The Travelin Maine(rs), George and Linda Smith of Mount Vernon, have spent their lifetimes enjoying all that Maine has to offer. Now they’ll tell you all about it — their favorite inns, restaurants, trips, activities, experiences, and travel books and websites — in their own personal style. They’ll be offering anecdotes, tips and all the details you need. So join them in exploring, experiencing and enjoying the great state of Maine.

Our first year as the Travelin’ Maine(rs) delivered great experiences, fabulous hospitality and interesting lessons. Looking back, we marvel at the number of wonderful restaurants, inns and events our state offers — and the people responsible for them. In the 50 columns published this year, we told you about
some of them. Today, we share our favorites of 2011.

 

Linda
Making an effort to try new restaurants and lodging has opened my eyes to many things. The service industry is a complex business and prior to this year, I really hadn’t noticed how much planning and effort goes into making a restaurant, inn or hotel great.

It’s been a joy to meet so many people who are passionate about food. There are a lot of interesting stories about how restaurants came to be, and how owners came up with their vision of a new establishment, or chefs decide what their menu should offer. Creativity abounds — from the design of a space to the creation of wonderful food. If you haven’t found time to try a new place yet, put one on your list for the next year.

George
We spent a lot of time, initially, worrying about what we’d do if we had a bad experience and deciding to simply not write about them. But we didn’t have any. That surprised us.   

Our goal is to find and tell you about the best experiences, the places where you are almost guaranteed to have a great time. We know that in a few instances, some of you didn’t share our good experience when you visited places we reviewed. We’re sorry about that. And we’re glad you told us.

Best Inns
The Lafayette family of Bangor has impressed us with the quality and service of their hotels. At the top of our favorites list for this year are the family’s Bluenose Inn in Bar Harbor and Senator Inn and Spa in Augusta.

The Bluenose is elegant with large, luxurious rooms offering stunning ocean views. Co-owner and manager Jim Ash and his wife joined us for a very memorable dinner at the inn’s Looking Glass Restaurant, and Jim made sure we enjoyed all the amenities from the spa to the piano bar.

We were surprised by our May visit to the Senator. We’d dined here many times, unaware of the amazing suites and health club. Manager Roger Bintleff calls the Inn “old fashioned,” in its focus on customer service, but we also rated it highly for being on the cutting edge in comfort and technology. Sunday morning’s massages, followed by the Senator’s fantastic brunch — well, it was our best 24-hour vacation of the year!

Camden Harbour Inn takes luxury to a new level, in both price and experience. We called it a splurge. We were indulged and pampered — and, of course, loved it.

Then there were three smaller inns that we will revisit again and again: The Inn on Peaks Island — a unique place just minutes by ferry from Portland; the Noble House in Bridgton — very friendly hosts, best breakfast, very comfortable rooms; and the Greenville Inn — an old Victorian with all the amenities on the edge of the North Woods.
 

Restaurants
We enjoyed many fine meals this year. Our favorites were served here:

Bethel’s 22 Broad Street stunned us with the high quality of our meal and experience. Don’t miss the eggplant lasagna.

Freeport’s Harraseeket Inn hit the favorites list three times: for its Maine Dining Room, Broad Arrow Tavern, and Sunday brunch — our best brunch of the year. Go for the February wild game menu and order the Buffalo Short Ribs or Duck Two Ways.

Melissa Chaiken (chef) and Laura Albin (manager) have created a lively place at The Fiddlehead in downtown Bangor, offering fine meals at reasonable prices. Melissa changes the menu four times a year to highlight local food in season and is very creative.

We described our dinner at Natalie’s in Camden this way: “Amazing, unique, best we’ve had since beginning this column in January, can’t wait to return, been dreaming about it.” Still.
The Looking Glass Restaurant in Bar Harbor combines stunning views with extraordinary food.

If you read this column faithfully every week, you know we love Rockland — and four restaurants there make our best of the year list: Rustica, Amalfi, In Good Company and Café Miranda. In three of these, we’ve dined more than once this year.

Local Restaurants

We don’t mind cheerleading for local restaurants — particularly when they are as good as these three. We eat here often. And we’re pleased to know that you do, too. We’ve run into many people who tried these three after we wrote about them — and in every single case, enjoyed great meals.

Calzolaio Pasta Company in Wilton offers everything from our favorite pizza (Bruschetta) to our favorite eggplant parmigiana. Really, really good.

Hurricane Café and Deli in Greene dishes up great food at low prices — and don’t go home without a container of one of Phil’s delicious soups.

Here in Mount Vernon, Bob Wallack’s Olde Post Office Café draws people from a wide area — for Sherry’s baked goods and Bob’s creative cooking. Friday is Haddock chowder day.
   
Conclusion
We are very grateful for your response to this column. It is so gratifying to hear — often in person — how much you’re enjoying this. We’re enjoying it too!

We’ve created a list for visits and columns in 2012, but we welcome your suggestions (emailed to  [email protected] or mailed to 34 Blake Hill Road, Mt. Vernon, 04352). What’s your favorite restaurant, inn, or event? Tell us and maybe we’ll see you there!

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

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