Monday, April 29, 2013

Maine Monday: Take it outside

Portland waterfront
We are about one month away from the official start of the tourist season in Maine. Memorial Day brings vacationers to our state in droves and the influx lasts well into leaf peeping season in the fall. Weekend dinner reservations are harder to come by in the summer, but that just means you need to plan a little bit ahead. Or use the next four weeks to get out and try some favorite places while you can still find a parking spot on Commercial Street.

The bonus to all these tourists (other than their much needed tourist dollars) is that it turns every restaurant in town into a super family friendly place to go out to dinner. People are here on vacation, they've brought their families, and they're going to go out to eat. Restaurants you might be wary of bringing your kids to in the middle of February are happy to welcome you with open arms (even better if those arms are carrying the cocktail menu) when you show up on a warm summer night. Chances are yours won't be the only little munchkins competing for booster chairs and coloring paper.

The hidden backyard at Caiola's
With the arrival of the beautiful weather comes the welcome return of outdoor tables and patio dining at some of our favorite spots around town. Outdoor tables offer the perfect family friendly spaces for dining. It's naturally loud and there's plenty of people watching to keep you all occupied. It's also much easier to take a restless kid for a pre-main course stroll when you're already sitting outside.

Someplace you might not expect to find family friendly dining is the wonderful neighborhood restaurant Caiola's. The have a lovely backyard patio and plenty of things on the menu that can be made kid friendly. Big C&G is a huge fan of their burger, while Little C&G usually gets a plain version of whatever pasta is on their changing menu. Caiola's has a great cocktail menu and Mr. C&G and I always find something interesting to toast with while the little C&Gs work their way through the charcuterie plate.

Nothing beats the prime location of The Farmers Table. With a sun drenched corner spot and upstairs and downstairs outdoor patios, this is a favorite spot for locals and tourists alike. We used to take Big C&G all the time back when he was an infant (and when it was called The Bakehouse), when goldfish and frozen peas were all he would eat. Thankfully he's branched out and now he'll eat almost anything on their menu. The gorgeous scenery, supply of high chairs, and delicious food make it a perfect family friendly spot for brunch, lunch or dinner.

The Grill Room is another family favorite with a small outdoor patio. The café tables under the trees are blocked off from the skateboarders and other teens that frequent the two parks nearby. With all that noise the other diners will never notice your little ones arguing over who gets the last of the delicious French fries. Don't worry if your kiddos aren't steak eaters, they also have yummy brick oven pizzas on their menu. Little C&G isn't a fan of the cheese they use in their mac & cheese on the a la carte sides menu, so he makes sure to ask if they can make up some plain pasta with butter.

Post lobster roll rock climbing at Two Lights
Other outdoor favorites include the Portland Lobster Company (great picnic tables, live bands, and literally on the water dining), Flatbread pizza (look out for the seagulls), and El Rayo for funky Mexican and outdoor activities (bean bag toss while you wait). Be sure to get to Two Lights Lobster Shack in Cape Elizabeth for lobster rolls, burgers, hot dogs, and all your fried favorites before the line to order wraps out the door and around the parking lot. Nothing says summer in Maine like a lobster roll and a skinned knee from climbing the rocks at Two Lights.

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