Photo by Muffy Aldrich
The Modern Guide to The Thing Before Preppy

Sunday, May 19, 2024

The Harbor Deli

Friendship, Maine - All Original Photographs

At any harbor deli, one can feel almost immediately at home. They are their own genre, familiar in their patterns and menus.

1. Accessible by Land or Sea: Cars or dinghies can pull up.

It used to be that all cruising guide books would have icons denoting pay phones on land.

2. Independently Owned.  Yet they are more similar than fast food chains.

3. The Big Board:  Handwritten, with dozens of options. Locals still place custom orders.

4. Open Food Prep: Has that Soviet vibe of standing in one line to order, one line to pay, and then still waiting around until the food is ready.  One milestone is when they know your name without asking, then when they know your order without asking.

5. A Full Range of Customers: Where else can Ivy League professors and CEOs stand in line with dock repair people, quarry workers, and tourists?

6. Egg Sandwiches: Often the best around.

7. The All Important Tip Jar: The workers at the harbor deli are over-qualified, and one suspects that the ratio of tip money spent on pre-med text books is higher here than almost anywhere else.

8. The View:  The view is often much better than the premium residential real estate nearby, but no one seems to notice it, except on Sunday mornings.

9: Local Events Posted: The social justice bulletin board.

10. The Free Papers: While waiting for food, there are always free papers, from predictable to bizarre.  There are also copies of WSJ and NYT, which are technically for sale, but everyone flips through those as well while waiting.

11. Postcards:  But few seem to buy them.

12. Drinks:  The refrigerators seem to be the C.E.S. of the beverage world.  Bring your sunglasses. And caffeine permutations abound.

13: The Desserts:  While the grownups may plan to just get a quick sandwich, the youngsters have much bigger ambitions for their haul.  Baked desserts are either made on the premises or locally and delivered.

14.  Miscellaneous:  Each deli has its own seasonal, regional, or just bizarre specialty items.

15. Dogs. Outside the door are three or four dogs, waiting for their masters.

(The owner's dogs are, often enough, inside.)

16. Outside Eating Area:  Small, and can be the subject of plenty of zoning disputes with neighbors.

17. Ice Machines:  The real detail that distinguishes a harbor deli from simply a deli that happens to be near the water is the ice machine, the lifeblood of any trip.

To a sailor, this is a picture of an ice machine.
18. Food to Go. In parts of the world, the art of origami and other paper folding has flourished.  In coastal New England, this art form has been monopolized by the lunch packers, who individually wrap dozens of food items per order to survive the obstacle course of being thrown, dunked, left in the sun, and flattened, before being inevitably given to the wrong person.

Part of the Deli Order Obstacle Course: Must Survive Being Tossed From Launch


  1. This is a most charming, well researched and nicely presented post. Thank you! I enjoyed it immensely. The local deli is what makes a community similar yet unique.

  2. WE are headed this direction on Thursday of this week.

  3. Beautiful post! These harbor delis are unbeatable. Let's hope they continue and never change. Susan L.

  4. Fabulous post! There's nothing like the harbor deli. Post Clyde General Store is our favorite. I will put in a second plug for another favorite--Osier's Wharf in South Bristol.

  5. Funny, I noticed the Sam Adams sign before the ice machine sign ;)

  6. Not quite dockside, but Ferretti's in Brewster MA has just about the best food supplies for sailing/camping around, excellent sandwiches for lunch and meat for grilling. Many a day on Cape Cod Bay starts out in line for a sandwich there.

  7. Ahhhh!!!! Off to Sebasco, ME. in two days!!! The Sebasco Harbor Resort - Truly a place to bring your (well behaved) Dog, settle in by the immense fireplace, engorge oneself with the pure ocean breeze - true bliss!!! Worth a peek in that direction - if you love the ocean, the harmony of Maine, some solitude...Ahhhhhhh.....Pure JOY!!

  8. Had to go back, thank you for keeping the older posts.
    The menu boards are amazing...
    As always you are appreciated!

    1. Back again with a "thank you"-must be a yearly thing- old honeymoon spot...

  9. RIP Port Clyde! Best of luck to the crew there as they start to rebuild!

  10. Good luck finding a lobster roll for $10.50 today!

  11. Exactly. That is one heck of a bargain.

  12. What an absolutely amusing and cleverly observant post. From last October? How did I miss coverage of one of my favorite topics? I only hope that the Port Clyde General Store rises from the ashes to thrive again. I second the comment about Osier's Wharf in South Bristol...only they are always advertising for help so I hope they are able to keep their business vibrant and that they continue to offer their fabulously fresh lobster rolls.

    1. Port Clyde G.S. will be open, sort of:

  13. Currently in Wrightsville Beach, NC and enjoying daily doses of Roberts Market's world-class chicken salad. While technically not on a harbor, the shop is within feet of the amazing beaches here.

  14. Outstanding! Truly the way it should be! Cheers!

  15. Having lived overseas now for a while, I can say that there are few things that make me more homesick than places like these. There's really nothing else like it.

  16. Not only on the East Coast, we wet into one of these establishments somewhere along the north Oregon coast a few years ago. I have totally forgotten the actual location, but not the freshest and biggest Dungeness crab I have ever seen my wife eat. Exactly as described above, right down to the Ice machine.


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