glass base. Attention to details like this define this inn, and make it a special place to stay.

Lunch at the Damariscotta River Grill nicely rounded out our 24-hour getaway. We were greeted by Meg, the hostess, who led us upstairs to a large dining area. Brick walls displayed stunning artwork that is changed very six weeks. The wine rack and fireplace create a nice ambiance.

Their lunch menu offers lots of choice including a nice variety of salads (served with house-made dressings) and a unique variety of sandwich selections and specials. All of the wraps sounded great — Cajun fish, Thai, Portbello and veggie. From burgers to lobster, it’s all here.

I chose the pastrami wrap served with onions and mustard sauce, and it was incredibly good and very different from the usual. With a side of Mediterranean Couscous salad, this was a delicious lunch for less than $9.

Just a brief chat with Rick demonstrates how passionate he is about his food. The fact that there are no fryolators here should tell you something.

The dinner menu looked incredible, too. All entrees are available as small plates — by deducting $4 — for those with smaller appetites or who want to save room for dessert. They also offer an open Three Course Fixed Price choice. Add $7.97 to any entrée price (full or small plate) and you get your choice of a first-course soup, salad or chowder, and a dessert!

George

In the mid-1980s, I wrote a comprehensive plan for the town of Damariscotta, working with a group of local citizens. One of their primary concerns was maintaining a flourishing downtown. So it was great to return and see the exceptionally vibrant area, discover the beautiful conservation lands of the Damariscotta River Association, enjoy two fine restaurants, and spend some time in a nice B&B.

Here’s what I really liked about Alewives & Ale Bed & Breakfast: our gorgeous room, the neighborhood, Mimi’s very gracious hospitality, the violets on my breakfast plate, the peaches and cream — and yummy scones — for breakfast, my morning newspaper, the library, the quiet background piano music, sleeping late (until 7 a.m.!), sitting on the patio enjoying the gardens, and most especially, Ray McConnell — retired dentist, sportsman and brewer of fine beer and ale.

Linda and I visited with Ray in his “office” — an outbuilding where he brews exceptional beer, smokes meat and fish (including alewives), and gathers a group of friends from 4 to 6 p.m. every weekday afternoon to enjoy good food, beer and conversation. I could really get into that routine!

Lin and I both were fascinated by Ray’s garden where, among other crops, he grows his own hops. But Lin may have tuned out when Ray was telling me about his Maine moose hunt. Or maybe it was when Ray and I started trading fishing tales!

Lunch at the Damariscotta River Grill really surprised me. We’d enjoyed a fabulous dinner the night before at King Eider’s Pub (the subject of a later column), and simply needed a lunch someplace in town. Mary Kate Reny, a leader of the downtown coalition, recommended several places and we picked the Grill almost at random.

Wow, what great luck! Chef Rick Hirsch joined us there and the meal turned into two hours of very interesting conversation. It turns out that Rick was named the 2010 Chef of the Year by the Maine Restaurant Association and is a dynamic, innovative chef with two restaurants in the area.

It isn’t often that eating in one restaurant makes you want to eat in another, but Rick’s Damariscotta River Grill was so good that we’ve made plans to eat at his Anchor Inn Restaurant in Round Pond later this month.

Rick says he offers “regional upscale comfort food.” Here’s what I liked about the Grill and our lunch: the good beer selections and the way the wine list is organized by food group, the very reasonable prices, my superb crab melt topped with tomato and cheese with crispy bacon that nicely added to the flavorful crabmeat, and the accompanying Broccoli Waldorf Salad.

I also loved the mussels. I had ordered something else, but Rick insisted that mussels be added to my order and I am so grateful that he did that — they were the best I’ve ever had, tender and tasty.

“I hope Damariscotta doesn’t change. I like it just the way it is,” Rick said as we reluctantly finished lunch and headed out the door. That sounded a lot like the sentiment I first heard here in the 1980s. The town has changed since then, but as far as I can tell, only for the better. Spend some time this summer in Damariscotta.

IF YOU GO . . .

Alewives & Ales Bed & Breakfast
www.alewivesandales.com
563-1561; 22 High St.
Opened in 2004.

Damariscotta River Grill
www.damariscottarivergrill.com
563-2992; 155 Main St.
Opened in 2003

Visit George’s website: www.georgesmithmaine.com for travel tips, book reviews, outdoor news and more.