Saturday, August 4, 2012

Finestkind! - Our Favorite Lobster Pound - Dispatches from Maine

When I think of lobsters and Maine, and one cannot think of Maine without thinking of lobsters, the first thing that comes to mind is Morse Lobster. For the past decade or so, ever since we chanced upon Sheldon and Kathy Morse’s quaint lobster pound then located on, appropriately enough, Morse Point, in Harpswell, we have returned many times. Lobsters at Morse’s just seemed to taste better than all others. I am not sure why this is true, but it is. Better yet, it was less than an hour’s drive from the cottage on Sabbathday Lake. Whenever we got a hankering for a lobster and a pile of steamers, off we would go to Morse Lobster. 

So how did we find this place? It was pure serendipity. One day we set off for Holbrook’s Wharf, what was then our regular lobster pound located in Cundy’s Harbor on
Sebasoodegan Island, in the eastern reaches of Harpswell. I no longer recall why we did not stay once we arrived there. Perhaps the lobsters were too small, or too expensive, or maybe they were out of steamers (in our book a lobster dinner is not complete without a pile of these native clams). Whatever the reason, we decided to look further to see if we might find what we were looking for that day. Our wanderings eventually brought us to Harpswell Neck, a narrow strip of land separating Harpswell Sound and Middle Bay, and there, on gravel side road, we came across a small sign - “Morse Lobster” - pointing down a rough dirt road leading to the water. We decided to check it out and in doing so we made one of our greatest discoveries in all the years we have been coming to Maine. There, on a small wharf stacked with lobster traps, we found a couple of small tables and Adirondack chairs arranged around a small weathered, clapboard-sided shed. A large kettle rested on a propane burner. That was it. But what more did we really need? Let’s not forget the flower boxes full of color that added a homey touch to the place. We were the only ones there and as we walked down to the wharf we were greeted by a burly fellow with skin the color of a boiled lobster who introduced himself as Sheldon Morse. He grew up in Harpswell fishing his native waters. We inquired about the lobsters and steamers, and soon we were sitting in the Adirondack chairs looking out over the blue expanse of Harpswell Sound, its surface dotted with multi-colored buoys marking the locations of lobsters traps a few fathoms below, while three lobsters and a couple pounds of steamers were cooking in the pot along with ears of the local corn. It really does not get any better than this.

That was our only visit to Morse Lobster that summer. We soon returned to Maryland but vowed that we would make our way back to Harpswell Neck at our first opportunity the following summer. During that long winter, when we dreamed of Maine and lobster, we recalled our fond memories of that day. When we finally did return to Maine the following August, our first trip to the coast included a trip down Harpswell Neck to a new and improved Morse Lobster. Well, I am not sure you can improve on perfection, but the operation had grown over the winter. The shed was still there as was the wharf where we ate the previous summer. But now there was a new, larger wharf with a few more tables sheltered by umbrellas. The flower boxes were still there as was Sheldon, still jovial and hard at work over his pot of lobsters and steamers. We knew we were in for a treat! We ordered lobsters, steamers and corn and once again enjoyed the local scenery as we waited for our meals to cook. The place had upscaled a bit, as lobster pounds go, but the ambiance was the same and the lobsters and steamers tasted just as good as they did the year before and during our subsequent visits to Harpswell Neck that summer, and the summer(s) after that.

We have visited Morse Lobster so many times over the years that I have now forgotten just how many summers we’ve eaten at our favorite lobster pound in Maine. And each time there was Sheldon presiding over his small fiefdom. We rarely visited another lobster pound unless we were exploring a more distant section of the coast. Business was good as more people discovered the Morse’s now little-kept secret. The original shed was used for storage, replaced by a larger structure where take-out orders were placed and the meals prepared. Family members and others took orders and shuttled meals to the tables. Lacey, the family dog who seem to enjoyed swimming more than anything else, would wander among the tables allowing diners and other visitors to briefly run their fingers through her wet coat before moving on to yet another adventure. It was also around this time that Sheldon took over the defunct Ernie’s Drive-In, adjacent to the Bowdoin College campus in nearby Brunswick. He renamed it Morse’s Lobster Shack, and sold lobsters to go and offered local seafood inside or at your car (“just blink your light for service”).

