It’s that time of year when our streets are filled with dusty cars bearing license plates from places like Nebraska, Arkansas and other states that have experienced record heat waves and, in some cases, forest fires.
Tourists are drawn here to enjoy pleasant summer days, take a scenic boat ride and enjoy the cool evening breeze complemented by a tasty evening meal at one of our top restaurants.
Last week I had the pleasure of hanging out with some lovely friends from the Midwest who traveled about a thousand miles to do just that. In the evening, as we cruised around the peninsula, they marveled at the shoreline, waters, woods and wildlife. When we stopped for dinner they looked at the menu like it was written in Latin. They quickly moved on to the succulent scallops, pretty lobster, soft clams and flavorful halibut and settled on the chicken and beef.
It was not surprising. Midwesterners often find our regional seafood dishes a little odd. I know because I was born in the Midwest.
Years ago, 57 years ago to be exact, I remember sitting at a picnic table on the Co-Op wharf getting ready to order a burger. No, no, said my host, you are in Maine. Lobster is what you want. Like my friends in the Midwest, I was in a pickle and didn’t want to insult or challenge my host. But I didn’t know what to do with a lobster. I knew I liked burgers.
Around this time, I remember being on vacation as a kid and looking at a restaurant menu in Michigan. Dad whispered that I could choose something I couldn’t find at home, suggesting that I should try something new. So I ordered swordfish, and it was lovely. The cherry pie was pretty good too.
Years later, I told the host that I would try the lobster, but someone would have to help me. Of course, she smiled. Moments later, a pitcher of beer appeared on the table flanked by a plate of bright red lobsters. My companions and the host tear them up with relish.
I just watched this armored creature, comparing it to the tiny crayfish that lived under the rocks in the creek (no creek or creek) named Pleasant Run that meandered through a park not far from my childhood home.
To tell the truth, Pleasant Run was not at all very pleasant. Along its shores, the board of health posted signs warning us to stay away, as there was a chance the waters could infect us with a dreaded disease called polio. Of course, we ignored the warnings.
Back to the point, as I was staring at the red-clawed beast on my plate, my host took pity on me and asked a short, very pretty young lady to help me.
She smiled, picked it up with both hands, and swooped it like a great white shark meeting a slow-moving seal. In no time, she declawed the beast, cracked the claws, pulled out the shiny red meat, attacked the knuckles, and sucked the paws.
Then she ripped off the tail, extracted the meat, and pointed to the dark line that ran down the center of the tail meat.
You have to take that off, she said.
Oh, what is it? I asked. She laughed at me and said what do you think it is? After a minute or two, I understood.
In about three minutes, this little woman shucked the beast, leaving me with a pile of hot red and white flesh. She then took a fork, dipped it in a paper cup of melted butter, and stuffed it into her mouth. That’s how you eat lobster, she said with a smile.
Around that time, a seagull landed on a nearby railing and focused its eyes on my plate. As the seagull was about to jump, I grabbed the plastic fork, stabbed the meat, dipped it in butter and scraped it.
As his easy meal disappeared, the seagull flew away and I had an epiphany. The lobster was more than good. It was wonderful.
Last week, I thought back to that incident when we walked into one of our top restaurants and my Midwestern friends ordered beef and chicken. I suggested that we might want to try something different and ordered a plate of mussels.
When the steaming mussels arrived my friends looked mystified by the plate of open shells. They asked me if I wanted to show them what to do. So, I picked one from the serving plate, cracked open the shell, stabbed the mussel, dipped it in the flavorful juice, and put it in my mouth.
They wrinkled their faces and followed suit. Their frowns turned into smiles. Hey, that’s pretty good. After a few more bites, one of them asked if I’d let him taste some of my halibut?
Dad was right. When you go to a good restaurant, it’s always a good idea to order something that you won’t have at home.