Sandra Neily here: In late August I was treated to a three-night cruise on the windjammer the Angelique. There was much to rhapsodize about. (Thank you, Leslie!), but this is a post about food and avoiding disappointment, financial or otherwise.
I was warned the boat food would be amazing.
It was. And all cooked in two tiny, closet-like kitchens. I could smell the baking rolls, breads, and pastries by 6:30 each morning. A partial list of meals we ate helps explain my epiphany and my project.
Here goes: tarragon-curry chicken salad wraps with olive oil, lemon, chives, a touch of mayo, honey and pickled grapes and a crisp pink apple salad; breakfast, quiche made with lobster, Canadian bacon, and fruit salad; lunch on deck, freshly made fish chowder, green salad, and flaky biscuits. Dinner again, marinated steak tips with creamy garlic mashed potatoes, roasted squash and chocolate chip brownies for dessert.
On the cruise I had an epiphany when one of the women lying on the deck with me, asked, “When is the last time you had food this good?”
Here’s the last great meal memory that I shared. “Down a tiny ally in Quebec City when every road only had a small tunnel to walk between the banked snow. I think it cost at least $175 Canadian and that was forty years ago. All-you-can-eat mussels with a different sauce each time we cleaned a bowl of them. Delicate white fish with a piccata sauce, lemons grilled into the flesh. Fresh bread that literally melted in our mouths. Chocolate mousse I won’t try to describe. Think moans.”
But that memory was paid for by having a regular income. And sadly, that meal was decades ago.
So. Two things.
Bob and I don’t have regular incomes anymore. (And we’re getting shocked at the cost of fresh fruit and veggies. Not a good sign.) And I am soooooo done with reading about amazing Maine restaurants where, looking at the menu, I could perhaps afford two appetizers.
And two, when we do go out and try to eat affordably, the food makes me angry. Very angry. It’s often not worth $10, let alone $35 or more.
I feel increasingly ripped off. Bloated stale, cheap buns on small burgers; dinner salads with limp iceberg lettuce, unripe tomatoes, and a slab of unseasoned, mass-produced Sysco chicken tossed on it; rubbery baked potatoes that have aged badly in a warming bin.
My list of never-going-there-again eateries is getting longer and longer. Bob fears it will shrink to hot dogs from seasonal food carts.
I still read the wonderful restaurant reviews from all over the state, but know from the list of entrees, I’d be way over $100 for both of us to eat out.
Now to my current epiphany project: answering this question. “How might we eat out one or two times a month and spend less than $40-$45 per meal? Hopefully less than $35 per meal? Maybe a good goal would be $75 per month for two evenings out. The food has to be really, really good food. I could hope that it’s lovingly prepared, or just simply well prepared.
Starting with this post I am going to offer up some reviews, menu suggestions, and even some figuring of the bill. I hope colleagues and readers of this blog will send suggestions I can share.
Please send me your short reviews, using this one below as a template. Please always find something good to say. Add a line or two about something unique or worth knowing.
Here’s the format. I think we’ll just use first names.
King Eiders, Damariscotta, Maine (reviewed by Sandy)
The Good: The burgers are great: thick and cooked as one orders them, and the thick-cut, chewy yet somehow crisp fries taste like real potatoes cooked in mom’s oven. (Probably they aren’t, but they taste like it.) My sister still raves about their deep bowls of appetizer mussels redolent with garlic and wine, but on our budget, that dish would be ordered as an entrée.
Needs Work or Don’t Order: Don’t order the swamped Caesar salad unless you ask for dressing on the side. (It will come from a bottle though.) If you want chicken with it, ask to have it come warm from the grill. Not cold from a fridge, perhaps suspiciously sourced from a Sysco truck. (More on Sysco at another time).
Good to Know: wonderfully, cozy atmosphere on a cold winter day. Reserve a booth. Choose off hours unless you like rubbing lots of joyful shoulders; they have a full-throated, really happy, Happy Hour. Bring a crowd and dive in maybe. When busy, the tiny, mid-room tables are like New York City dining that has you in your neighbors’ laps. (Good eavesdropping though.)
The Approximate Bill: With one shared burger and its generous pile of potatoes, plus a mussels appetizer ordered as an entrée and a thoughtful tip, King Eiders, while on the high-end for us, is still about $40-$45.
I’d be curious to hear reader suggestions for “Eat Well. Eat Cheap” ideas. Already someone’s suggested inexpensive public suppers where there’s good food and always interesting company. I’d also welcome eatery reviews, just a few sentences that touch on the following: The Good. Needs Work or Don’t Order. Good to Know. The Approximate Bill.
Send to firstname.lastname@example.org. Subject: Eat Well. Eat Cheap.
(Next month, I’ll share a truly affordable treat: Bakers Way in Boothbay Harbor. Paired with a King Eider’s outing, we’ll be close to or under $75 for two nights out.)
Sandy’s debut novel, “Deadly Trespass, A Mystery in Maine” won a national Mystery Writers of America award, was a finalist in the Women’s Fiction Writers Association “Rising Star” contest, and was a finalist for a Maine Literary Award. The second Mystery in Maine, “Deadly Turn,” was published in 2021. Her third “Deadly” is due out in next year. Find her novels at all Shermans Books (Maine) and on Amazon. Find more info on Sandy’s website.