Not so long ago, Kittery, Maine’s southernmost town and its oldest incorporated one (1647), was just a quaint, blue-collar hamlet catering to the Portsmouth Naval Yard workers (which is in Kittery, not neighboring Portsmouth, New Hampshire). Now, it’s a fast developing foodie hub, centering on the downtown area, known as Kittery Foreside. We’re talking about a downtown that takes two minutes to stroll through. Nevertheless, Kittery’s center boasts multiple breweries, a whole animal butcher, and a seafood purveyor. There are enough bearded baristas and bartenders on hand to make you think Kittery is a Williamsburg wannabe. But, seriously, Kittery is what Williamsburg would love to be.
Linda Clarke is a freelance travel writer whose work has been published in the Boston Globe, New York Daily News, and several other print and online publications.
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1. Bob's Clam Hut
Bob's Clam Hut has been the place for fried whole belly clams since 1956. The clams are served two ways: the way clam digger and original owner Bob Kraft served them—dredged in flour, unseasoned, and cooked in clean oil; and the way long serving cashier Lillian preferred—dipped in egg wash and then flour, giving a fluffy coating, but still unseasoned and cooked in clean oil. Either way, no salt and super clean oil results in a sweet clam with an unadulterated sea brine taste. Of course, there's more than just clams. Also, it might be 60 years old, but Bob's moves with the times and supports sustainable fishing with its rotating selection of "under-loved fish," promoting a locally harvested and abundant species, like cusk or hake. After all that salt, Bob's malted chocolate milkshake made with Maine's Rococo ice cream is sweet heaven.
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2. Robert's Maine Grill
Owned by the same company as Bob's, and even though it's younger by 30 years, Robert's Maine Grill is Bobs' big, more sophisticated sibling. It sits across the street from Bob's, and although it's casual, is the place for a grown-up meal, or drinks and bites in the lively bar. While you're sipping you can read the Mainisms above the bar to blend in with the locals and not look like a total outta staytah. Otherwise, eat outside on a deck overlooking Spruce Creek. Food wise, you can't go wrong with steamers marinated and cooked in Maine's Allagash White beer, Moxie and bourbon basted barbecue tenderloin tips, and a raw bar whose inhabitants haven't traveled very far.
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That Lillian must have been quite something. Not only did Bob's adopt her clam-cooking style, but when owner Michael Landgarten opened this bank-turned-cafe in Wallingford Square, he chose to name it after her. The converted bank's giant Mosler safe is now Vintage Vinyl, a small alcove with old records for sale. Besides excruciatingly tempting pastries, all made in the kitchen downstairs, Lil's offers appetizing salads and sandwiches. Order up a rose latte chai (made with Earl Grey and rose petals), or pair coffee with a glazed cruller, a New England doughnut-style pastry staple. Mainers love 'em.
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4. Black Birch Kitchen and Drinks
The Black Birch's addendum of Kitchen and Drinks puts it in line with the dining trend of pairing seasonal, locally inspired comfort food and thoughtfully curated drinks. Chef Jake Smith's midday menu is a grazing-type array that includes salt cod croquettes and lobster mac and cheese. The evening menu includes au courant kale salad and roasted cauliflower, brick cooked chicken with Brussels sprouts, and Black Birch fish and chips—beer battered haddock with a reasonable version of what passes for chips stateside. Among the fine New England ales is Tributary's oatmeal stout, IPA, brown ale, and pale ale. You'd be remiss not to try at least one.
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B.O.K. aka Bill's Original Kitchen opened for lunch and dinner in October 2015, adding a unique "allergen friendly" option to Kittery. Chef and owner Bill Clifford can cook up anything from New England comfort food to hearty Asian classics. But he takes the current food allergy crisis seriously and promises to help those with dairy, gluten, and other allergies enjoy a good meal.
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6. Anju Noodle Bar
Sitting pretty in the heart of Kittery, right in Wallingford Square, this hip noodle joint really wouldn't look out of place on any big city street. Window walls allow diners to see and be seen, and it possesses hauteur unusual in Kittery. Anju Noodle Bar is the kind of place to perch and nibble and chat. Broiled eel and coconut escargot are among the more eclectic choices, but you can also order pork buns and shrimp toast. Alongside wine, beer, and cocktails, Anju offers Japanese sakes.
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7. Anneke Jans
Anneke Jans considers itself a neighborhood bistro, but it's a posh one, particularly for Kittery. Located by the water in the Foreside, the interior is exquisite thanks to shiny old wood flooring, starched white linens, and floor to ceiling Georgian style windows. The lounge is perfect for pre-dinner drinks or a more relaxed meal. Aside from the seasonal vagaries, chef Lee Frank favors Maine seafood and local produce, and why wouldn't you when the finest is on your doorstep? The fried olives—a simple, but effective nibble—have become a go-to appetizer.
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8. Blind Pig Food & Provisions
Blind Pig Food & Provisions is located on Kittery's Badger Island, a small plot of land in the Piscataqua River, right by the Maine/New Hampshire border. Chefs Mike Prete and Matt Greco put their own spin on New England cooking with dishes like dueling chowders, which pairs the creamy New England version with the tomato-y Manhattan one. Enjoy that or anything else outside in the Blind Pig's German style beer garden.
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Trying to find good Indian food in New England used to be a bad joke, but thanks to a few places like Tulsi, there's new hope. Vegetarian and vegan highlights include paneer makhanwala (Indian curd cheese simmered in a creamy curry tomato and pureed cashew sauce) and bhindi masala (deep-fried okra with tomato, onions, and bell peppers in a mild masala sauce). Otherwise, the usual meat and fish entrees satisfy. Tulsi serves local beers and sake, and inventive cocktails.
Photo courtesy of Tulsi