A friend posted an outrageous claim on Facebook the other day, namely that she had found what she called the “Platonic ideal” of a blueberry muffin at the Salt Cod Cafe on Orr’s Island. I’d long believed that the Platonic ideal of muffins was to be found at the Dolphin Marina over on Harpswell Neck, where their bowls of incredible chowder come with an equally incredible blueberry muffin.
But to be proven wrong would involve serious pleasure, so I hopped in the car on a gusty day last week and headed down Rte. 24 towards Orr’s.
When I pulled into the gravel parking lot overlooking the Cribstone Bridge, Harpswell Sound was icy green and churning with white caps but the sun was bright. The Salt Cod Cafe has a stunning location, sitting kitty-corner to Cook’s Lobster House. It’s in the old Prince’s store building and is run by Alison Prince, who makes those blueberry muffins in her licensed home kitchen next door, along with breads, scones stained enticing purple with berries and assorted other pastries. The sandwich offerings, particularly the chicken salad, looked good, but I decided I should go traditional and order chowder with a muffin in order to assess it against my established Platonic idea. My total bill for muffin and chowder was $9.69.
Tray in hand I headed to one of the two giant-sized picnic tables right by the water, planning to read in the sun while I ate. Just then a particularly fierce wind whipped my hair into a frenzy and swept the packets of oyster crackers, my spoon and practically the muffin itself off my tray, forcing me to retreat to one of two tables that sit right up against the sunny wall of the building. Salt Cod Cafe is only licensed for outdoor seating, which is kind of a shame because of the wind but also more generally because the interior space, open and lofty, is so charming.
This was the site of a general store and salt cod curing facility owned by Prince’s great-great grandfather, Sylvanus Cushing Prince, and it definitely has that old-time feeling. Prince has filled the open shelves to the side of the food counter with funny old vintage curios, Maine-themed children’s books and t-shirts for those who must have souvenirs of the Cribstone Bridge.
The chowder (bowl for $6.95) was thick and creamy but just the tiniest bit bland. It was solid rather than exceptional but I didn’t regret my choice until I found out that Prince purchases the clam chowder but makes the seafood or fish chowder herself on premises. Those chowders are also gluten free, meaning they aren’t thickened with flour, which makes for less of a clingy texture. (On a second visit, I tried the seafood chowder, which is made with haddock, shrimp, scallops and clams. I didn’t find any clams, but it was more interesting, although not up to Dolphin Marina standards.)
The muffin though, was very fine. Moist and buttery on the bottom, with a high ratio of blueberries-to-cake; every bite had at least four blueberries in it. The top was dusted with sugar but not overly sweet and had just the right level of crunch. It might have been a smidge smaller than the monsters they serve at the Dolphin, but it was still a big chunk of cake. Did my conviction of the Dolphin’s superiority to all other muffin makers shift? I don’t think so, but can’t say for sure. I think I need a blind taste testing. Or maybe just regular back and forths throughout the summer. One doesn’t want to be too hasty in judgment.
I’d have lingered a long time, maybe over coffee and a cookie, if it hadn’t been for the wind. On the way out of the parking lot I noticed a sign advertising a kayak launch spot, with parking, for $5 a day, to be paid inside the cafe. Suddenly I had a plan for some sunny – and calmer – day in July. I’d pick up something to go from the Salt Cod Cafe (Prince packs picnics or breakfast sandwiches in the morning) and head out onto the water, where I would earn my blueberry muffin.
WHERE: 1894 Harpswell Islands Road, Orr’s Island; 833-6210; saltcodcafe.com
HOURS: 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily through mid-September
WAIT: Under 5 minutes
PARKING: On premises
WHEELCHAIR ACCESS: Yes