Sadly enough it seems that all good things must come to an end. One summer we arrived in Maine and planned to return to Morse Lobster at our first opportunity. When we did, we found the pound closed and strangely silent. Gone were the tables and chair and the umbrellas. The wharf was once again piled with lobster traps and Lacey was nowhere in sight. We could not believe it. We were heartbroken. As it turned out, some of the new neighbors on Harpswell Neck did not like the idea of a commercial operation in “their” neighborhood. They appealed to the Harpswell town council to close Morse Lobster down. I wrote a letter to the council questioning the wisdom of such a move - lobstermen who have fished these waters for generations should not be dispossessed of their traditions and livelihoods. In the end, however, the council’s decision was allowed to stand and we lost our favorite lobster pound in Maine. We looked for alternatives, but it was just not the same. The lobsters and the steamers we found elsewhere were fine, but gone was that special ambiance we had come to enjoy during our summer sojourns in Maine.

When we returned the following summer we were happy to learn that Sheldon was back in business. Not on Harpswell Neck where he and Kathy continued to live; they had leased the lobster pound at Holbrook’s Wharf, in Cundy’s Harbor, where we use to eat before we discovered Morse Lobster. It was not quite the same as what we had come to enjoy at their former location, and it was a farther drive than before, but we were happy that Morse Lobster was back in business. At least for that summer. And then summer was over and with it Morse Lobster at Holbrook Wharf. Again we had to look for an alternative. It just wasn’t the same.

As we returned to Maine again this summer we were reminded that we had yet to find a lobster pound as friendly and pleasant as Morse Lobster. Usually we were eating lobster during the first days of our visit yet this year we seemed to be dragging our feet. There was always Morse’s Lobster Shack, which we had eaten at a few times, but it was not on the water. Lobsters are meant to be eaten outside and with a clear view of the water. The closer the better. The Morses had sold the Shack a few years ago although it retained the old name. This year, however, we noted that the place had a new name. Nope, this just wouldn’t do.

We had been here a few days when we took a drive down to Land’s End, at the very southern tip of Bailey Island. On our way home we were preparing to cross the historic Cribbstone Bridge from Baily Island to Orrs Island when Sally Ann called out “Oh my God, Morse Lobster!” There, on the southern end of the bridge, is a restaurant we have been passing for years without ever giving it much of a thought. Adjacent to the bridge was a small shed festooned with lobster buoys and an American flag; beside it a short, narrow pier leading out to a deck over the water with two tables. On the shed was a small oval sign - “Morse Lobster.” We quickly pulled to the side of the road. “It has gotta be the same,” I said. We parked and walked across the road and looked into the shed. No one was there. We turned around and there came Sheldon walking across the parking lot from the Cribbstone Grille. This is the second summer he and Kathy have been running both the restaurant and the wholesale and retail lobster pound next door. If we had only known last summer! We were so happy to know he was back in business . . . and only three miles down Harpswell Sound from his original operation we had first discovered years ago. We had already eaten but we pledged to return as soon as possible.

Nothing ever stays the same, but sometime it does if you just wait long enough. We still think fondly back to that first summer when we discovered that small wharf with a couple of tables and chairs. A few days ago we returned to the “new” Morse Lobster and ate at one of the tables at the end of the pier. The lobsters, steamers and corn were just as good as we remembered them. It is still our favorite lobster pound in Maine. Great food, friendly people, and surrounded by the beautiful scenery of coastal Maine. Finestkind!

1 comment:

  1. So glad I foudn this post - we too enjoyed Morse's lobster at the original location and had been looking for something to fill the void since they closed. I am going looking for this new location, thank you!