L.L. Bean galoshes, doe piss (fuh huntin’), and fly rods are not the only things that mark Maine’s personality, though not to acknowledge that some of its old time life-longers might be insulted to hear otherwise would be oblivious at best. Nope, not in Camden though – a jewel within the great state of pine trees and antler life lives this little hotspot for the foodie/wine-tasting/used-book-junkie; a refined nirvana of sorts.
Not completely lost of Maine’s quintessential nature surroundings, Camden boasts a favorite for hikers – the sweepingly brilliant lookouts of Camden Hills, but for those who are looking more for a little culture and quaint New England charm, Camden’s Main Street is the place to be.
Flowers and Fineries
Lined with one specialty shop after another, a collection of colors splashes off the face of Camden’s Main Street storefronts. Yellow striped awnings frame cheese shops, chalkboards with the daily specials on fine wines and spreads boast, “Best cup of coffee in town,” along with their prices for fresh spring tulips and other seasonal treats. That particular shop, Lily, Lupine & Fern (11 Maine Street; 207-236-9600) started out 23 years ago selling antiques and flowers but because of customer demand, the owners, Bunni and her husband Gary, a leather-vest wearing, long-haired biker type with a voice full of friendly gruff, have evolved into offering fine spirits, specialty food items, and New England sourced coffee claimed to be so delectable, a cost of $14.50 a pound stands justified.
The smell of herbs and cheeses, glass cases of cigars, walls lined with hundreds of bottles of imported wines, and ribbon-tied displays of wicker baskets full to the brim with glass jars of whole figs in syrup, wine-ripened sauces, and chocolate cookies “made in the California wine country,” define the character of this tiny, two room shop. The exceptional quality of flower arrangements offered in the second room’s cooler warns on their website (www.lilylupine.com) that though the shop is sorry, they “do not stock carnations.” Fruit baskets, artisan cheeses, and specialty crackers are also a prize of this retail gem, open 10:00am – 5:30pm, Mon-Sat. during the winter, and then also on Sundays, 12:00pm – 5:00pm during the warm season.
For the used-book junkie looking for thrills in a quaint, literature-soaked, nook size reading niche, the nearly hidden, second story shop, Stone Soup (33 Main Street; 207-763-3354) exists to please. Located at the top of a set of stairs tucked between the doors of two unrelated establishments, Stone Soup gives something of the feeling of the book store in the fabled film, The Neverending Story, complete with the sweet aroma of “old book smell” and brimming with entire wall lengths, from floor to ceiling, of piles upon piles of newer and antiquated used books. In addition to the seemingly endless supply of old paperbacks ranging from genres of Mystery and General Fiction to Women’s Studies, Aviation, and Gonzo Journalism there is also a tiny “music room” (generously titled here considering the capacity of said “room” is at best a single patron) that holds two deep drawers full of vintage record albums; a glass-encased Edison Original Record from 1919 hangs solo on the wall.
Since 1985, Paul Joy, a congenial if not chatty older gentleman, along with wife Agnes, have owned Stone Soup, fashioning it to offer “a little something for everyone.” Made up of two rooms no bigger when combined than the size of a large bedroom, a person can walk out with an armful of books for about half the price they would have paid retail. The shop offers its eclectic selections as a compilation made up mostly from patrons who wish instead of buying to trade or sell their collections, which Joy says inspired the shop’s folk-tale influenced name. During the off-season no set hours exist, “a part of the ambiance,” according to Joy. During the on season Stone Soup is open 10:00am – 5:00pm, Mon-Sat., and 11:00am – 4:00pm on Sundays. As a rule, if it’s cold season, you’re better off calling first.
Camden Harbor Eateries
A New England charmer begging to satisfy the amateur foodie in all of us, Camden Deli (37 Main Street; 207-236-8343) one of coastal Maine’s premier delicatessens goes beyond the run of the mill roast beast sandwich, and instead ventures into the realm of jazz-laced radio tunes and the dishing up of grilled portabella melts served on sourdough with creamy garlic mayo; and gourmet grilled cheeses made with Muenster, Mozzarella, and Monterey Jack, dressed with tomato and fresh herbs. The menu, much of which is written in chalk on an enormous, quarter-wall size chalkboard behind the counter also includes baked and distinguished goodies ranging from good old fashioned blueberry pies to English gingerbreads, chocolate covered strawberries, and specialty quiches full of broccoli, cheddar, and lobster. Barista inspired beverages also find a place on the board with wide variety.
Lucky for the frugal traveler, not a single sandwich on the menu costs more than $8.50, with the exception of their crab and lobster rolls, both assigned to market price. The best aspect of this place, however, isn’t even its delicious array of food stuffs – it’s the view while you eat your vittles and sip your espressos. An entire wall lined with floor to ceiling windows exposes a classic, New England, coastline scene replete with a small waterfall spilling into an Atlantic harbor, sea gulls circling; windjammers anchored. Serving up fresh, tasty ingredients since 1985, Camden Deli is open daily, 7:00am – 7:00pm; Sundays included, and offer their menu online (www.camdendeli.com).
The Rest of Main Street-eries
Retail shops selling antique silverware sets and hand-hooked rugs, hand-sewn dolls and wood inspired cutlery continue to line Camden’s Main Street. From chowder houses to shops selling Maine sourced products like jarred blueberries called, “The Caviar of Maine,” this street has an opportunity for just about anyone with a taste for culture. The best part about it? Even in the starkest cold of a frigid Maine winter at least half its shops continue year round to offer warmth through comforts rarely found.