The road to Blue Hill is long and winding, with red- and rock-studded fields on either side as you drive down and east on peninsulas, as if the bones of ancient giants were exhuming themselves the farther you go toward the ocean. When you finally turn into town on an October afternoon it feels like stepping into actual magic. It’s a New England dream world with nothing but libraries, book stores, galleries, cafes, Congregational Churches and a flower shop as far as the eye can see. Main Street isn’t busy, like Bar Harbor or Camden, but seems almost forgotten, left like a village where nothing changes and everything is good. Those sorts of places can also feel haunted though. Downeast can definitely go either way.
If you love America, you have to eat at The Zack Shack. And I don’t mean that in a divisive, jingoist, flag-in-the-back-of-your-pickup-truck way. And I don’t mean it in a socially progressive, Bernie-Bro-where-a-bird-alights-on-the-podium kind of way, either. This is a truly non-partisan issue. This is about American infrastructure, American sensibility, and a shared philosophy of convenience. It transcends politics. I don’t care who you are, you have to acknowledge that a few, a very few things, unite us. And I believe the hamburger drive-in is one of them.
Dorman’s is a Midcoast institution. I’m from away, and even I know that. Malcolm has told me so many times about how there was nothing on that stretch of Route 1 through Thomaston but an ice cream stand and Dave’s Seafood, another long gone, old time favorite. I like to think what it was like there, before the car dealerships, the Walmart and the Hampton Inn, all the consumer ugliness that maligns that way into Rockland. Malcolm remembers going when he was a kid, after dinner with his best friend’s family. And now we bring our girls to get ice cream on summer days when afternoons stretch until bedtime. You can eat Dorman’s in place of dinner, as everyone knows, and it is a perfectly healthy and alternative to a meal. I took Violet and Mina for one last visit this year on the last day of summer to reflect on things like childhood, ice cream, and fleeting moments in time.
The peninsulas emit a siren song that draws us, with no small risk, toward the ocean. Ever since Malcolm started taking me here while we were in college, we’ve made the drive on Route 131 (turn at the Knox Mansion – Very Revolutionary), to fill our bottles from the bubbling spring at Wiley’s Corner, to wade into the Atlantic at Drift-In Beach, and see the sunset where hayfields finally yield to the St. George River. South Thomaston, Tenant’s Harbor, St. George, Port Clyde, Spruce Head. These villages have a magic, a quietness, a quality unlike most other places on earth. These days we’re there a lot, stopping at Harjula’s Dairy Bar, a delivery truck planted in the farm field on a hill above the water, for ice cream at least one evening a week. It is one of my favorite places to be right now.
I tell the girls, and remind myself, all the time that we are so lucky to live in a place that so many people want to visit. Imagine, they live somewhere landlocked, surrounded by highways, billboards, big box stores, and other 21st century soul pollution, and fantasize constantly about coming to Maine. They wait all year, they plan and save, to spend a few days or weeks where we get to be all the time. We live in a special place, I say. And even though it can be a struggle, in March, when the days are dull and ugly, looking around at our neighbors and wondering what might happen if the climate gets too warm too fast, if the lobster migrate north, if we lose fishing and therefore tourism as a means to make a living, I never forget why I chose this place.
It started, as these things tend to do, on Twitter. Nearly every day, friends and family share food-related items on social media with me. Sometimes, these are great tips, like the best way to cook shrimp on the barbecue without drying them out. Other times, well-meaning family will send me ideas for possible items to sell from my food truck, like filling handmade rolled-up waffles with spicy buffalo chicken. And still other times, old friends will contact me with an idea that’s just super gross. This is one of those times.