Photograph by Pat Wellenbach, AP Images
Ask a lobsterman where a good lobster shack is, and there’ll be a long, silent pause. “You mean a place to eat?” To generations of fishing families on the Maine coast, a lobster shack is where buoys are stored and traps repaired. But since the 1950s, visitors have come to expect something else: the most authentic way to eat lobster. While countless roadside joints along the main drag (Route 1) do indeed serve fresh lobster, what you really want is to explore the tips of Maine’s peninsulas. This is where lobster shacks dot the coast and offer a taste of real fishing villages. The ocean sneaks up granite slabs under wooden docks. The smell of seaweed mingles with the funk of bait, and buyers on rafts receive 90-pound crates of crustaceans from captains in oilskins. You eat outside on picnic tables, your fingers dripping with sweet lobster juice and buttery corn on the cob. It’s BYOB; also bring picnic baskets filled with appetizers for sunset lingering or savoring while waiting for a table.
Just 20 minutes from Bath and around the corner from the rugged, sandy exposed beach at Reid State Park, Five Islands Lobster Co. offers a classic Maine scene. Tucked into the quiet Sheepscot Bay, the wood-shingled shack sits amid its namesake: five islands that are a short skiff-ride offshore. The land here was deeded to the town four decades ago, under guidelines that it would be available to fishermen. Five Islands Lobster Co. sells 20,000–30,000 pounds of lobster during the season. On your way down the peninsula, also stop at Five Islands Farm for artisan cheeses and wine.
Shaw’s Fish & Lobster Wharf is two stories high and the wharf deck gives you a sun-soaked, bird’s-eye view of New Harbor. Humble houses creep up the slope from the water. Visitors kayak in for a bite. Fishermen sell their catch down below and next door to New Harbor Lobster Co-Op. One review claimed this place is “as Maine as it gets” and that it retains its authenticity despite being on the tourist map. Boat rides to the artist-colony island, Monhegan, depart from a spot next to the deck stairs.
Pemaquid and Winter Harbor
Lobstermen usually don’t have a million dollars to buy the waterfront they need to do their job, so they group themselves into co-ops and buy wharves. Some, like Pemaquid Lobster Co-Op and Round Pond Lobsterman’s Co-Op, have cook shacks with unbeatable views of the water. Others, like Winter Harbor Lobster Co-Op, have no shack, but say buying direct is the best deal for you and the lobstermen. Pack a pot, offer about $5 per pound to a lobsterman or co-op manager, and head to the grills at Schoodic Point (part of Acadia National Park).
Selling a parent’s shorefront property is an easier way to make a million than fishing. That’s why you can count on fingers the number of lobster shacks still running like Miller’s Lobster Co. Nine miles from Rockland, grandfather Miller, a lobsterman, bought the wharf property in 1960. His sons, daughter-in-law, granddaughter, and nephew continue his tradition, hauling, cooking, and serving lobsters. Rachel, a full-time CPA, runs the cook shack on weekends. Gail, a retired cement-factory worker, cooks weekdays. Mark fishes for lobster year-round. In this area, Waterman’s Beach Lobster (South Thomaston) and Cod End (Tenants Harbor) also have family roots.
2014 Traveler Photo Contest
See all the winning images from the 2014 Traveler Photo Contest.