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Over the course of three or, if you’re lucky, four days on the Maine coast you can get in Portland and much more. Stay in town at the Press Hotel, in the home of the former newspaper, a 2016 Hot List pick, then put on your eating pants and your outdoorsy cap and get going. The walking tours from Maine Food for Thought help you make the most of your brief timing, hitting six of the best, award-winning spots. Room for more? Compare and contrast oysters at the Shop from Island Creek and Eventide, or have Ben Hamilton from Love Point Oysters take you out on the water to get up close and personal with his mollusks. Other, more far-flung waterborne activities: Book a two-hour adventure with the new Sail Portland Maine, rent bikes after ferrying over to Peaks Island, or take the ferry to Great Diamond Island to check out the year-old, raved-about Crown Jewel restaurant. (Yeah, it always comes back to food here.)
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There’s a new gem on Great Diamond, and it shines flamingo pink.
We stepped off the boat and headed for Crown Jewel, a low brick building with a small front porch, a few hundred yards up the road. One of two restaurants on the island, it opened last year with a menu that tilts toward seafood. No surprise there. But the kitchen throws plenty of twists. Steamed clams? Check, but with chimichurri and chili jam. Oysters? Yep, lightly baked and accompanied by miso-mushroom butter, gelled pearls of yuzu juice, and pickled mustard seeds.
Nothing about Crown Jewel is predictable: not the tropical, flamingo-themed dining room in a former military blacksmith’s shop on a Casco Bay island; nor Rocky Hunter, the vegan chef in charge of an eclectic, fully omnivorous menu. Yet somehow, after a romantic ferry ride and a Strawberry Smash cocktail, it all makes an idyllic sort of summertime sense.
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From the banana leaf banquettes and tiger lily–bedecked menus to the flock of flamingos that have roosted everywhere from the wallpaper to the drinks, its decor feels festive and transportive—with a color palette that would not be out of place in Miami and an island vibe that feels more Caribbean than Atlantic.
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The seasonal Crown Jewel, which debuted in summer 2018, is a quick water taxi or ferry ride away on Great Diamond Island, a former military base. The menu is New England creative—grilled octopus, baked oysters, lobster ravioli—but the decor is full-on tropical fantasy: flamingo and pineapple accents, palm leaf–cushioned banquettes, and lots of pink.
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This small bistro on Great Diamond Island provides an island escape with its tropical decor and neon flamingo. The menu, designed by vegan chef Rocky Hunter, features seafood dishes like grilled oysters, New England shrimp toast, and shrimp ceviche. The carrot “lox” and bowl of fried Brussel sprouts show the chef knows how to treat vegetables, while the burger and bacon skewers show he’s not afraid of meat either. Crown Jewel closes after Columbus Day, so scope that ferry schedule soon.
Dine Out Maine: Crown Jewel on Great Diamond Island really is a jewel
Alex Wight is into creating experiences.
Owner of Great Diamond Island’s newest establishment Crown Jewel, Wight spent several years organizing the highly lauded Flanagan’s Table dinner series in Buxton, where ticketed guests seated at a single elongated table left their nights in the hands of a rotating cast of well-known area chefs. Dining in a rustic barn setting under the glow of warm, very purposeful lighting led to a transportive feeling not typical of even some of the best restaurants operating on a daily basis. The dinners felt raw, immediate and worthwhile — an opulent reminder of impermanence, if you will.
Limitations are a big part of what makes Crown Jewel great.
The brick-fronted, seasonal restaurant calls attention to some, like its rather remote location on Diamond Cove, a semi-private community on the northern half of Great Diamond Island.
For the better part of a century, the island was home to Fort McKinley, a military base built during the Spanish-American War. As need for the fort disappeared, so did the soldiers and staff who maintained the buildings. In recent decades, the abandoned barracks and station houses have been restored and converted into slate-roofed houses and businesses.
Crown Jewel occupies the former blacksmith’s shop, an active weapons workshop long since converted to a general store that still operates from the rear of the building. You’d never guess that there were once anvils and molten iron here in the pastel, pink-and-coral-hued tropical fantasy of a dining room. Today, the only thing glowing is a Neon Dave sculpture of a tiara-topped flamingo; it buzzes and beckons you to take a seat – perhaps at one of the rattan stools that fringe the turquoise bar, or perhaps on one of the palm-leaf-patterned banquette cushions. There’s a clear seaside vacation theme here, though maybe not the one you’d expect from a restaurant on an island in Casco Bay.