Holbrook’s Snack Bar sits at sea level, where the public road ends. I found it by accident or instinct, driving and admiring the abundance of leaves that nature has finally delivered to the light in northern New England. I took a last minute left on my way out to Orr’s and Bailey Islands and followed the signs to Cundy’s Harbor, past yards with lobster traps and yards with farm equipment, past the community library and the Church of the Nazarene, all the way to the yellow sign warning “Caution”, which is where I turned the Jeep around. There are coves and peninsulas hidden in plain sight in Maine. Towns you might never find in a dozen years, but once you do, they have a tidal pull that almost keeps you from leaving.
I’d started noticing other signs along the way. “Help Keep Holbrook’s Working” read the legend posted here and there. And I thought to myself, “Yes, Holbrooks really should keep working. They will do no one any good loafing around all the time. That Holbrook clan, so incorrigible. Idle hands being the devil’s playthings, and all that, they should definitely stay active. I will help them. I wonder what I can do…” I pictured seven old brothers in overalls who needed new workboots or some other tool of the trade. I hoped I would find a donation box. Almost blinded by imminent philanthropy, that was about when I noticed that both the road and my reverie were about to come to an abrupt end.
“Caution” warned yet another sign. “The public road ends here.” So I was turning around when I noticed the General Store. It was called Holbrook’s, as was the restaurant below. I quickly and astutely surmised that Holbrook was the name of the waterfront and all the affiliated businesses. A working wharf, Maine’s oldest, apparently is what I had stumbled upon. The pleas refer to a community effort a few years back wherein the populace of Cundy’s Harbor raised the funds to keep the waterfront locally owned and operated. The kids who sold me my lunch were more than happy to answer my questions, as I’m sure they do a thousand times a day all summer for the hordes of tourists who are descending right about now.
I never feel more “from away” than I do in places like this one. Like a fast talking slickster drowning everything in affectation with my fancy camera and stupid hat. The people are nice. Not friendly, exactly, aloof, but kind. And maybe it’s all in my head. Maybe I’m paranoid, because I am tired of being an outsider. Always a imperialist from some southern locale after two years here, always a gringo after four years in Mexico. Cundy’s Harbor is a snug community. The kind of township within a village with busybody neighbors and a Protestant work ethic that I idealistically think I would have never left, had I grown up there. Suddenly, I was starved.
There were a dozen sun-drenched picnic tables on the dock, all empty except for two elderly couples eating chowder and ice cream. They stay open until eight all Summer and have a menu that’s slightly more expansive than the usual fare. I had them pack up some food to bring home to Malcolm. I drove back slowly, stopping to frame traps and flowers and steeples in my lens and stare off into the distance at the shimmering waters.
The haddock sandwich ($8) was small, but cute. A lightly battered and fried square of fish on a griddled, buttered bun, topped with lettuce and tomato. Plain and simple. It did not come with tartar sauce. Though I think there was a condiment cart I overlooked, what with all the picturesque scenery to soak up. I had the fish tacos ($7), two to an order. The grilled haddock was folded in doubled up thin corn tortillas and filled with a cabbage slaw and pico de gallo. Though they needed something – something creamy, something spicy – they were incredibly fresh and crunchy, with little lime wedges tucked in for extra tartness. The fries were unremarkable, but the onion rings were outstanding. Eternal chains of sweet onion fried in a flaky batter. I love them.
I can’t imagine a prettier place in all the world, or anywhere I’d rather be in this magic season in Maine.