One of the places I was eagerly anticipating while in Maine was Gilbert’s Chowder House, and I’ll say up front that it lived up to its reputation. Any contention about Gilbert’s is not about quality but about what you should order at Gilbert’s. Read on and learn the answer.
On our first day in Maine, Nancy and I met the reason our friends, Nancy and Jon Breul, moved from Washington to South Portland: their granddaughter, Charlie. Charlie’s parents, Sarah Breul and Rob Roberge, also live in South Portland, and they’re an additional benefit. Eventually, the discussion turned to Gilbert’s, and Rob, a professional fisherman, favored the lobster stew. I had heard from the well known Roadfood expert, Dale Fine, that the ideal order is seafood chowder and an order of clam cakes.
Other views were mooted, and I continued to jabber about Gilbert’s. The upshot was that we went there for lunch on our first full day, a Sunday. I immediately felt guilty. Gilbert’s is on the waterfront, and venturing onto the Portland waterfront on a weekend is to invite a high level of irritation. Everything is crowded, and there is a long wait for everything. We tried Gilbert’s, wandered off and looked around. We tried a couple of other places, including one that invited us in even though there was no hope of ever getting served. We were heading back to the car when a gap opened in the line at Gilbert’s as fortuitously as that gap in the Red Sea of which you have heard.
Once you’re inside, Gilbert’s is a very pleasant old school place. Nothing is fancy or particularly modern. It’s a long and fairly narrow space flanked by tables with a bar and stools, where we sat toward one end.
Nancy B. ordered mussels
The mussels had been steamed in white wine, butter, garlic, and onions. The mussels were tasty and the broth was delicious.
Jon B. ordered a clam roll, shown here after he’d eaten a lot of the clams.
Don’t those clams look good? Do you see any grease there? Another Gilbert’s triumph.
Nancy T. announced that she was going with Rob’s professional expertise, and ordered the lobster stew.
The stew surprised Nancy. She had expected something thick, like a chowder or stew. Gilbert’s lobster stew contains lobster, broth, and cream, with the broth diluting the impact of the cream. So she was a bit disappointed, but certainly did justice to it. I was only able to get a small taste, and thought it was quite good.
I put my faith in Dale Fine and went with the seafood stew,
and a clam cake.
This was my first clam cake. It reminded me of crab cakes and deviled crabs of my youth in the Deep South. They were mostly filling, a completely different food than Nancy’s crab cakes of today, but I still like them, and if I’d been raised in New England, I’d probably be more enthusiastic about the clam cake. Some foods are good if you grew up with them. But the seafood chowder was absolutely sensational. The seafood was fresh and just packed into the bowl, with lots of lobster and shrimp, fish (haddock, I think), and a clam or three. Everything blended together beautifully, while each seafood retained its own flavor. This is a great soup, one worth the wait.
You can guess my answer to what you should order at Gilbert’s. You can’t really go far wrong with anything, but you can’t go more right than with that seafood chowder. All else fades before it. So go to Gilbert’s and order some, and get a quart to take home for later.
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2 thoughts on “Gilbert’s Chowder House, Portland, Maine”
I’m sitting at my hair salon in Portland and reading that you’re visiting with the Bruels. So close. If you have any time in the next few days we’d love to see you.
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Oh, my! That would have been lovely, but we’re back in DC again. Next trip. Do y’all ever get down here?