September 20, 2012

TRAVELIN' MAINE(RS): CLEONICE: Make a point to stop at a great restaurant in Ellsworth

George and Linda Smith

We’ll never drive through Ellsworth again without eating at Cleonice.

click image to enlarge

click image to enlarge

You won’t want to miss Harbor Fest

Most of the tourists are gone, but the beauty of Boothbay Harbor remains, and the combination of that seaside paradise and a day full of fun can’t be beat.

“Harbor Fest” is scheduled for Saturday, Sept. 29, from noon to 3 p.m., featuring local artists, a pie-tasting contest, a treasure hunt with a grand prize of $250, lots of kids’ games and a community fundraiser — “Pick up a Paintbrush” — to help raise awareness about Lyme Disease.

At 4 p.m., the fun moves to the Boothbay Harbor Shipyard with the return of the Dory Chowder & Chili Contest. Up until 7 p.m., you can taste the delicious food of local chefs and help determine the winner.
And there’s more: an Oktoberfest beer tasting at the Boothbay Craft Brewery, and live music by The Petersen Project — all for a good cause. Event proceeds benefit Rebuilding Together Lincoln County, a group that makes home repairs and improvements for those who need them the most.

Harbor Fest organizers Lori Pecor and Heather O’Brien also organized the Boothbay Beer Festival that we attended earlier in the summer. If this event is half as much fun, you don’t want to miss it!


Enjoy the art of Maine’s Tom Higgins

His big easel stood in the grass alongside Blake Hill Road in Mount Vernon as we returned to the house from a long walk. The scene, only partially completed, was a stunningly beautiful presentation of our stream.

And it took only a few moments of talk to discover that we share a lot of friends and acquaintances with retired UMF art professor Tom Higgins, as well as a love of art. In the past 38 years, Tom, in his words, has gotten “to know the scenic wonders of Maine.” And painted them.

You can see Tom’s beautiful work until Oct. 10 in the Emery Community Arts Center at the University of Maine Farmington, open every day from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. — and anytime at Greenhut Galleries at 146 Middle St., in Portland.

Art and music are important economic drivers in Maine. A 2011 economic impact study of Maine Performing Arts Festivals reported that nearly 310,000 people visited the 15 surveyed festivals, spending about $45 million as part of their festival experience, with another $14.3 million of indirect spending.

You would do well to get to the seven museums featuring 53,000 works of art on the Maine Art Museum Trail. Check it out at

Wherever you enjoy your art — from the state’s major museums to local galleries and shops — we are blessed!

— George

For decades, we’ve fought our way along U.S. Route 1, turned left and felt a sigh of relief as we put the congestion of Ellsworth behind us, enroute to Lubec and Campobello. We knew nothing of the city’s wonderful business district or this very special — we’d even say spectacular — restaurant.


We were picking blueberries at Fayette’s Steep Hill Farm when we encountered friends from Readfield, the Tolmans. Susan said she was really enjoying our travel columns, then asked, with a smile, why we hadn’t written about her daughter’s restaurant.

Good question! It turns out that the Tolman’s daughter Cary and her husband Richard Hanson — twice a James Beard nominee — own one of the coast’s most remarkable restaurants. Cleonice was actually on our list for a future visit because we’d heard good things about it. With a little nudge from Susan, we got there!

The restaurant is named for Rich’s mother and is pronounced “clee-oh-neese.” Tagged as a Mediterranean Bistro, Cleonice actually offers an exceptional array of menu choices. We stopped first for lunch on our way to Campobello, then stopped again on our way home a week later for dinner.
We place a lot of faith in our servers. They know the food, restaurant and owners, and most are very willing to open up. Eliza served us at both lunch and dinner, has waitressed since the age of 12, worked here for four years and was effusive in her praise for Cary and Rich, who treat the staff and customers “like family.” Eliza also mentioned her admiration for “what they stand for.”

That takes a bit of explanation, because it covers a range of things from their commitment to local produce, meat, fish, beer and wine, to their sincere interest in your dining experience. Rich came out of the kitchen several times to check on our dinner, and to visit with others in the restaurant.
And you need know nothing more than the fact that Maine’s gardening guru, Eliot Coleman of Four Season Farm, personally delivers the produce every Tuesday morning. Linda has been pouring through Coleman’s book on Hoop Houses all summer, as we ordered and constructed our own.

Their feta cheese comes from Sunset Acres Farm in Brooksville, where cheese maker Anne Bossi has been rated one of the top five cheese makers in the country by the Chicago Tribune. We agree!
My delicious lunch consisted of one of Maine’s underutilized fish species, Red fish, in a pita bread presentation, accompanied by a Manly Men Big Wicked IPA from Atlantic Brewing Co. in Bar Harbor. And yes, it’s manly.

At dinner, tapas kept coming from the kitchen until we said “No mas, please!” Every one of them was fabulous, but my favorite was Romano Beans a la Romano — with a very delicious sauce.   

Or perhaps it was the Htipiti — spicy whipped feta with pita crisps. Yummy!

They did a special presentation of chicken oysters for us — a section from the back of a chicken, fried like oysters, with juice from the stock — molecular gastronomy at its best! Wow! There’s a lot of talent in that kitchen.

A fool for paella, a seafood stew, I made that my entrée selection. Rich helped me learn how to pronounce it, suggesting, “Imagine you are at the Blue Hill Fair in the pie-eating contest, when you say Good pie Ayuh!.” That’s it!

The paella came in a gorgeous bowl with a special cloth napkin, a spoon and a side bowl for shells. Chorizo sausage is the not-so-secret ingredient in this dish, but I was captivated by the clams, scallops and shrimp. The chicken, peas and saffron-scented Bomba rice were a surprise. Oh, this was soooo good.


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