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Freeport, Maine: Shopping and Exploring

Freeport, Maine: Shopping and Exploring
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It’s nearly 3 p.m., and the South Freeport waterfront is cool and overcast; the clouds are spitting rain. Lobster boats are coming and going with a throaty growl, piloted by men in yellow rain jackets who offer small explosions of color in the pigeon-gray landscape. The popular Harraseeket Lunch & Lobster — bustling in summer, buttoned up after mid-October, and located just across from a shaggy, shingled building at the boatyard — seems to list against the slight breeze.
If Freeport’s downtown is the main stage for shopping, there’s far more of the town existing behind the curtain. There are some 7,800 residents, most of whom have little connection with the shopping mecca. In fact, Freeport was originally four villages; today’s shopping mecca — once called Freeport Corner — was really the neglected back yard, an inland farming center. Not until the rail line came through in 1849 did Freeport Corner productively link to the outside world. (Like most of Maine, coastal villages were connected chiefly by sea.)

It’s worth exploring that past, winding along the fingers of land that extend out into Casco Bay. The quiet harbors and inlets edged with pines and ghostly late-fall birch trees give this stretch of the coast a look more like the inland lakes than the rugged Maine coast of the calendars.

Take a spin by Wolfe’s Neck Farm, a nonprofit purveyor of high-quality natural meats. Much of the taste is no doubt due to contentedness of the cows, who enjoy sweeping views of northern Casco Bay (the sort of view for which an investment banker in search of a summer home would gladly cut a large check) while cud chewing. The farm no longer sells meat to those who stop by, but do detour to the Bow Street Market on your way back into town, where you’ll find a selection of local meats.

Azure Cafe: 6:17 p.m.

To the surprise of many, Freeport has become, over the past few years, a dining destination. You can explore a range of fare here, from the sudsy cheer of Gritty McDuff’s brewpub to Conundrum’s lavish wine list served in a New York-style bistro. Our choice this evening is Azure Cafe, an oasis of delicate, contemporary Italian fare amid the shopping scene and nearly adjacent to the classic Colonial-style Jameson Tavern — a gulf of decades and miles of attitude in the space of a few dozen yards. Sip a two-rum mojito while perusing the menu, which includes the cafe’s award-winning clam chowder and dishes such as balsamic-glazed pork tenderloin enlivened with fire-roasted corn and a sweet pepper relish.

After dinner, wander down to the regal Harraseeket Inn to soak in some of the rusticity of the Broad Arrow Tavern. Angle for a seat by the fireplace amid Windsor chairs and snowshoes on the wall and order up a dessert and after-dinner drink.

It’s as grand a place to spend an evening as you’ll find in Maine.

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