Escape RI with Easy Fall Day Trips
Here are four fun getaways to explore for a few hours, or maybe the weekend.
A seaside town brimming with craft beer and fantastic food. By Jamie Coelho
If you know me and my husband, then you know we plan our getaways with the kids around craft breweries and food, with a kid-friendly detour or two. Portland, Maine, has the most microbreweries per-capita in the United States, and it was recently declared the 2018 Restaurant City of the Year by Bon Appetit (as if getting reservations wasn’t already tough enough!).
It’s the perfect driving distance place for a food-exploring, beer-sipping adventure. We choose a Monday to avoid the weekend crowds and decide on a more casual approach that doesn’t require booking tables in advance.
With a food and drink plan in place, we set off for the harborside city. But we have ulterior motives: to spread the good word about Rhode Island’s booming restaurant, bar and brewery scene while we’re there. We think Providence is as cool as Portland, so we sport our twin T-shirts emblazoned with the outline of Rhode Island on the front that read “Drink Beer from Here,” and promote Rhode Island’s brewery scene on the back. We wear them loud and proud as we make our way across the city. Don’t say I didn’t tell you, Portland.
Before we drink beer, we need sustenance. The last time we visited Portland, we stopped at a lobster roll cart outside Bissell Brothers brewery. Now that cart has turned into The Highroller Lobster Company, a full-fledged brick and mortar restaurant located downtown at 104 Exchange Street. We nab a table right at noon and I head to the counter to order a lobster taco made with a shatter-crisp baked cheese shell and topped with lime mayo, while my husband opts for the surf and turf, which is a juicy burger stacked with lobster claws and topped with jalapeño mayo. The sweet lobster meat is Maine-sourced and steamed to perfection, and lobster rolls are nestled into locally baked, buttered brioche buns. It’s a super casual spot with comfy booths, counter seating and an epic craft beer menu, plus family-friendly options like Yoo-hoo, a simple frankfurter and a burger. highrollerlobster.com
After a memorable meal — probably one of the best things I’ve eaten in my life — we stroll along the water at Old Port and check out a piece of the Berlin wall that is planted by the dock where boat tours depart on lobstering and lighthouse-sightseeing adventures. The kids enjoy seeing all the big boats, and then it’s off to Oxbow Blending and Bottling on Washington Avenue for some beer tasting. It’s on Portland’s East End, nicknamed the “Yeast End” for the number of breweries that are within walking distance.
Oxbow is located next door to both a meadery and a distillery, (Remember: Beer before liquor never sicker. Choose wisely.) We stick to the plan and get ready for some spontaneously fermented farmhouse ales and oak barrel-aged brews. oxbowbeer.com
A neat addition to the beer garden is the onsite Duckfat Friteshack, a small takeout window offering paper cones of Duckfat’s famous Belgian-style fries made from Maine-grown potatoes. Try them chili-topped or poutine-style, smothered with local cheese curds, gravy and a sunny side egg on top — the yolk still gooey and begging for a fry to be dipped into its golden center — or opt for salt and pepper-sprinkled fries served with cheffed-up side sauces in flavors like Thai chili mayo and truffle ketchup. For those who don’t want to wait for a table at the original outpost, the Friteshack delivers a similar experience in a convenient and fun atmosphere. duckfatfriteshack.com
We grab some fries and a thick blueberry milkshake for the kiddos while sipping Oxbow’s farmhouse ale made with freshly pressed peaches and another ale that’s aged in used Brunello di Montalcino wine barrels. The line between beer and wine is slightly blurred, and it tastes terrific.
If there’s time for another brewery stop, head to Thompson’s Point, where the renowned Bissell Brothers serves a beer named after a “Seinfeld” episode, “Here’s to Feeling Good all the Time.” Although it’s closed on Mondays, the brewery is located next door to a wine tasting room, just in case visitors want to taste the best of both hops and grapes all in one stop. Onsite food options include Locally Sauced, touting tacos and burritos at a connected restaurant, and occasionally there might be a food cart out front, too. bissellbrothers.com
Every good day trip needs a sweet finish, and the icy treats at Mount Desert Island Ice Cream do the trick. The housemade ice cream is churned onsite, five gallons at a time, using natural ingredients. Notable rotating, seasonal flavors include blueberry sour cream, Girl Scouts Gone Wild and Madagascar vanilla bean made with beans scraped from handcut vanilla pods. mdiic.com
And while you’re in the neighborhood, avoid the morning lines and swing by The Holy Donut at 7 Exchange Street in the later afternoon for melt-in-your-mouth doughnuts made from Maine mashed potatoes. Why not grab breakfast for the next day or — who are we kidding — snacks for the long ride home? theholydonut.com
Nuts and Bolts
Drive time: Two-and-a-half hours
Miles: 312 round trip
How to get there: 95 N to 295 N to exit 7.
Best season to go: Late fall to beat the crowds.
If you stay over: The Press Hotel
Located in the former Portland Press Herald building in the Old Port, this boutique hotel has playful flourishes that pay tribute to its previous life as a newsroom. Each guestroom is inspired by a writer’s office, and there’s a two-story installation piece
of vintage typewriters in the onsite art gallery. 119 Exchange St., Portland, Maine, 207-808-8800, thepresshotel.com
Don’t miss: Portland Food Tasting Tour. Learn about Portland’s food scene firsthand from Maine Food for Thought Tours, which take fellow food lovers for locally sourced tastings at six different nationally acclaimed restaurants. 207-
Worth a detour: Off the Boat Lobsters. Bring a cooler and grab some Maine-caught lobsters to take home from Off the Boat Lobsters in York, Maine. Visit the dock where the lobsters are dropped off by boat, and available for purchase through Columbus Day weekend. Cash only. 2 Seabury Rd., York, Maine, 207-337-8885, offtheboatlobsters.com
Closer to home: Rhode Island Brew Bus. Get on the Rhode Island Brew Bus — now owned by the same company as the Maine Brew Bus — for a tour of some of the Ocean State’s best breweries. Choose the beer-soaked adventure that best suits your tastes and location. 232-4232, therhodeislandbrewbus.com