Every time I cross the causeway from Pleasant Point to the island (yes, Eastport is an island), I wonder whether I’ll be encouraged or discouraged by what’s on the other side. The city’s fortunes seem to cycle between hope and despair, but its promise, its architectural gems, and its smack dab on the water location are quite seductive.
I hit the ground running with fewer than 24 hours to see and do Eastport; thank goodness it’s the smallest city (yup, not only is it an island, it’s officially a city) in Maine. When I caught sight of the old Irving station, now an abandoned site, nearby empty storefronts, and plentiful For Sale signs, I thought despair. Then I arrived downtown and was encouraged by my finds.
• The Pickled Herring: No fried fish in sight at this most unEastport, most unDowneast of restaurants. A welcome addition, and a welcome replacement of El Sardina Loca, which previously occupied this site. Big windows, wooden floors, high ceilings, and a wood-burning oven from which creative pizzas and grilled poultry and meats are fired. I had the carmelized onion, blue cheese, and walnut pizza: great flavor, but crust wasn’t crisp. It came with a mixed greens house salad dressed with a nice herbal vinaigrette and a serving of the house focaccia. Nice selection of wines, and from all reports, excellent martinis, too.
• Quoddy Bay Lobster: Another new and welcome addition to downtown Eastport. This classic take-out lobster (and more) shack has umbrella tables on the harbor. I just missed it being open, but locals sing its praises. The lobster roll ($12 for 1/4 lb. meat) earns raves. Plenty of other choices here, from soups and salads to rolls and wraps, and of course lobster dinners. On a clear day, I can’t think of a better place to go.
• Tides Institute: This museum-in-the-making celebrating the arts and cultural heritage of the Passamaquoddy Bay region (both sides of the border) gets more impressive each time I return. It’s also the driving force behind Culture Pass, an online resource and guide to regional cultural and tourism resources. Be sure to check it out when visiting the region, so you don’t miss any special events.
• Art Galleries: Eastport’s Main Street is looking better and better, as more galleries and studios open. Sure, some boarded-up buildings remain, but bright spots such as The Commons, Eastport Gallery, Eastport Breakwater Gallery, Port O’Call, and Kitty Butterfield made browsing downtown fun.
Other positive developments include the new Passamaquoddy Bay Symphony Orchestra and plans to renovate and restore a waterfront commercial building into a hotel.
Hope springs eternal in Eastport. Bravo to that.