A Cabbage Island Clambake: Maine at its finest

Mon, 08/10/2015 - 4:00pm

    For anyone looking for something a little out of the ordinary to do while visiting Boothbay Harbor, Cabbage Island Clambakes is a destination that defies the mundane.

    On Aug. 6, the Bennie Alice, named for the matriarch of the Moore family, owners of Cabbage Island and the clambake business, was filled to capacity with 175 passengers as it left the dock in Boothbay Harbor.

    The boat transports customers to Cabbage Island for an authentic Maine clambake. The boat's captain, Philip Jermain, gave a brief talk about Coast Guard safety regulations, then headed out of the harbor, pointing out things and places of interest, including islands, lighthouses, seals and porpoises.

    The day was perfect, weather-wise, with a sunny bluebird sky and a cool, dry breeze. Around 35 passengers chose to be on the foredeck to get the full experience of being out on the water. There is a bar on the boat, and several people were sipping beers or mixed drinks and chatting amicably.

    After a relaxing cruise around the outer harbor, the Bennie Alice headed up into Linekin Bay toward Cabbage Island.

    Upon arrival at the island, Wayne and Bob Moore, sons of Bennie Alice, were waiting at the dock to tie the boat up and greet each and every passenger as they alighted.

    Patrons were then free to wander around the 5 ½ acre island and claim their favorite picnic tables for their feast. They could also opt to enjoy their meal inside the island lodge or on the wraparound deck. There is enough space in the lodge to accommodate all 175 possible daily patrons, and a large fireplace for heat and ambiance on cooler or wet days.

    Two men were chopping wood and stoking the fire that was already cooking the main attraction: a feast of lobsters, steamed clams, corn on the cob, onions and potatoes and, of course, an egg. Steam was rising from tarpaulin covered food as it cooked over hot rocks and seaweed. Anthony Brewer, an eight year veteran, was doing the cooking, and Greg Miller, a Moore family member, was chopping wood.

    Once patrons were settled, servers brought steaming hot bowls of fish chowder with bags of oyster crackers. It had a 'thin’ base of milk, as opposed to the thick chowder served in many restaurants, and tiny pieces of fried salt pork — a requirement of any real Maine chowder.

    Then the hungry crowd formed a line and headed down to the open air “kitchen” to receive their trays of hot, steaming lobsters (two each) and the accompaniments. Time seemed to slow down as people savored the hot food. There's something about a clambake on an island, on a perfect, sunny Maine August day that makes for a feeling of restful contentment.

    Among the clambake revelers on Aug. 6 were attendees of a “merged family” reunion of 15, from all over the country; a group of around 27 Penobscot Indians from the Penobscot Indian Island Reservation near Old Town, who make an annual trek to Cabbage island; and a group of 11 Pine State customers brought along by Pine State executive, Bob Morin, who had already made the trip four times in the past week.

    “We bring a lot of our customers out as a thank you,” Morin said.

    A family from Chicago, originally from Ukraine, was there experiencing Maine for the first time; and there were over 100 others from all over Maine and the country.

    Nancy and Chris Sprute had come to Maine for the first time from Anaheim, California, for a two-week vacation. Nancy had surprised Chris with a planned itinerary, including a Cabbage Island Clambake.

    It has been a busy summer at Cabbage Island. The Moore brothers said most of their trips are sold out, from the third week in June to the weekend after Labor Day.

    Wayne Moore said that a lot of their customers come from nearby. “The core of our business is from Maine, but it's beginning to change a little. TripAdvisor (a website that posts reviews of businesses) has been huge for us. People from away are seeing us on TripAdvisor, and that's been a great help to us.”

    “We're getting people from all over now,” Bob Moore said. “We used to get 90 percent from Maine, now it's more like 75 percent.”

    The Moore family has been running the business since 1989. Bennie Alice mans the gift shop on the island, while Wayne and Bob act as very accommodating hosts, answering questions and doing all in their power to keep customers happy.

    Call 207-633-7200 for reservations.